United States military beret flash
In the United States (US) armed forces of today, a beret flash is a shield-shaped embroidered cloth or large polished metallic insignia that is usually attached to a stiffener backing of a military beret. The attached beret flash is worn over the left eye of the wearer with the excess cloth of the beret shaped, folded, and pulled over the right ear giving it a distinctive appearance. The embroidered designs of the US Army's beret flashes represent the distinctive heraldic colors and patterns of units with unique missions or represent the US Army overall while the US Air Force's represent their Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) or their assignment to a unit with a unique mission. Joint beret flashes, such as the Multinational Force and Observers Beret Flash and United Nations Peacekeepers Beret Flash, are worn by all of the US armed forces on unique berets while assigned to a specific multinational mission.
With the exception of joint beret flashes and some one-off wear requirements, US Army soldiers and Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) attach their Distinctive Unit Insignia (DUI) to the beret flash. US Army warrant officers and commissioned officers attach their polished metal rank insignia to their beret flash while chaplains attach their polished metal branch insignia. US Air Force commissioned officers in the Security Forces or assigned to a Combat Aviation Advisor (CAA) squadron wear their beret flash in the same manner as the US Army. Other US Air Force commissioned officers in the Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) AFSC and those authorized large metallic beret flashes attach a miniature version of their polished metal rank insignia below their beret flash or crest. US Air Force airman and NCOs only wear their large metallic beret flash, cloth beret flash, or cloth beret flash with crest on AFSC or unit specific berets.
Throughout its history, US Army soldiers and their units have adopted different headgear and headgear devices—such as color accoutrements, insignias, and flashes—signifying special capabilities and unique roles of soldiers and their units. An example of this tradition can be observed in World War II with the adoption of airborne insignias which were authorized for wear by military parachutists and glider-born forces on specific assignments and by those assigned to airborne units. The airborne insignias were worn on the left-side front (for enlisted and NCOs) or right-side front (for officers) of the former US Army service uniform's service cap. Different variants of airborne insignias were worn until later in World War II when different parachute and glider formations combined their unit-specific insignias into one red, white, and blue Airborne Insignia. Although airborne units began to wear the maroon beret as their official headgear in the 1980s, the service cap with Airborne Insignia continued to be authorized for wear until the black beret became the standard US Army headgear in the early 2000s.
Other examples of this tradition can be seen with the adoption of organizational beret flashes worn to signify a specific formation of a specialized unit, such as a combat advisor, airborne, ranger, or special forces unit. It is not clear when organizational beret flashes began to be used by the US Army. However, US Army films and photographs from the late 1950s through the early 1960s suggest the modern–day organizational beret flash may have been introduced in late 1961, around the time the green beret was officially authorized for wear by members of the US Army's Special Forces. Prior to that time, the green beret was worn informally by those assigned to Special Forces units who used their Parachutist Badge as their beret flash. The Parachutist Badge was worn high on the beret positioned either over the left eye or left temple and officers would wear their polished metal rank insignia below their badge. As these Special Forces units began to adopt their organizational beret flashes, they also adopted rules as to who in their unit would be allowed to wear them. For example, only special operations qualified paratroopers were authorized to wear their Special Forces unit's organizational beret flash while none-qualified soldiers wore a cloth recognition bar, color and pattern matched to their unit's organizational beret flash, below their DUI or officer rank insignia.
