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Source: AP
Date: March 21, 2008
Byline: Chelsea J. Carter

Ask AP: Flags on Uniforms; I, Delegate

Question: I've recently noticed something strange about our military fatigues, in newscasts and other television shows. I am used to seeing the American flag with the blue field of stars in the upper left, but on the sleeves of the uniforms it's in the upper right. Is there an explanation for this?

Alex Cantacuzene, Lexington, Ky.

Answer: The United States Code does not address the positioning of the flag patch on a military uniform, thus making it appropriate to wear the patch either on the left or right sleeve, according to the U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry.

The blue field of stars, known as the "union," is always supposed to be in the highest position of honor and facing forward. So when it's worn on the left sleeve, the blue field of stars is oriented toward the front and the stripes run horizontally toward the back. When worn on the right sleeve, the institute says it is considered proper to reverse the design so that the blue field of stars is at the front, "to suggest that the flag is flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward."

Perhaps the best description I've heard comes from, one of the leading uniform retailers:

"Think of the flag not as a patch, but as a loose flag attached to the soldier's arm like a flag pole. As the soldier moves forward, the red and white stripes will flow to the back."

Chelsea J. Carter, AP Military Writer, San Diego

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