The design of all US Department of Defense beret flashes are created and/or approved by The Institute of Heraldry, Department of the Army. When a requesting unit is entitled to have its own organizational beret flash, the institute will conduct research into the requesting unit's heraldry, as well as design suggestions from the requesting unit, in the creation of a unit or specialty–specific beret flash. Leveraging geometrical divisions, shapes, and colors a heraldic artist will create a design that will represent the history and mission of the requesting unit. Once the unit agrees upon a design, the institute will authorize the creation of the new beret flash and will establish manufacturing instructions for the companies authorized to produce heraldic materials. The institute will also monitor the production of the new beret flash to ensure quality and accuracy of the design is maintained.
Throughout its history, Army units have adopted different headgear and headgear devices—such as various colored cords, colored stripes, and insignias—to identify specific units, the unique mission of a unit, and/or the unique role of a soldier. According to some historians, the first US use of a military beret device was a beret flash created by the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion. The 509th trained with the British 1st Airborne Division during World War II (WWII) and was made honorary members of the British airborne forces in 1943, entitling them to wear the maroon beret worn by British paratroopers. Some 509th paratroopers had a small hand–embroidered version of their regiment's gold and black pocket–patch created for use as their beret flash on their honorary maroon berets. The design of the 509th's pocket–patch, and their first organizational beret flash, depicts a stylized figure of a paratrooper standing at an open aircraft door wearing a reserve parachute with an artistic rendering of the number "509" surrounding the paratrooper's head and the name Geronimo displayed at the base of the door in title case.
Special forces group recognition bar example
11th Special Forces Group Beret Flash
11th Special Forces Group Recognition Bar—note the similarity in design between the group's beret flash and recognition bar
A medical corps paratrooper with the 11th Special Forces Group wearing rifle-green beret with 1st Special Forces Regiment DUI affixed above the 11th Special Forces Group recognition bar (c. 1967)
The official start of the Army's beret flashes began in 1961 with Department of the Army Message 578636 authorizing the establishment of organizational beret flashes for wear on the special forces'rifle–green beret. Championed and heavily influenced by Lieutenant GeneralWilliam P. Yarborough (Ret.)—creator of the US Army parachutist badge, airborne background trimming, and established the term "beret flash" in US military lexicon—the message described the beret flash as shield–shaped with a semi–circular base made of felt 2 in (51 mm) tall and 1.625 in (41 mm) wide using solid colors to represent each of the special forces groups of the era. The message also described who was authorized to wear the organizational beret flash stating that only special forces qualified paratroopers would be permitted to wear their special forces unit's organizational beret flash. These organizational beret flashes were to be worn centered over the left eye with either the 1st Special Forces RegimentDUI, polished metal officer rank insignia, or chaplain branch insignia positioned below their parachutist badge and centered on the beret flash. Later, the parachutist badge was removed and non–qualified soldiers assigned to a special forces unit wore a rectangular cloth beret flash, known as a recognition bar, 1.875 in (4.76 cm) long and 0.5 in (1.27 cm) wide color and pattern matched to their group's organizational beret flash below their 1st Special Force Regiment DUI, polished metal officer rank insignia, or chaplain branch insignia on the rifle–green beret.
Various beret accoutrements began to appear in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly between 1973 and 1979 when the Department of the Army had its morale–enhancing order in effect and different colored berets began to be worn by numerous units and branches of the Army.
Historical photographs from the 1960s through the 1970s show soldiers assigned to reconnaissance, ranger, and armor units informally wearing black berets with reconnaissance and ranger units affixing a wide variety of custom beret flashes that were worn over the left eye. In 1975, the Army formally authorized its ranger units to wear the black beret. If earned, some of these ranger units had their rangers affix their Ranger Tab to the top edge of their organizational beret flash along with their regiment or unit DUI, polished metal officer rank insignia, or chaplain branch insignia affixed to its center and worn over the left eye.
