The 81st Infantry Division "Wildcat" is generally agreed to have been first U.S. Army unit authorized an SSI. In 1918, during World War I, the 81st Division sailed for France after training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. On their left shoulder the men of the division wore an olive drab felt patch with the silhouette of a wildcat - after Wildcat Creek, a stream that flows through Fort Jackson. When men of the other fighting divisions challenged the right of 81st soldiers to wear the patch, General John J. Pershing ruled that the 81st could keep this distinctive insignia. He also suggested that other divisions adopt shoulder patches of their own. This patch was officially adopted by the U.S. Army on October 19, 1918.
By World War II, all army groups, field armies, corps, and divisions, as well as all major Army commands, had unique SSI. These SSI would often be created with symbolism alluding to the unit's formation. Examples include the 82nd Airborne Division, which included an "AA" on its patch alluding to the "All-American" soldiers from every state that made it up, and the 29th Infantry Division, which included blue and grey to allude to soldiers that made it up being from states on both sides of the American Civil War.
Most US formations had unique patches which varied greatly in size and makeup, with the exception of US Armored divisions (as well as 1st Armored Corps and the U.S. Army Armor Center & School), all of which adopted the same patch (a yellow, red and blue triangle with a symbol for Armor in the middle). Each division and I Armored Corps then included its number in the upper yellow portion of the patch to distinguish it. The SSIs of those Armored units which survived into the Cold War became irregular pentagons (some units later than others) with the addition of rectangular section at the bottom, bearing the division's nickname or "U.S. Army Armor Center".
The 81st Infantry Division "Wildcat" insignia; the first approved SSI.
1st Armored Corps insignia.
1st Armored Division insignia showing Division nickname.
4th Armored Division insignia. The Division chose not to add a nickname as befit their motto: Name Enough!
The US Army Armored School insignia.
A soldier with the SSI of the 89th Military Police Brigade on his Interceptor Body Armor shoulder pad.
A soldier with the SSI of the 34th Infantry Division on her MICH TC-2000 Combat Helmet.
Half scale insignia of the 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade worn on the right side of an Advanced Combat Helmet.
Subdued patches and insignia were introduced during the Vietnam War and were made mandatory for wear on the field uniform starting July 1, 1970.
SSIs are generally authorised only for units commanded by a general officer. In the early 1960s, separate armor regiments began creating SSI, and the number of separate brigades increased. Today, most separate brigades have their own SSI, but those brigades permanently assigned to divisions do not. A handful of smaller units have SSI (including US Army Ranger battalions, Trial Defense Service and Headquarters & Headquarters Company, U.S. Army), but most units battalion level and smaller do not have SSIs of their own. A handful of SSIs are designated for use by units which are not under a unified command wearing that SSI; these include Special Forces, Department of the Army Staff Support and the SSI designated for soldiers assigned outside of DOD (e.g., military attachés).
Read more about this topic: Shoulder Sleeve Insignia
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