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United States military beret flash

How beret flashes are worn in the US military today
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
A Canadian Army general officer and his US Army senior enlisted advisor wearing Multinational Force and Observers berets with beret flash, one metal and one cloth

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's organizational beret flashes represent the distinctive heraldic colors and patterns of the unit or organization 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. Joint beret flashes, such as the Multinational Force and Observers and United Nations Peacekeepers beret flashes, are worn by all of the US armed forces on unique berets while assigned to a specific multinational mission.[4][5]

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 Security Forces carrier field (AFSC 31PX), assigned as Air Mobility Liaison Officers (AMLO), or assigned to Combat Aviation Advisor (CAA) squadrons do the same[6][7] while commissioned officers assigned to AFSCs authorized metallic beret flashes attach a miniature version of their rank insignia centered below their beret flash.[2] US Air Force airman and NCOs only wear their metallic beret flash, cloth beret flash, or cloth beret flash with crest on AFSC or unit specific berets.[2][6]

HistoryEdit

US ArmyEdit

 
Latter version of the Airborne Insignia (enlisted version), which combined the Airborne (Parachute) and Airborne (Glider) Insignias into one
 
MoH recipenet SGT Eubanks wearing the Airborne (Parachute) Insignia on his garrison cap, circa 1940s

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[8] and glider-born forces on specific assignments and by those assigned to airborne units.[9] 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 garrison cap.[8][9] 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.[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.[9][11][12]

Parachutist Badges
 
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 organizational beret flashes began to be used by the US Army. However, US Army films and photographs between 1956 and 1962 suggest these 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. 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 centered below the badge.[13]

A US Army senior NCO wearing black beret with cavalry oval and 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment DUI as his beret's flash, 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, 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]

11th Special Forces (SF) Group recognition bar
DSC recipient Spec/4 Campbell wearing green beret with 11th SF Group recognition bar below 1st SF DUI, circa 1967

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 organizational beret flashes; however, organizational 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 unit's organizational beret flash while none-qualified soldiers wore a cloth 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 organizational beret flash.[22] Throughout the 1980s, organizational 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 organizational beret flash was created and/or approved by the US Army Institute of Heraldry (TIOH).[24] TIOH based their design of each organizational beret flash after a unit's background trimming[25]—which made their debut in World War II[26]—or TIOH research into a unit’s heraldry.

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.[1][12][24] However, units can request authorization for an organizational beret flash,[27] as was done for the US Army's new Security Force Assistance Brigades.[28] 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 the Air Combat Command Shield as her beret's flash, circa 1990
 
Beret flash of the 1041st Security Police Squadron

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 the unit's dark-blue beret was a small metal full-color replica of the Strategic Air Command Shield.[29][30] In 1966/67, a different shade of dark-blue beret was authorized for wear by the newly formed 1041st Security Police Squadron; the 1041st used a depiction of a falcon on a large light-blue cloth patch as its beret flash until the unit was disbanded in 1968.[31][32] In February 1976, the US Air Force Uniform Board approved the dark-blue beret of Strategic Air Command's Elite Guard, as the official uniform item for the US Air Force's police and security forces.[31] The beret flash used on these dark-blue berets was a small metal full-color replica of the police or security forces' major command shield. In early 1997, the US Air Force stood up the Security Forces AFSC and honored the heraldry of the 1041st Security Police Squadron by mandating a new universal 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 the base of a large cloth flash.[31]

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.[33] 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;[34] however, it is unclear when the Pararescueman Beret Flash became an official part of the uniform.

Historical photographs 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.[35] 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.[36] However, it is still unclear when the Combat Controller Beret Flash became an official part of the uniform.

 
Manufacturing instructions from TIOH's authorization document for producing the AMLO variant of the TACP/ALO beret flash
 
TACP and ALO beret flash (no crest)

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 TACP crest that would be similar in design and worn in the same manner as US Army beret flashes.[1][17] The US Air Force approved the design and authorized all TACP airman to wear the new beret flash and crest in 1985.[17] Soon thereafter, Air Liaison Officers (ALOs) were given authorization to wear the black beret and the TACP Beret Flash (no crest);[17][37] In 2019 US Air Force uniform instructions changed directing ALOs to where the TACP flash and crest with miniature polished metal rank insignia centered just below the flash, same as how US Air Force special operations officers wear them today.[2] Similarly, AMLOs were also authorized to wear the black beret.[17] Although worn informally before then,[7] on 20 January 2015 TIOH authorized a slight modification of the TACP/ALO Beret Flash for wear by AMLOs[38]—which helped distinguish them from ALOs prior to the 2019 uniform change[2]—and is worn in the same manner as US Army beret flashs.

