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Friday, January 31, 2014

Rank Offenses: Military Insignia Explained to Non-Veterans

First of all, I’d like to state once and for all that I was honorably discharged from the United States Air Force and my leaving had nothing to do with a certain incident on a Greek island involving two topless Swedish tourists (consenting adults), a huge sheet of plastic, and four gallons of high quality olive oil—any rumor to the contrary is a horrible slander instigated by Al Qaeda. Next, I’d like to say that nothing irks vets more than to see movies screw up U.S. military uniforms.  Every veteran is an expert on how a uniform should be worn. This isn’t because vets are all fastidious dressers, but simply because the military puts a LOT of emphasis on the uniform. If you showed up at your post with your uniform looking like it does in many movies and TV shows, you’d be escorted directly to the nearest military prison while given ample opportunity to review current dress code norms. It’s time to set the record straight on military insignia and dress.

In the short version explaining military insignia, enlisted men and women have their rank (in the form of stripes) on their sleeve while officers have it on their shoulders. Although the insignia are different for each service branch an easy rule to remember for enlisted people is that the more stripes the higher the rank. For officers rank progresses with silver trumping gold from bars, to clusters, to an eagle, and then stars.

As far as the medals and decorations military folks wear on the uniform, things can get a lot more complicated. Most of the ribbons you see above the breast pocket of uniforms are given out simply for doing your job. As Woody Allen once said about life, showing up is about 80% of military decorations. Then there are other badges, tabs, and patches that elite units pay for with blood, sweat, tears, and usually enormous amounts of alcohol, at least at some phase of the operation. Quite often when dealing with decorative ribbons and uniforms it’s difficult even for military people to tell the difference between a true hero and someone who was just along for the ride.
Everyone should remember that just showing up for military service is a hell of a sacrifice and merits respect. At least that’s the opinion of this pacifist (mostly), peace-loving vet.


  1. My neighbor wears a boxy, blue baseball cap with a gold, oak leaf adorned bill. On it he wears his medals and pins from his 30+ years of service as a "Chief" Plumbing Inspector (Retired) for the City and County of Denver. Every time I see him I want to take a pipe wrench to his face. Do I have an anger problem?


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