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United States military beret flash

In the United States (US) armed forces, a beret flash is a shield-shaped embroidered cloth or metallic insignia that is usually attached to a stiffener backing of a military beret. Today, the attached flash is worn over the left eye of the wearer with the excess cloth of the beret folded and pulled over the right ear giving it a distinctive shape.[1][2] The embroidered designs of the US Army beret flashes represent the approved distinctive heraldic colors of the unit to which they are assigned[3] while the US Air Force's represent their Air Force specialty code (AFSC)[2] or their assignment to a special unit, such as Combat Aviation Advisor (CAA) squadrons.[4] Joint beret flashes, such as the Multinational Force and Observers and United Nations Peacekeeping flashes, are worn by all of the US armed forces on unique berets while assigned to a specific multinational mission.[5][6]

Examples of how beret flashes are worn on US Army and US Air Force berets
US Army NCOs wearing green berets each from a different special forces group, as denoted by their flash, under the 1st Special Forces Command, as denoted by the DUI on each flash
A US Army officer wearing tan beret with 75th Ranger Regiment flash and full-size rank insignia on top
A US Air Force NCO and officer wearing brown berets with cloth flash indicating their unit's Combat Aviation Advisor mission
A US Air Force officer wearing scarlet beret, Special Tactics Officer flash, and miniature rank insignia below next to an NCO wearing black beret, ALO/TACP flash, and TACP crest

With the exception of Joint beret flashes, US Army soldiers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) attach their unit's distinctive unit insignia (DUI) to the center of their beret's flash while warrant officers and commissioned officers attach their rank insignia.[1] US Air Force commissioned officers who are in the Air Liaison Officer (ALO) carrier field (AFSC 13LX),[7] Security Forces carrier field (AFSC 31PX), assigned as Air Mobility Liaison Officers (AMLO), or assigned to CAA squadrons do the same[4][8] while commissioned officers assigned to AFSCs authorized metallic flashes attach a miniature version of their rank insignia centered below their flash.[2] US Air Force airman and NCOs only wear their metallic flash or cloth flash and crest on AFSC or unit specific berets.[2][4]



US ArmyEdit

Latter version of the garrison cap Airborne Insignia (enlisted version)

Throughout its history, US Army units have adopted different headgear devices—such as unique color accoutrements, insignias, and flashes—to help distinguish them from other units wearing the same headgear. One example of this started in World War II with the adoption of airborne insignias which were authorized for wear by military parachutists[9] and glider-born forces on specific assignments and by those assigned to airborne units.[10] The airborne insignias were worn on the left-side front (for enlisted) or right-side front (for officers) of the former US Army service uniform's garrison cap.[9][10] Although airborne units began to wear the maroon beret as their official headgear, the garrison cap with Airborne Insignia continued to be authorized for wear until the black beret became the standard US Army headgear in the early 2000s.[10][11][12]

US Army Special Forces soldiers wearing green berets and using their Parachutist Badge as the beret's flash, circa 1956

It is not clear when the modern-day beret flashes began to be used by the US Army. However, US Army films and photographs between 1956 and 1962 suggest the distinctive organizational beret flashes may have been introduced in late 1961,[13][14][15][16] around the time the green beret was officially authorized for wear by members of the US Army Special Forces.[17][18] Prior to that time, the green beret was worn informally and special forces soldiers used their Parachutist Badge as their beret's flash.[13]

A senior NCO wearing black beret with cavalry oval and 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment DUI, used as the beret's flash next to his rank insignia, circa 1970s

Other beret flashes began to appear in the 1970s when the US Army's armored cavalry regiments in Germany began wearing black berets with maroon and white cloth ovals behind their DUIs, to the left of the wearer's rank insignia (i.e. over their left temple).[17][19] By 1979, the US Army put a stop to the use of berets by conventional forces, leaving only special forces and ranger units the authority to wear berets.[17][18][20]

