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BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Lt. Col. Rich Morales, commander of the 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment, has been doubling as a marketing and branding specialist of late, rolling out the merchandise and making his pitch.

There’s the new “Iron Knights” bumper sticker on his car. His e-mails all end with an emphatic “Iron Knights!” signature. There are the new Iron Knights pencils Morales likes to hand out. And a commemorative wine label, stating “Iron Knights, 1941-2008” also is in the works.

After months of mulling it over and consulting with former battalion commanders, Morales decided in September to part with his unit’s nine-year-old call sign of “Conqueror” in favor of a return to “Iron Knights.”

While it may seem like a small matter, such decisions aren’t made lightly, he said.

“I had to walk a fine line so as not to seem like I was the new guy coming in here changing things just to change,” Morales said. “It’s not a new guy coming in trying to diminish any of your accomplishments. It is tying in to our lineage and also looking forward to our mission in Iraq.”

Morales says the old “Conqueror” moniker doesn’t match the current mission and could potentially send the wrong message to Iraqis.

“They understand English. They communicate. Their translators do. ‘Hey what does that sign say?’ It says Task Force Conqueror,” said Morales, who will be making his third deployment to Iraq in March.

“As we go forward into Iraq, my concern would be, as we go there to try to build security, that someone would try to misconstrue our name,” Morales said.

“Rather than have that detract from the primary mission, I want to focus on our traditions and lineage,” adding “I really, really think philosophically, we are not (conquerors). We are there to help.”

The change also reconnects the 1-35 with its long history. Going back to World War II, 1-35 was known as the Iron Knights.

But nine years ago, after some Army unit reshuffling, 1-35 and an aviation unit bearing the Iron Knight name both ended up in the 1st Armored Division. At the time, 1-35 made the change to Conqueror. But when the aviation unit left the division last summer, Iron Knights was free for the taking.

As for the unit’s motto etched on its crest, it remains “Vincere Vel Mori,” Conquer or Die.

“I’m OK with it being in Latin,” Morales joked.

The reasons for the call sign change are serious, though. “This is chess, not checkers. I want our soldiers to know we are thinking about this stuff,” Morales said.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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