Why is the US flag backwards on Army uniforms?
We get more than a few customers who come in to buy regular US flag patches and decals, but who wonder why we carry what looks like a backwards US flag patch. And at first glance, it does look, well, just plain wrong, doesn't it? Most Americans know that the blue star portion of the US flag, called the "field", belongs in the top left corner as you look at the flag, whether the flag is flying from a vertical in-ground pole, or hanging on a wall.
So why do we sell this backwards American flag patch, and why do all soldiers wear it on their right sleeve? I'm going to turn the answer over to this excellent excerpt from the Marlow White company, a major provider of US Army uniforms and accessories.
The blue field of stars should always be in the highest position of honor. When viewing the flag on a wall, the highest position of honor is the upper left when displayed horizontally, and at the top (upper left) when displayed vertically. When displayed on a "moving object" like a person or vehicle, the highest position of honor is the front, and not the rear; so the field of blue should be displayed to the front.
The same principle applies to the eagle rank of Colonels (or Navy Captains); the eagles' heads are always worn facing forward when worn on the uniform, as the forward-facing eagle is the position of honor within heraldry.
In application, then, flags are displayed on moving vehicles with the blue-star field always displayed towards the front of the vehicle. In this way, the flag appears to be blowing in the wind as the vehicle travels forward (flags are always attached to their flag poles on the blue field side). If the flag were not reversed on the right hand side of the vehicle, the vehicle might appear to be moving backwards (or "retreating").
The next time you visit an airport, notice that the US-flagged aircraft also have a "reverse" flag painted on the right side of the aircraft. A prime example is Air Force One:
For flag patches worn on uniforms, the same principle applies: the blue star field always faces towards the front, with the red and white stripes behind. 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.
As the proponent for standardization and authorization of heraldry items within the Department of Defense, the Institute of Heraldry addresses the apparent oddity of the reverse flag patch by stating, "When worn on the right sleeve, it is considered proper to reverse the design so that the union is at the observer's right to suggest that the flag is flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward."
As an aside, you'll notice that the soldier photographed above has no combat patch underneath the American flag patch on his right shoulder. A soldier who has deployed to a combat zone will display the unit patch that he most recently deployed with in this large velcro space. A bit of trivia for you to help you better understand the US Army uniform the next time you see a soldier around town or in an airport!