Renderings of the special forces recognition bars

In 1980 the US Army reversed part of its decision allowing airborne units to wear maroon berets, ranger units black berets, and special forces units green beret.[17][18][20] 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, recognition bars, and modern-day distinctive organizational beret flashes; however, beret flashes were only worn by select units and soldiers.[21][22] For example, only special operations qualified soldiers were authorized to wear their special forces group's distinctive organizational beret flash while none-qualified soldiers wore a recognition bar—color and pattern matched to their unit's beret flash—below their DUI or officer rank insignia.[21][22] The recognition bar was discontinued in 1984 when the Special Forces Tab was authorized and all soldiers assigned to a special forces unit were authorized to wear their unit's distinctive organizational beret flash.[22] Throughout the 1980s, modern-day beret flashes started to become the norm for all units authorized to wear berets.[21][22][23] The design of each airborne and special operations unit's beret flash was created and approved by the US Army Institute of Heraldry (TIOH)[24] and was based on the design of the unit's background trimming[25]—which made their debut in World War II[26]—or TIOH research into the unit’s heraldry.

In late 2000, when the Chief of Staff of the Army decided to make the black beret the standard headgear of the US Army, General Eric Shinseki also decided that all units that did not have an approved beret flash will wear a new universal one.[1][12][24] However, units can request authorization for a distinctive organizational beret flash, as was done for the US Army's new Security Force Assistance Brigades.[27] According to Pam Reece of TIOH, the universal US 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."[12]

US Air ForceEdit

A Security Policeman wearing a Military Airlift Command patch as his beret's flash, circa 1980
Rendering of the US Air Force's 1041st SPS flash

In 1957, the Strategic Air Command's Elite Guard was the first US Air Force unit officially authorized to wear berets. The first beret flash worn on this dark-blue beret was a small metal full-color replica of the Strategic Air Command Patch.[28][29] In 1966/67, the first US Air Force Security Police Beret was issued to the newly created 1041st Security Police Squadron (SPS); the 1041st SPS used a depiction of a falcon on a light blue patch as its beret flash until the unit was disbanded in 1968.[30][31] In February 1976, the US Air Force Uniform Board approved the dark-blue beret as an official uniform item for the US Air Force's police and security forces.[30] The beret flash used on these dark-blue berets was a small metal full-color replica of the unit's major command patch until March 1997 when the heraldry of the 1041st SPS was honored by mandating a new universal beret flash depicting the early SPS falcon over an airfield with the motto "Defensor Fortis" (defenders of the force) embroidered on a scroll at the base of the flash.[30]

A Pararescuemen wearing his Parachutist Badge as his beret's flash, circa 1967

In 1966, the US Air Force authorized the wear of the maroon beret by Pararescuemen. Initial wear of the beret followed the trend of the US Army Special Forces who wore their Parachutist Badge over the wearer's left eye acting as the beret's flash.[32] Historical photographs have shown graduates of the US Air Force Pararescue School wearing the modern-day large metallic Pararescueman Beret Flash on their newly earned berets in a Fall 1975 class photograph;[33] however, it is unclear when the Pararescueman Beret Flash became an official part of the uniform.

Historical photos of Vietnam Era US Air Force Combat Controllers show them wearing black berets that were worn in the same manner as the Pararescuemen and Special Forces berets of the era, with their Parachutist Badge used as the beret's flash.[34] Other historical photographs suggest the large metallic Combat Controller Beret Flash started to be worn on their unique scarlet beret in the mid to late 1970s.[35] However, it is still unclear when the Combat Controller Beret Flash became an official part of the uniform.

Example instruction sheet—from the TIOH authorization letter—providing manufacturing instructions for the AMLO flash

In 1979, US Air Force Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) airmen were given authorization to wear the black beret. In 1984, two TACP airmen submitted a design for a unique beret flash and crest that would be worn on the beret in the same manner as the US Army.[1][17] The US Air Force approved the design and authorized all TACP airman to wear the new flash and crest in 1985.[17] Soon thereafter, ALOs were given authorization to wear the black beret and the TACP Flash (no crest).[2][17] Similarly, AMLOs were also authorized to wear the black beret[8] and in January 2015 TIOH authorized the modification and wear of a variant of the TACP/ALO beret flash for AMLOs—it authorized the inclusion of a small eight-point black and white compass rose to the upper-left corner of the flash[36]—which help distinguish AMLOs from ALOs.

