us army insignia explained

The World of U.S. Army Insignia

Ever since the Revolutionary War soldiers have been presented with awards and medals for their heroic actions and bravery. From that point forward the military has put emphasis on awarding its members for their service other than medals, especially after WWI and WWII.

Medals of America’s ranks, badges, and army insignia is modeled after the designs of the Institute of Heraldry and are never surplus. Each product meets military specifications for uniforms.

Army Insignia has grown and changed over the decades and can be tricky to understand. Here is a helpful breakdown of the basics: ranks, badges, and insignia. Ranks, badges, and insignia are the cornerstone of identification, achievement, and pride in the Army.

Ranks

The Army’s ranks are divided into two main distinctions, officers and enlisted. From those two, Officers can be divided further:

  • Non-commissioned Officers
  • Commissioned Officers
  • Warrant Officers
  • Field Officers
  • General Officers

Unlike officers, enlisted ranks do not divide into multiple categories. The enlisted soldiers are:

  • Private
  • Private First Class
  • Corporal
  • Specialist
  • Sergeant

Officers

Non-commissioned Officers, or NCOs, generally enlist and advance through the ranks of the Army. They have specific skills in military policing, recruiting, and tech, and often supervise lower ranks. NCOs are ranks Corporal through Sergeant Major of the Army. Each Non-commissioned Officer’s rank increases by a chevron or a rocker.

Commissioned Officers hold some of the highest ranks in the Army. The three commissioned officer ranks are Second Lieutenant, First Lieutenant, and Captain. The Second Lieutenant, O-1, rank is a solid gold bar, the First Lieutenant, O-2, has a solid silver bar, and Captain, O-3, has two joined silver bars.

Warrant Officers hold the rank of W-1 to W-5, and like Commissioned Officers, have bars to signify their ranks. Warrant Officer 1’s rank features a black tile on the silver bar. When the ranks increase, the number of black tiles increase by one, except for Chief Warrant Officer 5, which has a thin vertical black line on the silver bar.

Field Officers include Major, Lieutenant Colonel, and Colonel and are in command of larger sized groups of soldiers. Major and Lieutenant Colonels have seven pointed oak leaves. Majors have a gold oak leaf and Lieutenant Colonels have silver oak leaves. Colonels have a silver right facing eagle clutching a bundle of arrows with a superimposed shield on its chest.

Enlisted

Enlisted members of the Army fall between the ranks of a Private, E-1, to Specialist, E-4. Private is the first rank of the Army and they are in Basic Combat Training. Private Second Class, E-2, is the first enlisted rank to receive insignia, which is a single chevron. Private First Class introduces a bottom rocker with a chevron. Specialist, E-4 has the shield-shaped insignia and Corporal, also an E-4, has three chevrons.

Branch Insignia and Badges

Badges are earned and awarded across the Army. Badges can be classified as Branch Insignia or badges. Branch Insignia can be divided into three groups: Combat Arms, Combat Support, and Combat Service Support. Badges can be divided into five categories: combat and special skill, marksmanship badges and tabs, identification badges, locally authorized special skill badges, and badges awarded by other U.S. Services and foreign governments.

Branch Insignia

Branch Insignia was introduced in the Revolutionary War and represents the branches of the Army. The branches were divided into three groups post-WWII: Combat Arms, Combat Support, and Combat Service Support. There are currently 24 branches within the Army.

Badges

Badges were created after the Badge of Military Merit, now known as the Purple Heart, to recognize skill, pride, and proficiency. Skill and performance-based badges for marksmanship gained importance between WWI and WWII and were the first badges to appear in the Army.

Other skill and proficiency badges are awarded for meeting benchmarks and specific requirements in a job or field. When the basic requirements are met the basic badge is awarded. Higher ranking badges are awarded when more skilled requirements are met.

For example, to be eligible for a basic Parachutists badge you must complete the proficiency test or participate in one combat parachute jump. Senior Parachutists badges require a minimum of 30 jumps, including 15 jumps with combat equipment, two night jumps, two mass tactical jumps in an airborne assault problem, and graduate from the Jumpmaster Course.

Qualification Bars

There are currently 24 qualification bars that are authorized for wear. The bars are worn on related skill and performance badges, like gunnery and marksmanship badges and driver and mechanic badges. The bars are vertically linked to hang from the corresponding badge.

Identification Badges

Identification badges are worn by those who have reached a certain job position in the Army. The badges range from Drill Sergeant and Army Recruiter to Presidential Service and Joint Chiefs of Staff.

CSIBs

Combat Service Identification Badges, or CSIBs, identify the division a soldier is in, such as 1st Cavalry, 82nd Airborne, 173rd Airborne, and the 1st Armored Division. They are worn on the right side of a uniform and are made from enamel and have the same insignia as the unit’s patch.

Tabs

Tabs are worn on uniforms and are either individual tabs or unit tabs. They are worn on the shoulder on uniforms.

Individual tabs are awarded by completion of schools and courses. Within the Army there are three schools that award tabs: Special Forces Qualification Course, Ranger School, and Sapper School.

Unit tabs are a part of uniforms for certain units in the Army. Airborne units have an Airborne tab, the 10th Mountain Division has a Mountain Tab, and the Security Forces have an Advisor tab. Units with ceremonial duties, like the Honor Guard, have tabs as well.

Medals of America only provides military grade rank and army insignia. Visit medalsofamerica.com for all of our badges, ranks, and army insignia. If you have any questions visit the site for more information or call a customer service representative at 1-800-308-0849 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.