HEIDELBERG, Germany — These colors don’t run and, from now on, they don’t come off uniforms either.

That’s the message from the Army’s top commander in Europe, who is ordering troops returning from deployments to the Balkans, Middle East and other hot spots to keep the U.S. flag patch on their fatigues.

Soon, Gen. B.B. Bell hopes all soldiers will be wearing the Stars and Stripes full time, whether deployed or at home.

“In light of our expeditionary operations and in recognition of the Army’s commitment to the (global war on terrorism), it is now appropriate and proper for all soldiers to proudly and permanently wear the American Flag on their field/combat uniform — whether they are committed to an operation or in garrison,” Bell wrote in a Dec. 15 message to Army commanders stationed in Europe.

Bell’s decision runs counter to Army tradition that has typically limited wear of the Stars and Stripes to only overseas operations.

Local commanders may authorize a 2-by-3-inch U.S. flag patch during interservice and allied operations “when the distinguishing of individual national soldiers is desired, and overrides the tactical consideration of full-color insignia on uniforms,” according to the Army’s uniform rule book AR 670-1 “Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia.”

“Soldiers are not authorized to wear the full-color U.S. flag,” the regulation states, “upon their return to home station.”

Army officials at the Pentagon, however, are currently overhauling those rules, according to Bell.

Several issues still need to be ironed out, Bell wrote, before the new regs are published, including:

• “Since the wear of the flag patch will be a permanent authorization, should the flag be worn above a right shoulder combat patch? If yes, will uniforms with the flag patch below the combat patch (as is the current procedure) be acceptable until a wear out date?”

• “What will be the cut off dates when the flag patch must be affixed?”

“These and other issues will need answering,” Bell wrote. “Until such time as the instructions are published, I do not want personnel returning from a deployment to remove their U.S. flag patch from either the (Desert Camouflage Uniforms) or (Battle Dress Uniforms.)”

Troops have been quick to applaud the change.

“The American flag represents an Army of one,” said Sgt. Maj. Mark Espinoza, the senior enlisted soldier for operations under the European Regional Medical Command. Espinoza just finished pulling his flag patches off his uniforms after returning from a deployment in November.

The rule change has also been good news for soldiers, such as Chief Warrant Officer 5 Randy Bugg.

“This is going to save me from having two sets of uniforms,” said Bugg, an aviation safety officer who must routinely travel from his headquarters in Heidelberg to deployment areas throughout Europe.

Until now, Bugg has had to trade out uniforms every time he flew “downrange,” where flag patches are expected.

Army officials expect the new regulations will be released within the next few weeks. Until, then however, Bell has made it clear he’s not waiting and doesn’t expect his leaders to either.

“FYI,” Bell added to the end of his message, “[USAREUR Command Sgt. Maj. Michael] Gravens and I intend to affix the flag patch immediately to our combat/field uniforms.”

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