May 7, 2010 11:47 AM by Melissa Canone
CAMP LIBERTY, Baghdad - Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 256th
Infantry Brigade Combat conducted its former wartime service shoulder sleeve
insignia ceremony at Camp Liberty, Iraq, on May 3.
Also known as the combat patch ceremony, it symbolizes a rite of passage,
capturing a Soldier's connection with a particular unit during wartime.
"Wearing the 256th patch has always meant a great deal to me," said HHC
Commander Capt. Daniel H. Fritts, of Prairieville, La. "I proudly wear it
as my combat patch and it pleases me that I am a piece of the great history
of this brigade."
According to 256th Brigade Historian Maj. Thomas Mehl of Big Rapids, Mich.,
the wear of distinctive unit insignia in the U.S. Army dates back to the
"The first known use of a distinguishing unit insignia in the U.S. Army was
in the Civil War during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862," Mehl explained.
"Union Army General, Philip Kearny, adopted a red diamond to be worn on the
kepi hat of Soldiers in his command for identification."
"What grew from this were the corps badges, which by the end of the war,
every corps had their own distinctive unit insignia," he continued.
The corps badges became standard during the Spanish-American War of 1898.
During World War I, the shoulder sleeve insignia, still in use today, was
"The 81st Division adopted the Wildcat patch, which the unit wore in France
during their service in World War I," the 22-year Veteran said. "Gen. John
J. "Black Jack" Pershing determined that, although there were some leaders
who frowned upon the distinguishing insignia, that it created unit cohesion
and esprit de corps among the fighting divisions. He then ordered that each
division create their own unit-specific patch."
More than a century later, while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi
Freedom, Tiger Brigade Commander Col. Jonathan T. Ball and Command Sgt. Maj.
Kenneth R. Wagner, both residents of Pineville, La., continued this ritual
by walking through the 256 IBCT Soldier formations applying the fleur-de-lis
Brigade insignia onto their Troops' right shoulders.
"I consider it a privilege to participate in this time-honored tradition and
to see the smiles on the faces of both our combat Veterans and
'first-timers' alike," stated Ball. "Earning a combat patch is a milestone
in any Soldier's career and it validates the many years of training and hard
work our Soldiers go through."
Today, deployed Soldiers of all Army components may permanently wear former
wartime service shoulder sleeve insignias of the unit with which they
"The SSI for former wartime service we can trace to an incident at the end
of WWII when some Soldiers of the highly-decorated 3rd Infantry Division
were transferred to another division," explained Mehl.
"The 3rd ID, which was the only U.S. Army division to fight the Germans in
10 campaigns, was told to remove their famous 'Rock of the Marne' patch from
their left shoulder. Needless to say, in the effort to maintain their
history, the Soldiers were allowed to rotate the patch to the right shoulder
and wear the current unit of assignment on the left."