In 2004, the US Air Force authorized the wear of the pewter-green beret to graduates of the US Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) specialist technical school. The beret's flash, also known as the SERE specialist device, is a relatively small polished metal shield embossed with their SERE emblem and motto.[2][37]

Renderings of two former SOWT flashes

Although there is limited information on the US Air Force Special Operations Weather Technician (SOWT) Beret Flash, historical photographs show the use of two unique cloth flashes that were worn on their distinctive gray beret along with a small metal Combat Weather Team Crest.[38][39] Around 2010, the beret flashes and crest were replaced with a large metallic SOWT Beret Flash, similar in proportions to the current Pararescueman and Combat Controller Beret Flashes.[40]

In 2018, the US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) authorized the wearing of the brown beret to airman assigned to the 6th and 711th Special Operations Squadrons who specialized as CAAs within the US military. Although not authorized by the US Air Force, these squadrons are authorized to wear the beret while on AFSOC installations. The beret is worn with a US Army style blue and green cloth beret flash (no crest).[41]

US NavyEdit

The Chief of Naval Operations and COMRIVPATFOR wearing berets with River Patrol Force TF-116 patch as the beret's flash, circa 1969

In the 1960s, select US Navy riverine patrol units adopted the black beret to be part of their daily uniform.[42][43] In April 1967—after being denied approval by Commander, Naval Forces Vietnam—Commander of the Riverine Patrol Force (COMRIVPATFOR) sent an official message to the Commander of River Patrol Flotilla Five authorizing the wear of the black beret. In this message, COMRIVPATFOR defined the wear and appearance of the beret along with its distinctive flash 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."[43][44] Today, these US Navy small boat units honor their Vietnam harritige by wearing the black beret with historically relevant riverine task force flashes during special occasions, such as award and promotion ceremonies.[45][46]

Female service dress beret devicesEdit

Starting in the 1970s, a special but short lived female beret was authorized for wear as alternate headgear with various uniforms. The US Army, US Air Force, US Marine Corps, and US Navy authorized the use of black, dark-blue, dark-green, and navy-blue female berets, respectively, for wear with various service dress uniforms.[21][47][48][49][50] Commissioned officers of all branches, US Navy commissioned warrant officers, and all US Air Force and US Marine Corps warrant officers (commissioned or not) wore a regular or miniature version of their service's Officer Cap Device on their female berets.[21][49][51][52]. All US Army warrant officers wore a special Warrant Officer Cap Device on their female berets[21] while US Navy warrant officers wore miniature versions of their unique Warrant Officer Cap Device until commissioned.[51] Enlisted and NCOs wore regular or miniature versions of their Enlisted Cap Device on their female berets,[21][49][51] with the exception of US Navy senior NCOs (E–7 through E–9) who wore large versions of their rank insignia.[51]

Illustration of a black female beret with US Army Officer Cap Device, circa 1981
An airman wearing dark-blue female beret with US Air Force Enlisted Cap Device, circa 1974
A marine wearing dark-green female beret with US Marine Corps Emblem, circa 1978
A sailor wearing dark-blue female beret with miniature US Navy Enlisted Cap Device

Some beret flashes currently in useEdit

Joint beret flashesEdit

US ArmyEdit

Acquisition and TestEdit




Civil AffairsEdit


Field ArtilleryEdit


Military IntelligenceEdit

Military PoliceEdit

Multidisciplinary CommandsEdit


Psychological OperationsEdit

Public AffairsEdit



Special ForcesEdit




US Air ForceEdit

See alsoEdit


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  2. ^ a b c d e f Air Force Instruction 36-2903, Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel, Department of the Air Force, Air Force e-Publishing, dated 28 May 2015, updated 9 February 2017, last accessed 4 July 2017
  3. ^ US Army / US Army Heraldry / Beret Flash and Background Trimmings, The Institute of Heraldry, last accessed 19 November 2016
  4. ^ a b c Quiet Professionals don brown beret, US Air Force Special Operations Command, by Capt Monique Roux, dated 8 January 2018, last accessed 28 April 2018
  5. ^ War Eagle Troopers receive Multinational Force and Observers medal,, by MAJ Michael Soyka and SGT William A. Tanner, dated 9 May 2016, last accessed 28 April 2018
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  52. ^ Service Dress Coat Uniform,Winter USAF Blue Shade 84, Service Dress 1949–1965, USAF FLag Ranks, by: Bro John Schlund, last updated 22 January 2010, last accessed 13 April 2019—Note: This is the only information found on what US Air Force warrant officers wore as their headgear device and based on US military tradition, it is assumed that this device was also used on the Air Force female service dress beret.