Requirements to Get a Combat Patch

When can you officially wear a Combat Patch? 

Well, it depends on who you ask and what your definition of officially is.

Going by the book, the true answer is the very first day that you step foot into a combat zone.

Whatever echelon unit you fall under during that time, you are authorized to wear the unit patch on your “slick-sleeve”.

The reference for this guidance can be found in our bible…ah, yes, AR-670-1, particularly Para. 28-17c (2) and Para. F-2a.

After 1945, only soldiers who were serving with large echelon deployed units, such as separate brigades, divisions, corps, Army commands, or higher, were eligible to wear the combat patch. The smaller support companies/battalions and other lower-ranking units had their own combat patches. ~ liveaboutdotcom

Requirements to Get a Combat Patch

Here are the basic requirements to get a combat patch:

Authorization to wear a shoulder sleeve insignia indicating former wartime service applies only to soldiers who are assigned to U.S. Army units that meet all the following criteria.

Soldiers who were prior members of other Services that participated in operations that would otherwise meet the criteria below are not authorized to wear the SSI–FWTS.

Wear is reserved for individuals who were members of U.S. Army units during the operations.

(1) The Secretary of the Army or higher must declare as a hostile environment the theater or area of operation to which the unit is assigned, or Congress must pass a Declaration of War.

(2) The units must have actively participated in, or supported ground combat operations against hostile forces in which they were exposed to the threat of enemy action or fire, either directly or indirectly.

(3) The military operation normally must have lasted for a period of thirty (30) days or longer.

An exception may be made when U.S. Army forces are engaged with a hostile force for a shorter period of time, when they meet all other criteria, and a recommendation from the general or flag officer in command is forwarded to the Chief of Staff, Army.

Some examples of these exceptions are operations in the Dominican Republic, Panama and Grenada.

(4) The Chief of Staff, Army, must approve the authorization for wear of the shoulder sleeve insignia for former wartime service.

 In the modern US Army, earning the right to wear a combat patch is a revered accomplishment. However, this visible uniform policy recognizing service in combat may not accurately communicate the Army’s evolving goals, and specifically what is needed to succeed in competition. ~ Modern War Institute

Requirements to Get a Combat Patch

However, proceed with caution because most units hold very strongly to the 30-days to 6 month time frame rule.

If your chain of command (and I am talking Battalion and higher) says that your are not “authorized” to wear it before they give you the nice little ceremony and deployment speech, then I wouldn’t push it.

AR 670-1 allows it, but to me, I think the little ceremony and recognition is worth the wait.

Remember, there is a BIG difference between authorized and mandatory.

While you may be “allowed” to wear the patch, your unit may not let you.

Some questions as to why company commanders would not allow the wear of the combat patch.

The common reason is to give new recruits a feeling of being part of so they won’t feel excluded.

Personally, I feel that is a bullshit reason.

If a soldier was in the midst of a combat zone, allow them the right to wear the patch.

Final  Thoughts

What are your thoughts about this subject?

Does your unit allow the wear?

You can leave all comments and questions below.

Thank you.

Other posts you may enjoy:

  1. Army Combatives: What Every Soldier Should Know
  2. Combat Infantry Badge: 8 Things You Should Know
  3. Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) HHC XO Duties and Responsibilities
  4. Best Advice for Combat Support and Combat Service Support Leaders in the Army
chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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26 thoughts on “Requirements to Get a Combat Patch”

  1. No one seems to understand what the reg is ACTUALLY stating. They are saying if you are deployed in the name of an operation, the OPERATION must last longer than 30 days, not the time limit on earning the SSI-FWTS. All you need in order to be able to wear SSI-FWTS is 24 hours in combat zones within the operation that has fit the criteria listed in AR 670-1. That’s why they are sending soldiers into the areas for 1-3 days at a time in order to wear the patches.

  2. My unit deployed to kuwait and was sending Soldiers to Iraq for one to two days because the reg says “no time limit required”, and gave em their patches. I think this is dead wrong but no ody in my unit will say anything because they r scared of offending the CSM who is allowing it. Finding a “loop hole” in a reg to meet the requirements in my eyes is stolen valor.

    1. The regulations are VERY clear. There is no LOOP HOLE. They specifically take an extra line to mention, NO TIME REQUIREMENT.

      If you are actively put in harms way (risk of direct or indirect fire) you earned it.

      Get out of here because you want some sort of bragging rights.

    2. I understand your frustration but a combat patch isn’t an “earned” award. A Combat patch simply denotes service within a combat zone, it is not an award for achievement or an award for valor. It is not a signifier that the wearer was in combat, that is what the various combat badges denote.

  3. How would you rebuttle against what should have been a combat deployment and was classified as an operational one?

    It was a 12 month rotation about 40km from the border of Syria during the early stages of their civil war.

      1. The Combat Operation has to last 30 days or more not your unit’s mission! Operation Inherent Resolve kicked off in 2014, so if in 2018 (waaay longer than 30 days as it is still ongoing in 2021) you leave Kuwait (not a combat zone) to do a week long mission in Syria (a combat zone) in support of OIR (a combat operation) then upon boots on ground (not even 24 hours as there is NO time requirement) you qualify for the combat patch. As I stated in another post, this is only a patch to denote service in a combat zone, it is not an award for achievement or valor. It is not an award for being in combat, there are combat badges for this. The main issue is not the regulation here it is people placing a higher value or meaning on the process or what in means to have a price of velcro on your arm. The patch communicates next to nothing about a person’s capabilities or accomplishments. Everyone stop trying to make it something it’s not!

  4. My wife was asking about combat patch and the requirements when a Vietnam vet was picking on Senator Joni Ernst from Iowa and her “combat” experience. The one thing that makes it official is orders. Until they are published with your name on them your right shoulder patch is not official. This usually doesn’t occur until return to conus but commanders will often will have an in theater ceremony at a certain time frame to have their soldiers sew on the right shoulder patch.
    Dave Anderson
    US Army, Retired

    1. There is no such thing as “orders” for a combat patch. As per official regulations, once you meet the qualifications for the SSI-FWTS you can wear it. You don’t even need an official ceremony. After the invasion of Iraq, people in my unit just started sewing them on their uniforms whenever they got around to it. Nobody made a big deal about it, and not one single order was ever printed up.

        1. False, while commanders are charged with enforcement of AR 670-1 (all a commander has to do to allow a deviation is sign a memo) once you meet the requirement you’ve met the requirement. So technically a commander can bar the wear of the patch, or let males grow a beard (yes that is within their power). The order to wear a patch is non-existent. Usually a memo is done and IPERM’ed by a commander to identify what patch is authorized based on what unit/echelon you were apart of when you met the combat patch requirement.

          Are you speculating based on the experience you had as an E-4 or do you have regulations to back up your apparent misinformation?

  5. Amy Skalicky

    Great article, Chuck. I agree with the Army\’s limitation of only allowing US Army soldiers, or National Guardsmen, to only wear the combat patch for the Army. I have heard questions raised about former Marines who earned a combat patch during their time with that branch wearing it on their Army uniforms. While I respect the fact that they were in combat, it should be retired with the Marine uniform. I think the Army has every right to preserve its traditions.

  6. Great explanation of what you need to do to get a combat patch. I always figured you needed to be in theatre for at least three months. Thanks for explaining it to me.

  7. This is such a joke. You can get a combat patch without ever firing your weapon or engaging the enemy. They should change this so it isn’t unit wide. It should be on an individual basis, not unit basis.

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