An infantryman with 1st Cavalry Division, 1st Brigade, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, Reconnaissance Platoon wearing black beret with platoon beret flash (1970)
Ranger unit example
Ranger Department Beret Flash
An infantry NCO with the US Army Infantry School wearing black beret with Ranger Department Beret Flash bearing 75th Ranger Regiment DUI below his Ranger Tab (c. 1975)
Wearing of the black beret by armor units expanded in the 1970s with some adopting organizational beret flashes. For example, many US Army armor units stationed in West Germany, such as the 1st Armored Division, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, and 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, began wearing black berets in the 1970s with the armored cavalry regiments affixing maroon and white ovals for use as their beret flash. The oval beret flash was worn vertically on the black beret behind their DUI to the left of their metal rank insignia or chaplain branch insignia and positioned over the left temple. Another example is the Army's "triple capability" experiment with the 1st Cavalry Division that outfitted the division for armor, airmobile, and air cavalry warfare in 1971. The division decided that its soldiers should wear different colored berets to represent the capability they brought to the division: black for armor, light–blue for infantry, red for artillery, and kelly–green for support—later settling for black berets across all formations. As they became available, 1st Cavalry soldiers would affix a battalion or squadron specific organizational beret flash of various shapes, colors, and materials to their beret. Historical photographs show many 1st Cavalry soldiers wearing their berets in the same manner as US armored cavalry soldiers in West Germany. The use of black berets extended to training units as well, such as the US Army Training and Doctrine Command and its armor school. Historical photographs of the era show plastic triangles being worn on black berets of Army Armor Schoolcadre and were worn in the same manner as beret flashes are today.
Armored Cavalry Regiment example
Armored Cavalry Oval Beret Flash
An artillery NCO with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment wearing black beret with subdued sergeant rank insignia next to the Armored Cavalry Oval bearing his regiment's DUI (c. 1973–1975)
1st Cavalry Division example
1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Beret Flash
An infantryman with the 1st Cavalry Division wearing black beret with polished brass specialist 4 rank insignia next to the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Beret Flash bearing the 12th Cavalry Regiment DUI (1976)
US Armor School example
US Army Armor School Instructor Flash (made of plastic)
An armor officer with the US Army Training and Doctrine Command, US Army Armor School wearing black beret with Armor School Instructor Flash bearing polished metal captian rank insignia (1976)
In 1973, Army leaders authorized the wear of the maroon beret by airborne forces. Within a year or so, paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division began incorporating organizational beret flashes onto their maroon berets pattered after their unit's airborne background trimming. These organizational beret flashes, representing various units of the 82nd, were worn in the same manner as they are today. Similarly, in 1974 Army leaders authorized the 101st Airborne Division to wear the dark–blue beret when it was reorganized into an air assault division at Fort Campbell. Army articles and historical photographs of 101st soldiers show them wearing organizational beret flashes patterned after their unit's airborne background trimming and were affixed with either their polished metal rank insignia, DUI, or chaplain branch insignia centered on the beret flash and worn over the left eye. Between 1976 and 1977, 101st soldiers would affix their Airmobile Badge—renamed Air Assault Badge in 1978—to their berets positioned over their left temple, next to their beret flash. Other Fort Campbell units of the era also wore the dark–blue beret as well as red for headquarters command and light-green for military police, all with traditional organizational beret flashes that were worn in the same manner as they are today.
A paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division wearing maroon beret with 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Beret Flash bearing his regiment's DUI (1975)—note the design similarities between the airborne background trimming and beret flash
An engineer officer with the 101st Airborne Division wearing dark–blue beret with 326th Engineer Battalion Beret Flash bearing polished metal lieutenant colonel rank insignia next to his Airmobile Badge (1977)—note the design similarities between the airborne background trimming and beret flash
Arctic–qualified soldier example
1st Battalion, 60th Infantry Beret Flash
An arctic–qualified infantryman with the 172nd Infantry Brigade wearing olive–drab beret with 1st Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment Beret Flash bearing his regiment's DUI (c. 1970s)
By 1979, the Army put a stop to the use of berets by conventional forces, leaving only special forces and ranger units the authority to wear berets.
In 1980, the Army reversed part of its decision allowing airborne units to wear maroon berets, ranger units black berets—which switched to tan berets in 2001—and special forces units rifle–green berets. The Army's 1981 uniform regulation describes the wear of these berets with the only authorized accoutrements being organizational beret flashes or recognition bars with officer rank insignia, chaplain branch insignia, or DUI affixed.
The organizational beret flash did not become the norm across the Army until 1984 when the recognition bar was discontinued after the Special Forces Tab became authorized for wear by special forces qualified paratroopers. Today, all paratroopers assigned to a special forces unit wear their unit's organizational beret flash on either a rifle–green beret, for special forces qualified paratroopers, or a maroon beret, for support paratroopers.
