A staff sergeant who challenged his command’s insistence that soldiers all wear the 1st Infantry Division patch rather than the combat patch of their choosing — and who was chastised for writing Stars and Stripes about the matter — said nothing has changed at his base, Camp Speicher, Iraq, since he publicly spoke out.

"Most people here are still under the impression that they have to wear the 1st ID patch," Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Minor wrote in an e-mail. "The command has still not put anything out saying that soldiers are still afforded there (sic) right to choose which patch they would like to wear as per Army Regulations."

Army regulations, the Department of the Army — and the command itself — all seem to agree that soldiers may wear combat patches from previous deployments on their right shoulders. But Col. Jessie Farrington, commander of the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, determined that it would build esprit de corps if all the soldiers wore the 1st ID patch, according to Lt. Col. James Cutting, battalion commander.

Soldiers new to the unit were handed patches at newcomers’ briefings, and were told it was "an order" to wear them, several soldiers said.

Minor, who wanted to wear his 173rd Brigade Combat Team patch, disagreed with the order. After numerous interactions in which, he said, it became clear the command was entrenched in its position, he wrote a letter to Stars and Stripes.

After the letter appeared in the paper, he received a counseling statement for not using his chain of command, and was threatened in writing with potential legal action if he, in the future, did not use his chain of command to resolve issues.

That was improper, most military officials agree. Although soldiers should use their chain of command, they said, when to seek help outside it is a judgment call. Furthermore, they said, soldiers have a constitutional right to free speech, including writing letters to newspapers.

Cutting said that he had misinterpreted Farrington’s wishes about the wearing of the 1st ID patch, that he’d not understood that ordering its wearing was against regulations and that the problem had been resolved with guidance he put out.

"Wear what you want," he wrote.

But, Cutting’s memo said, "The expectation is that leaders will support the BDE commander’s guidance that we act as a team and wear the patch…. Not mandatory, but strongly advised we all wear the 1ID patch."

That guidance was sent as an e-mail only to senior staff, Minor said. There’s been no further word from the command to let enlisted soldiers know that they may wear what patch they prefer, he said.

Some soldiers have congratulated him for boldly wearing his 173rd patch but are afraid to follow suit, he said.

"Many other soldiers want to send a letter to agree with the last article written and to add their opinion on the matter," Minor wrote in an e-mail. "But (they) are afraid of reprisal because of the counseling I received. … The command here is hoping this will all blow over and everyone will forget what is happening here."

Cutting could not be reached by phone and did not respond to an e-mail seeking his comment.

Minor is not the only soldier troubled by what would appear to be the command’s obsession with the 1st ID patch. A soldier in a different unit wrote in an e-mail about a photograph hanging at headquarters: It shows a soldier providing health care to a local Iraqi woman. The soldier in the photo is wearing a 1st ID patch on his left shoulder, according to the e-mail.

"The only problem is that the provider is NOT a 1st Infantry Division soldier, but rather a 4-6 CAV soldier," the e-mailer wrote. The photograph, the e-mail said, had been altered to superimpose the 1st ID patch over the 4-6 patch.

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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