Other beret accouterments began to appear in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly between 1973 and 1979 when the US Department of the Army's morale-enhancing order was in force and various colored berets began to be worn my numerous units and branches of the US Army. Historical photographs from the 1960s through the 1970s show paratroopers and rangers assigned to various ranger units wearing an Airborne Tab, Ranger Tab, or custom made Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol Tab on their black beret above their DUI, Parachutist Badge, or rank insignia (see Example 1). In the late 1970s, ranger units began incorporating their Ranger Tab onto the top of their unit's organization beret flash. In 1973, paratroopers in various airborne units began wearing maroon berets and in 1974 the soldiers in the 101st Airborne Div began wearing dark-blue berets. Historical photographs of these paratroopers in the 1970s show them wearing their Parachutist Badge on their maroon beret, just as members of Special Forces had done on their green berets in the 1950s, but unlike the Special Forces they also wore their unit's background trimming—which made their debut in World War II—with officers and NCOs wearing their polished metal rank insignia below it (see Example 2). Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Div wore their maroon berets differently in the early 1970s and used their unit's DUI as their beret flash (see Example 3). Similarly, US Army articles and historical photographs of soldiers from the 101st Airborne Div show them wearing traditionally styled organizational beret flashes, patterned after their unit's background trimming, with enlisted attaching their DUI and NCO and officers attaching their polished metal rank insignia; later, between 1976 and 1977, 101st soldiers would add their Airmobile Badge—renamed Air Assault Badge in 1978—to their berets and wore them to the left of the wearer's beret flash (see Example 4). The aforementioned US Army articles and historical photographs also describe and show the use of unique US Army branch specific berets that were worn by some soldiers in the 1970s that were dyed to match the heraldic colors of their branch. Enlisted would attached their regimental insignia while officers attached their polished metal rank insignia on these branch-specific berets to be used as their beret flash (see Example 5). Another example worth noting are specific armor units with the US Army's armored cavalry RGTs in Germany in the 1970s who began wearing black berets with a maroon and white cloth oval as their beret flash. These Armor soldiers wore the oval behind their DUI, to the left of the wearer's metal rank insignia (enlisted, NCOs, and officers alike), and positioned over their left temple (see Example 6). Also during the 1970s, arctic-qualified soldiers of the 172nd Infantry BDE began to wear olive-drab berets with traditionally styled organizational beret flashes that were unique to each Battalion (BN) and worn in the same manner as they are today (see Example 7). By 1979, the US Army put a stop to the use of berets by conventional forces, leaving only Special Forces units and ranger units the authority to wear berets.
In 1980, the US Army reversed part of its decision allowing airborne units to wear maroon berets, ranger units black berets—which switched to tan berets in 2001—and Special Forces units green berets. The US Army's 1981 uniform regulation describes the wear of these newly approved berets with the only authorized accoutrements being officer rank insignias, DUIs, organizational beret flashes, and recognition bars. The organizational beret flash did not become the norm until 1984 when the recognition bar was discontinued after the Special Forces Tab became authorized for wear by Special Forces qualified paratroopers and all members assigned to a Special Forces unit, regardless of their qualifications, began to wear their unit's organizational beret flash.
The design of each unit's organizational beret flash was created and/or approved by The US Army Institute of Heraldry (TIOH). TIOH based their original organizational beret flash designs after a unit's existing background trimming. For newer units authorized an organizational beret flash, TIOH will research the requesting unit's heraldry leveraging geometrical divisions, shapes, and colors to represent the history and mission of the unit in the creation of a design. Once the requesting unit agrees upon a design, TIOH creates manufacturing instructions and conducts quality control for companies authorized to produce the organizational beret flash.
In late 2000, when General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff of the Army, decided to make the black beret the standard headgear of the US Army, he also decided that all units that did not have an organizational beret flash will wear a new universal one. However, units can request an organizational beret flash, as was authorization for the US Army's new Security Force Assistance CMD (SFAC) and its Security Force Assistance BDEs (SFABs) for wear on their brown berets, the first non-airborne units in the modern Army to be authorized organizational beret flashes. According to Pam Reece of TIOH, the Department of the Army Beret Flash "is designed to closely replicate the colors of the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army at the time of its victory at Yorktown."
US Air Force
In 1957, the Strategic Air CMD's Elite Guard was the first US Air Force unit authorized to wear berets. The first beret flash worn on the unit's navy-blue beret was a metal full-color replica of the Strategic Air CMD Shield. In 1966/67, the newly formed 1041st Security Police Squadron was authorized to wear a different shade of dark-blue beret and used a depiction of a falcon carrying a pair of lightning bolts on a light-blue cloth patch as their beret flash. In 1976, the US Air Force approved the navy-blue beret, worn by Strategic Air CMD's Elite Guard and US Air Force Combat Control Teams (CCTs), as the official uniform item for all US Air Force Police and Security Forces. The beret flash used on these berets was a metal full-color replica of the airman's major CMD shield. In 1997, the US Air Force stood up the Security Forces AFSC and honored the heraldry of the 1041st Security Police Squadron by creating a new cloth beret flash for all Security Forces airman and NCOs that depict the 1041st's falcon over an airfield with the motto "Defensor Fortis" (defenders of the force) embroidered on a scroll at its base. Security Forces Officers wear the same basic beret flash minus the embroidered falcon and airfield and in its place attach their polished metal rank insignia.