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][39]

Examples of former SOWT beret 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 different US Army style beret flashes that were worn on their distinctive gray beret.[1][40][41] Enlisted and NCO SOWTs also wore a small metal Combat Weather Team Crest on top of these beret flashs, just as a DUI is worn on modern-day US Army berets.[1][40][41] Around 2010, the beret flashes and crest were replaced with a large metallic SOWT Beret Flash,[42] now known as Special Reconnaissance airman.[43]

In 2018, the US Air Force Special Operations Command authorized the wear of the brown beret for airman, NCOs, and officers assigned to squadrons who specialized in CAA, such as the 6th and 711th Special Operations Squadrons. The beret is worn with a US Army style blue and green cloth beret flash (no crest).[44]

US NavyEdit

The US Navy's River Patrol Force, Task Force 116 (Vietnam) beret flash
Chief of Naval Operations and COMRIVPATFOR wearing berets with the 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.[45][46] In April 1967, 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."[46][47] Today, these US Navy small boat units honor their Vietnam heritage by wearing the black beret with historically relevant riverine task force beret flash during special occasions, such as award and promotion ceremonies.[48][49][50]

Female service dress beret devicesEdit

Starting in the 1970s, a special but short lived female beret was authorized for wear as alternate headgear. The US Army, US Air Force, US Navy, and US Marine Corps authorized the use of black, dark-blue, navy-blue, and dark-green female berets, respectively, for wear with various service dress uniforms. These service members wore their traditional cap devices as their beret flash.[21][51][52][53][54][55]

Commissioned officers of the US Army wore a gold metal replica of the coat of arms of the United States as their female beret device[21] while US Air Force commissioned officers, commissioned warrant officers, and warrant officers wore a silver version of the same insignia on their female beret.[56] US Army commissioned warrant officers and warrant officers wore s gold metal eagle rising with wings displayed standing on a bundle of two arrows enclosed in a wreath as their female beret device.[57] US Navy commissioned officers and commissioned warrant officers wore two gold crossed fouled anchors with burnished silver shield surmounted by a burnished silver spread eagle as their female beret device while warrant officers wore a pair of gold metal crossed fouled anchors, until commissioned.[58]

US Army and US Air Force enlisted and NCOs wore a smaller gold—for the US Army—or silver—for the US Air Force—metal replica of the coat of arms of the United States surrounded by a 1.75 in (4.4 cm) metal ring as their female beret device.[21][52] US Navy enlisted and NCOs wore a silver spread eagle with the letters "USN" placed horizontally between the wing tips above the eagle's head as their female beret device[59] while senior NCOs—known as Chief Petty Officers (E-7/OR-7 through E-9/OR-9)—wore gold and silver metal versions of their rank insignia.[60]

All US Marines wore a subdued eagle, globe, and anchor as their female beret device.[53]

Examples of former US military female berets and their authorized devices
US Army female cap devices
Illustration of a US Army black female beret with Officer Cap Device, circa 1981
US Air Force cap devices
A US Airman wearing dark-blue female beret with Enlisted Cap Device, circa 1974
US Marine Corps subdued cap device
A US Marine wearing dark-green female beret with US Marine Corps Emblem, circa 1978
US Navy cap devices
A US Sailor wearing dark-blue female beret with Enlisted Cap Device

Some beret flashes currently in useEdit

Joint beret flashesEdit

US ArmyEdit

Acquisition and TestEdit

ArmorEdit

AviationEdit

CavalryEdit

Civil AffairsEdit

EngineerEdit

Field ArtilleryEdit

InfantryEdit

Military IntelligenceEdit

Military PoliceEdit

Multidisciplinary CommandsEdit

OrdnanceEdit

Psychological OperationsEdit

Public AffairsEdit

QuartermasterEdit

SignalEdit

Special ForcesEdit

SupportEdit

SustainmentEdit

TrainingEdit

US Air ForceEdit

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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