Shoulder Sleeve Insigna (SSI) Embroidered Patches

Embroidered patches known as shoulder sleeve insignia or SSI are used by the United States military to distinguish individual divisions and sometimes brigades. These unique graphic symbols of specific fighting and/or support units are a great source of pride to the soldiers, sailors and Marines who wear them and play a significant role in boosting unit morale and esprit d’corps. Much as a sports team comes together in spirit and task by wearing a common uniform, the military’s use of heraldic imagery on SSI intensifies unit cohesiveness.
During World War II, the Chicago Embroidery Company made millions of shoulder sleeve insignia and other patches for all branches of the United States military.
The US Army is unique among America’s military branches because all soldiers are required to wear the specific patch of their unit as part of their uniform.
Shoulder sleeve insignia should not be confused with other military patches, tabs, flashes and metal pins; each of these is used to designate officer and enlisted rank, special skills, jobs, assignments, combat operations and other
SSI are created in bright colors with sometimes intricate designs and are usually worn on the upper left shoulder, though they can be placed on locations (most notably when body armor is being worn and covers the shoulders) Alternative display locations include hats or caps, packs, coats and other military gear. The colors and objects used in the design of these patches have great significance, symbolizing such important warrior qualities as honor, bravery and dedication.
During the Vietnam era, military leaders realized that the bright colors of some designs posed risks to soldiers attempting to camouflage themselves in dense jungle foliage. In 1967, Gen. William Westmoreland ordered that all battle uniforms use subdued images, not only for SSI, but for all distinctive markings. For example, a soldier’s name above his right breast pocket was previously black letters on a white background, good for readability but a detriment when confronting enemy sharpshooters. These name tapes were converted to the black lettering on olive drab backgrounds that is still in use today on certain styles of uniform. Subdued SSI use green, dark brown and black elements and desert versions employ lighter browns, tans and spice colors.
By July 1970, US forces around the world were supposed to wearing SSI in subdued colors with full color patches reserved only for dress uniforms, worn when a soldier is not in a designated combat zone. But tradition is strong in the Armed Services and some units resisted subdued SSI continuing to wear their old-style patches. For instance, the 101st Airborne Division took great pride in the unit’s distinctive Screaming Eagle patch and disregarded the high command directive.