Example of modern-day wear of the special forces organizational beret flashes
7th Special Forces Group Beret Flash
Two officers, one wearing a maroon beret and the other a rifle-green beret, with 7th Special Forces Group Beret Flash and polished metal major rank insignia affixed; the officer to the right is special forces qualified, as indicated by his rifle–green beret and tab (2017)
In 2000, the Chief of Staff of the Army, GeneralEric Shinseki, decided to make the black beret the standard headgear of the Army. This was codified in regulations in 2001 and was amended in 2011 making the black beret optional headgear with certain uniforms. General Shinseki also decided that a new Department of the Army Beret Flash be worn on the black beret. According to The Institute of Heraldry, the Department of the Army Beret Flash is designed to resemble the flag of the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army—known as a general officer's or flag officer's standard—at the time of its victory at Yorktown in 1781; a light–blue flag with thirteen white six-point stars representing the Thirteen Colonies. According to Department of the Army Pamphlet 670–1, the Department of the Army Beret Flash is to be worn by all units "unless authorization for another flash was granted before implementing the black beret as a standard Army headgear".
Example of the beret flash exception on the Army black beret
55th Signal Company Beret Flash
Signal Corps NCOs wearing maroon and black berets with 55th Signal Company Beret Flash and 114th Signal Battalion DUI—only the 55th's Airborne Combat Camera Documentation Team is authorized to wear the maroon beret but the beret flash was authorized for the company prior to the establishment of the Department of the Army Beret Flash (2012)
First organizational beret flash authorized for a non–airborne unit since 1979
1st Security Force Assistance Brigade Beret Flash
A soldier with the Security Force Assistance Command, 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade wearing brown beret with unit beret flash and DUI affixed (2018)
A special forces qualified officer wearing rifle–green beret with generic—non unit–specific—Special Forces Beret Flash and polished metal general (O-10) rank insignia affixed (2019)
In the 21st century, unlike the Department of the Army Beret Flash, Army organizational beret flashes often signify a specific formation of a specialized unit, such as an active airborne, ranger, special forces, or combat advisor unit. However, there is a unique generic Special Forces Beret Flash worn by special forces paratroopers on their rifle–green beret when assigned to a unit not authorized an organizational beret flash; this is due to the rifle–green beret representing a paratrooper's special forces qualification—in addition to the Special Forces Tab—rather than a special forces unit as it once did in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s.
In the mid 1960s, Air Force commando weathermen, formally known as weather parachutists, with Detachment 26 of the 30th Weather Squadron and Detachment 32 of the 5th Weather Squadron informally wore black berets. A black cloth rectangle with a yellow embroidered anemometer surmounted by a fleur–de–lis with the words "Combat Weather" split by the anemometer was used as their beret flash. From 1970 through the 1980s, weather parachutists with the 5th Weather Squadron wore maroon berets with an Army style beret flash that incorporated the squadron's design and colors from their emblem's alchemical symbol for water and affixed their Parachutist Badge to the flash. In 1979, weather parachutists were authorized to wear navy–blue berets with an Army style beret flash consisting of a blue and black field surrounded by yellow piping. Enlisted and NCOs affixed their Parachutist Badge to the flash while officers affixed their polished metal rank insignia. In 1986, the gray beret was authorized for wear by weather parachutists who continued to wear the aforementioned cloth beret flash until a new large color metallic Special Operations Weather Team Crest was authorized. In 1992, the Air Force approved the return of the weather parachutist's blue, black, and yellow beret flash from the 1970s and affixed their large color metallic Special Operations Weather Team Crest to it.
Special Operations Weather Team example
Special Operations Weather Team Beret Flash
A weather parachutist with AFSOC's 107th Weather Flight wearing gray beret with Special Operations Weather Team Beret Flash and Combat Weather Team Crest (2008)
In 1996, weather parachutists assigned to Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) began wearing a new Army style beret flash, known as the Special Operations Weather Team Beret Flash, while those assigned to Air Combat Command, known as Combat Weather Teams, continued to wear the blue, black and yellow beret flash. The Special Operations Weather Team Beret Flash consisted of a red border representing the blood shed by their predecessors, a black background representing special operations, and three diagonal lines of various colors representing the services they supported (green=Army, purple=joint forces, and blue=Air Force). Enlisted and NCOs affixed their Parachutist Badge to the Special Operations Weather Team Beret Flash while officers affixed their polished metal rank insignia until 2002 when the Combat Weather Team Crest was created. The Combat Weather Team Crest was affixed to both Special Operations Weather Team and Combat Weather Team Beret Flashes by enlisted and NCOs while officers continued to affix their polished metal rank insignia. In 2007/2008, the Special Operations Weather Team Beret Flash stopped being worn and in 2009—when the Special Operations Weather AFSC was established—a new large polished metallic Special Operations Weather Crest was approved for wear by special operations weather teams, with a modified version of the crest being worn by the now redesignated special reconnaissance airman in 2019.
