The latest rage in fleet fashion accessories is hitting the fleet!
Thanks to a March 19 change in regulations, commands on opposite sides of the planet have added official left shoulder flair to their working uniforms — unit patches that can be worn on the NWU Type III as an alternative to the subdued First Navy Jack “Don’t Tread on Me” flag insignia.
The first new patch design seems to have been launched from the aircraft carrier George Washington, a warship undergoing its midlife nuclear refueling and overhaul at Huntington Ingalls’ Newport News shipyard.
According to the command blog, Chief Electronics Technician Joseph Knight urged the carrier’s leadership to consider George Washington’s 13-star Commander-in-Chief Standard, which was used during the Revolutionary War to mark his headquarters on the battlefield.
Knight’s brainchild percolated up to the carrier’s executive officer, Capt. Daryle Cardone.
Borrowing from a eulogy for Washington penned by Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, the command added the “First in War, First in Peace” motto to the patch and the fabulous flattop fashion was born.
The ship store has been selling the patches for $5 each since June 1.
Ten days after George Washington began vending its new patch, U.S. Fleet Activities Yokosuka’s commanding officer Capt. Jeffrey Kim unveiled his command’s new design.
It features an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer sailing in front of Japan’s Mount Fuji and a sky composed of both the U.S. and Japanese flags.
Zopfi began by drawing the design on paper and then moved his sketch to a computer to create multiple versions for Kim to consider. He was inspired partly by the legacy of Capt. Benton W. “Benny” Decker, the postwar base commander from 1946 to 1950
“I endeavored to make the patch look like it always existed in CFAY history but with the benefit of new design and fabrication technology to innovate," Zopfi said in the release.
As spiffy as the new patches appear, they’re still corralled by Navy uniform regulations.
The reverse American flag patch remains the only adornment allowed on a sailor’s right shoulder.
And sailors must choose wisely: If they’re already sporting command patches on the right breast pockets of their uniforms they’re barred from simultaneously wearing the same logos on their shoulders.
Similar to the regs addressing command belt buckles, alternative patches also can’t be mandated by unit leaders.
With other commands poised to debut their designs, the alternative unit patches will join a jumble of official and informal patches worn across the fleet for many years ― a few of them controversial.
A May 28 visit by President Donald J. Trump to the amphibious assault ship Wasp in Yokosuka triggered an uproar when some sailors wore a uniform path emblazoned with the words “Make Aircrews Great Again," a play on the Republican standard-bearer’s campaign slogan.
Some critics contended that the patches violated Pentagon policies issued to keep partisan politics out of the ranks, although some sailors defended the insignia as an inside joke that had little to do with the president’s catchphrase.
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.