Historical photographs from the Vietnam Era show CCTs wearing navy–blue berets. Initial wear of these berets followed the trend of US Army Special Forces units whereby CCT's wore their Parachutist Badge over their left eye acting as their beret flash with officers wearing their polished metal rank insignia below their badge; yet other CCTs wore these berets with their Parachutists Badge and polished metal rank insignia (enlisted, NCO, and officer alike) over their right temple with the excess of the beret's material pulled over the left hear. The navy-blue beret was officially approved for wear by CCTs in 1973. In 1978 they received authorization to wear scarlet berets with a large metallic CCT Beret Flash, created by retired CCTs Jack Hughes and Gene Adcock. The new scarlet beret and beret flash were worn in the same manner as it is today with the flash centered over the left eye and the excess cloth of the beret pulled over the right ear. In 1984 the shape of the CCT Beret Flash was modified with some of its elements rearranged and a gridded globe added to its center; a polished metal version of this new beret flash is what the CCTs wear today. Special Tactics Officers also wear the scarlet beret and wear their miniature polished metal rank insignia just below a visually similar beret flash to the CCT's but contains different symbols and phrases representing the different AFSCs they oversee (CCTs, Pararescue, and Special Reconnaissance).
In 1966, US Air Force Pararescuemen, also known as a Pararescue Jumper (PJ), were authorized to wear the maroon beret and a large metallic Pararescue Beret Flash. The color of the beret (maroon) was chosen to symbolize the sacrifice required of PJs and its initial wear followed the trend of the time whereby PJs used their Parachutist Badge as their beret flash due to perceived gaps in production and distribution of the Pararescue Beret Flash. The Pararescue Beret Flash was derived from the Air Rescue Service shield—which was designed by TSgt Bill Steffens (Retired)—and consists of a guardian angel wrapping its arms around the Earth, which symbolizes the mission of the PJ, surrounded by a parachute mounted on a banner that has the phrase, "That others may live," embossed on it, the PJ creed. Combat Rescue Officers wear a modified version of the Pararescue Beret Flash with the word "Pararescue" replace with "Combat Rescue Officer" and is worn just above their miniature polished metal rank insignia on the same maroon beret as the PJs.
In the mid 1960s, US Air Force commando weathermen, formally known as Weather Parachutists, with Detachment 26 of the 30th Weather Squadron and Detachment 32 of the 5th Weather Squadron informally wore black berets. The beret flash worn on these black berets was a black cloth rectangle with a depiction of a yellow embroidered anemometer surmounted by a fleur-de-lis with the words “Combat Weather” split by the anemometer. In 1963, Weather Parachutists from Detachment 75 of the 2nd Weather Group wore gray berets and like the PJs and CCTs of the era used their Parachutist Badge as their beret flash and worn their polished metal rank insignia (enlisted, NCO, and officer alike) just below their badge. From 1970 through the 1980s, weather parachutists with the 5th Weather Squadron wore maroon berets with a US Army style beret flash that incorporated the squadron's colors from their emblem's alchemical symbol for water—the green, blue, and red colors representing Earth, air, and fire respectively—and wore their Parachutist Badge attached to the flash. In 1979, Weather Parachutists, now called Special Operations Weather Teams (SOWTs), were authorized to wear navy-blue berets with a US Army style beret flash consisting of a blue and black field surrounded by yellow piping. Enlisted and NCOs wore their Parachutist Badge attached to the flash while officers wore their polished metal rank insignia. In 1986, the gray beret was authorized for wear by all SOWTs who continued to wear the aforementioned cloth beret flash until a new large color metallic SOWT Beret Flash was authorized. This large metallic beret flash used the same color field as the previous cloth beret flash but had a parachute with the letters "USAF," a dagger, and lightning bolts centered on the field with a scroll at the bottom embossed with the words “Air Weather Service;” this metal beret flash was surrounded by a gilded band embossed with the words “Special