1041st Security Police Squadron example
1041st Security Police Squadron Beret Flash
A security policeman with the 1041st Security Police Squadron wearing dark–blue beret and unit beret flash (c. 1967)
In 1997, the Air Force stood up the security forces AFSC and honored the heraldry of the 1041st Security Police Squadron by creating a new organizational beret flash for all security forces airman and NCOs. The new Security Forces Beret Flash depicts the 1041st's falcon over an airfield on a blue shield–shaped patch bordered in gold with a white scroll at its base embroidered with the motto "Defensor Fortis" (defenders of the force) in dark–blue title case. Security forces officers wear the same basic beret flash minus the embroidered falcon and airfield and in its place affix their polished metal rank insignia.
Air Mobility Liaison Officer example
Institute of Heraldry manufacturing instructions for the Air Mobility Liaison Officer Beret Flash
An Air Mobility Liaison Officer with the 8th Air Support Operations Squadron wearing black beret with Air Mobility Liaison Officer Beret Flash and polished metal captain rank insignia affixed (2011)
In 1979, TACP airman and NCOs were given authorization to wear the black beret. In 1984, two TACP's submitted a design for a unique beret flash and crest for wear on their berets which the Air Force approved one year later. The TACP Beret Flash consists of a scarlet border that represent the firepower TACP's bring to bear with two dovetailed fields of blue and green representing the close working relationship between the Air Force and the Army that is enabled by the TACP. TACP officers also wear the TACP Beret Flash and Crest but with miniature polished metal rank insignia below the crest and just above the inner–border of the beret flash.
Some Air Mobility Liaison Officers also wore the black beret. Although worn informally before then, in 2015 The Institute of Heraldry authorized a slight modification of the TACP Beret Flash for wear by Air Mobility Liaison Officers, incorporating an embroidered compass rose in the upper–left corner of the flash. The Air Mobility Liaison Officer Beret Flash was worn in the same manner as Air Liaison Officers wear the TACP Beret Flash.
Combat Aviation Advisors
Combat Aviation Advisor example
Combat Aviation Advisor Flash
An NCO (left) and an officer (right) with a combat aviation advisor squadron are wearing brown berets with Combat Aviation Advisor Beret Flash with the officer affixing his metal major rank insignia (2018)
From 2018–2022, AFSOC authorized the wear of the brown beret for airman, NCOs, and officers assigned to what was known as combat aviation advisor squadrons, such as the 6th and 711th Special Operations Squadrons. The brown beret—similar to the Army's brown beret—was worn with an Army style organizational beret flash consisting of a blue field with olive–green diagonal stripes and border. The Combat Aviation Advisor Beret Flash was worn centered over the left eye with polished metal officer rank insignia, chaplain branch insignia, or an AFSC metallic beret crest affixed to the beret flash while all other advisors wore it without accoutrements.
In the 1960s, select US Navyriverine patrol units operating in South Vietnam adopted the black beret to be part of their daily uniform and wore various accouterments on their berets. In 1967, the Commander of the Riverine Patrol Force sent an official message to the Commander of River Patrol Flotilla Five authorizing the wear of the black beret. In this message, the wear and appearance of the beret was defined stating, "Beret will be worn with river patrol force insignia centered on right side" and "Only standard size river patrol force insignia will be worn on beret. ... No other emblem or rank insignia will be displayed on beret." Today, these US Navy small boat units honor their heritage by wearing the black beret during special occasions—such as induction ceremonies into the Gamewardens Association—and will affix historically relevant riverine task force insignia for use as their beret flash.
Examples of US Navy riverine units' use of the black beret
US Army Armor School, 194th Armored Brigade, 3rd Field Artillery, 3rd Battalion (made of plastic)
–US Army Armor School, 194th Armored Brigade, 10th Cavalry Regiment, Troop D (Long-Range Surveillance) –US Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps, Temple University –Various other units (see "Armor and cavalry" section)
The state defense forces—also known as state guard, state military reserve, or state militia—in many US states and territories wear modified versions of Army uniforms. To help separate state guard units from Army units, such as the Army National Guard, they will often wear unique name tape, badges, shoulder sleeve insignia, and/or headgear. If the militia unit chooses to wear the Army black beret, a unique organizational beret flash is worn to help further distinguish them from Army units. These state military reserve organizational beret flashes are worn in the same manner as Army beret flashes are today. The following is a list of some organizational beret flashes worn by various state and territory militias:
State Defense Force (worn by various state guard units)