Operations Weather Team." In 1992, the US Air Force approved the return of the SOWT's blue, black, and yellow cloth beret flash from the 70s and used their color metallic SOWT Beret Flash from the 80's as their beret crest (i.e. it was placed on top of the cloth beret flash). In 1996, the SOWTs assigned to the US Air Force Special Operations CMD (AFSOC) wore a new US Army style beret flash while those assigned to ACC, known as Combat Weather Teams (CWTs), continued to wear the original blue, black and yellow beret flash. The AFSOC SOWT Beret Flash consisted of a red border representing the blood shed by their predecessors, a black background represented special operations, and three colored diagonal lines represented the services they supported (green=US Army, purple=joint forces, and blue=US Air Force). Enlisted and NCOs wore their Parachutist Badge on top of the AFSOC SOWT Beret Flash while officers wore their polished metal rank insignia until 2002 when the Combat Weather Team Crest was created. The Combat Weather Team Crest incorporated the center elements of the 1986 metallic SOWT Beret Flash/Crest—specifically the parachute, lightning bolts, and dagger—with arched banners embossed with "Combat Weather Team" above, "Airborne" below, and "USAF" in a center rectangular banner. The Combat Weather Team Crest was worn attached of both SOWT and CWT Beret Flashes by enlisted and NCOs while officers continued to wear their polished metal rank insignia. In 2007/2008, the AFSOC SOWT Beret Flash stopped being worn and the Combat Weather Team Crest became the de facto beret flash for these units. In 2009—when the Special Operations Weather AFSC was established—a new large polished metallic Special Operations Weather Beret Flash was approved for wear by all SOWTs and CWTs (enlisted, NCOs, and officers alike) but took an additional year to create and was worn in the same manner as the modern-day CCT and Pararescue Beret Flashes. In 2019, SOWTs were re-designated Special Reconnaissance so the name embossed on the Special Operations Weather Beret Flash was changed to "SPECIAL U.S.A.F. RECON" and the fleur-de-lis was removed, otherwise this last variant of the SOWT's beret flash remains the same.
In 1979, TACP's were given authorization to wear the black beret. In 1984, two TACP's submitted a design for a unique beret flash and crest. The US Air Force approved the TACPs' flash and crest design in 1985. The TACP Beret Flash—which followed the basic design language of US Army beret flashes—incorporates red borders that represent the firepower TACP's bring to bear with two dovetailed fields of blue and green represent the close working relationship between the US Air Force and US Army that is enabled by the TACP. The TACP Crest incorporates am arched banner at its top embossed with "U.S. Air Force" held up by erect–wings which symbolize the combat readiness of the TACP, at its center is a sword symbolizes the firepower controlled by the TACP, a lightning bolt representing modern–day communications used by the TACP, an eight-point star symbolizes the worldwide mobility commitment of the TACP, and at the crest's base is a rectangular banner embossed with the letters "TACP." Latter, Air Liaison Officers (ALOs) were given authorization to wear the black beret and the TACP Beret Flash, no crest. In 2019 US Air Force uniform instruction changed directing ALOs, now called TACP Officers, to wear the TACP Beret Flash and Crest with miniature polished metal rank insignia below the crest and just above the outer-border of the beret flash. Similarly, Air Mobility Liaison Officers (AMLOs) also wore the black beret. Although worn informally before then, in 2015 TIOH authorized a slight modification of the TACP Beret Flash for wear by AMLOs, incorporating a compass rose in the upper-left corner of the beret flash, and was worn in the same manner as US Army beret flashes. Despite this, the US Air Force Uniform Board and uniform regulations do not address the wear of the AMLO Beret Flash by these liaisons.
In 2004, the US Air Force authorized the wear of the pewter-green beret to graduates of the US Air Force SERE Specialist Technical School. The beret flash worn on these berets is a polished metallic shield embossed with a bald eagle in front of a compass rose with barbed wire across it and the SERE motto, "Return With Honor," at its base and is worn in the same manner as all other US Air Force beret flashes.
In 2018, AFSOC authorized the wear of the brown beret for airman, NCOs, and officers assigned to a CAA unit, specifically the 6th and 711th Special Operations Squadrons. The brown beret is worn with a US Army style cloth beret flash consisting of a dark-blue field with olive-green diagonal stripes and border. The CAA Beret Flash is worn centered over the left eye with SERE Specialists attaching their SERE Specialist Beret Flash and officers their polished metal rank insignia to it.
In the 1960s, select US Navy riverine patrol units operating in South Vietnam adopted the black beret to be part of their daily uniform and wore various accouterments on their berets. In 1967, the Commander of the Riverine Patrol Force sent an official message to the Commander of River Patrol Flotilla Five authorizing the wear of the black beret. In this message, the commander of the force defined the wear and appearance of the beret as well as what is to be worn on the beret stating, "Beret will be worn with river patrol force insignia centered on right side." and "Only standard size river patrol force insignia will be worn on beret. ... No other emblem or rank insignia will be displayed on beret." Today, these US Navy small boat units honor their heritage by wearing the black beret during special occasions, such as award and promotion ceremonies, and will affix either historical riverine task force insignia or their unit insignia for use as their beret flash.
By the early 1970s, some of the US Marines remaining in South Vietnam were combat advisers supporting the Republic of Vietnam Marine Div, also known as the South Vietnamese Marine Corps (VNMC). Those US Marine advisers wore a derivative of the NVMC combat uniform. Many of these US Marine advisors wore VNMC green berets with a metallic version of the VNMC Beret Flash and wore it over their right temple with the excess cloth of the beret pulled over their left ear.
US female service uniform beret devices
Starting in the 1970s, a special female beret was authorized for wear as alternate headgear for the US Army, US Air Force, US Navy, and US Marine Corps with various service uniforms. The US Navy was the last service to remove the female beret from their uniform regulations in 2015. These black (Army and Navy), dark-blue (Air Force), and dark-green (Marine Corps) female berets were of similar design and worn on the crown of the head. These service members wore their traditional cap devices on these female berets but unlike today's US Army and US Air Force beret flashes, these devices were worn center-forward on the beret with the exception being the US Navy who wore their devices centered over the left eye.
Commissioned officers of the US Army wore a gold metal replica of the coat of arms of the United States on their female berets while US Air Force commissioned officers, commissioned warrant officers, and warrant officers wore a silver version of the same insignia. US Army commissioned warrant officers and warrant officers wore a gold metal spread–eagle enclosed within a wreath on their female berets. US Navy commissioned officers and commissioned warrant officers wore a silver spread–eagle surmounting a silver escutcheon with gold fouled anchors on their female berets while warrant officers wore only the gold fouled anchors until commissioned.
US Army and US Air Force enlisted and NCOs wore a gold (Army) or silver (Air Force) metal replica of the coat of arms of the United States surrounded by a like-colored metal ring on their female berets. US Navy enlisted and NCOs wore a silver spread–eagle with the letters "USN" mounted above the wings on their female berets while more senior NCOs (E-7/OR-7 through E-9/OR-9) wore their polished metal collar rank insignia.
All US Marines wore a subdued version of the eagle, globe, and anchor emblem centered on their female beret. Commissioned officers, commissioned warrant officers and warrant officers wore a version of the emblem that had a more intricate design compared to what was worn by enlisted and NCOs.
Beret flashes in use within the US military
Joint beret flashes
Department of the Army (worn when no authorized beret flash exists) US Army Special Operations Aviation CMD (USASOAC) 82nd Airborne Div, Combat Aviation BDE (CAB) 82nd Airborne Div CAB, 82nd Aviation RGT's 1st BN 82nd Airborne Div CAB, 17th Cavalry RGT's 1st Squadron 82nd Airborne Div, 1st BCT, 73rd Cavalry RGT's 3rd Squadron 95th Civil Affairs BDE (Special Operations)'s 96th Civil Affairs BN 95th Civil Affairs BDE (Special Operations)'s 97th Civil Affairs BN 95th Civil Affairs BDE (Special Operations)'s 98th Civil Affairs BN 25th Infantry Div, 4th BCT, 377th Field Artillery RGT's 2nd BN 82nd Airborne Div, 319th Field Artillery RGT's 2nd BN 82nd Airborne Div, 319th Field Artillery RGT's 3rd BN 173rd Airborne BCT, 319th Field Artillery RGT's 4th BN USASOC, 75th Ranger RGT's 1st BN USASOC, 75th Ranger RGT's 2nd BN USASOC, 75th Ranger RGT's 3rd BN 25th Infantry Div, 4th BCT, 501st Infantry RGT's 1st BN 25th Infantry Div, 4th BCT, 509th Infantry RGT's 3rd BN 45th Infantry BCT, 134th Infantry RGT's 2nd BN 82nd Airborne Div, 1st BCT, 504th Infantry RGT's 1st BN 82nd Airborne Div, 2nd BCT, 325th Infantry RGT's 1st BN 82nd Airborne Div, 2nd BCT, 508th Infantry RGT's 2nd BN 82nd Airborne Div, 3rd BCT, 505th Infantry RGT's, 1st BN 173rd Airborne BCT, 143rd Infantry RGT's, 1st BN
Joint Special Operations CMD-Army Element Special Operations CMD Africa-Army Element Special Operations CMD Central-Army Element Special Operations CMD Europe-Army Element Special Operations CMD Korea-Army Element Special Operations CMD North-Army Element Special Operations CMD Pacific-Army Element Special Operations CMD South-Army Element US Special Operations CMD-Army Element 52nd Ordnance Group, 192nd Ordnance BN's 28th Ordnance Co 2nd Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) Group, 15th PSYOPS BN's 310th, 325th, and 346th Tactical PSYOPS Cos 7th PSYOPS Group, 14th PSYOPS BN's 301st Tactical PSYOPS Co 82nd Airborne Div's 49th Public Affairs Detachment Defense Logistics Agency's Defense Distribution Depot-Army Element General Lucius D. Clay National Guard Center's 165th Quartermaster Co Yuma Proving Ground's Airborne Test Force 36th Sustainment BDE's 294th Quartermaster Co 56th Troop Command's 56th Quartermaster Detachment 77th Sustainment BDE's 861st Quartermaster Co 518th Sustainment BDE, 275th Combat Sustainment Support BN's 470th Quartermaster Co 642nd Regional Support Group, 352nd Combat Sustainment Support BN's 421st Quartermaster Co Joint Special Operations CMD's Joint Communications Unit–Army element 21st Signal BDE's 55th Signal Co 359th Signal BDE's 982nd Signal Co
25th Infantry Div, 4th BCT's 725th BDE Support BN 82nd Airborne Div, 2nd BCT's 407th BDE Support BN 82nd Airborne Div, 3rd BCT's 82nd BDE Support BN 173rd Airborne BCT's 173rd BDE Support BN
Joint Readiness Training Center–Army Element Joint Readiness Training Center, 509th Infantry RGT's 1st BN Quartermaster Center and School's 262nd Quartermaster BN SFAC's 1st SFAB SFAC's 2nd SFAB SFAC's 3rd SFAB SFAC's 4th SFAB SFAC's 5th SFAB US Army Infantry School's Airborne and Ranger Training BDE US Army Infantry School, Airborne and Ranger Training BDE, 507th Infantry RGT's 1st BN SWCS's Special Forces Warrant Officer Institute SWCS's Special Warfare NCO Academy US Army Training and Doctrine CMD's Airborne/Airlift Action Office 82nd Airborne Div's Advanced Airborne School
US Air Force
State defense forces
State defense forces—also known as state guard, state military reserve, or state militia—in many US states and territories wear modified versions of US Army uniforms. To help separate these state guard members from other federal uniformed services, such as the US National Guard, some will wear a unique organizational beret flash on their military beret. The following is a list of some of these organizational beret flashes worn by various state military reserve units:
Puerto Rico State Guard, Air Div, 1st Air Base Group's Security Forces
- Obsolete badges of the United States military
- Badges of the United States Army
- Badges of the United States Air Force
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