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The Meaning of the Backwards American Flag

by: Jason McCarthy, 10th Special Forces Group, 2006-08

What does the backwards American flag mean?

The backwards flag (formally and officially known as the Reverse Flag), dates back to the Army’s early history when both cavalry and infantry units would charge ahead as the Stars and Stripes streamed backwards.

When assaulting forward, the star field is always to the front as the red and white stripes flow to the back in the breeze.

Today, the reverse flag is worn on the right sleeve of military uniforms and symbolizes the courage and respect of the soldiers who serve.

How are flags worn on Army uniforms?

The reverse American Flag patch goes on the right side (sleeve) of the uniform with the blue star field in the highest position of honor. The flag patch on uniforms pays homage and represents the flag flying backwards while charging into battle.

Per Army Regulation 670-1 (AR 670-1), Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia, associated with the change in uniform:


Pictured below is my Army Combat Uniform from 2008.

backwards american flag patch on army uniform

The flags worn while deployed feature subdued neutral colors, used for camouflage, and/or infrared (IR), which means they light up when viewed under night vision goggles. This helps friendly forces identify fellow soldiers.

army soldiers wearing uniforms with backwards flag patches
Beneath all of this inspiration is the GORUCK flag. The US flag and all it represents is something I was (and will always be) willing to fight for, and we at GORUCK have made every effort to ensure that GORUCK is a brand that lives up to its association with the USA and Special Forces. Our abstract of the US flag is meant to highlight our pride as a company at having our gear built in the USA, by American workers, with American craftsmanship.

GORUCK's Reverse Flag

What is GORUCK?



  1. Tiffany Martin says:

    Thank you very much for posting this. I found your company just recently and I really wish I found it before my husband left for his deployment. It’s refreshing to see a company take pride in it’s commitment to bring great products made by great people. You can be sure that my husband will be carrying a GoRuck from here on out.

  2. Brent Gannon (GRT 023/031) says:

    I love the challenge but this post took me from six to midnight. I’m glad you posted it, not many people are aware of why we(soldiers) wear the reverse flag.

    GORUCK is an American takes pride in quality and everything else it does. It’s great to be a part of a group like that, I consider myself lucky.

  3. Edgar (GRT) says:

    Thanks for this information! As a civilian I am happy to have this knowledge and to be aware of the history behind the patch.

  4. BobL says:

    Indeed…this might be my favorite read on the site…I always wondered why the flag appeared “backwards”…makes perfect sense…we should be teaching this kind of stuff to every kid in elementary school…Bob

    • MICHELLE says:

      I am surely going to teach it to my students. Everyone that walks through my door will hopefully leave with an appreciation for what our soldiers have done and continue to do for our country.

  5. James says:

    Awesome story, love it!

    Question: I have the utmost respect for the military, so here is my question. Are backwards flag patches somehow “reserved” for wear on packs by military personnel? I don’t want to disrespect them at all. So if I put one on my bag am I at all saying I’m military somehow? I wouldn’t want to offend any service person.

    Keep up the good work! Just ordered my Radio Ruck!

    • jason says:

      James – No, it’s not disrespectful at all. Some people may assume you’re in the military if you wear one, though. (I’m talking about the US Reverse Flag that’s a part of the uniform). If anyone ever asks, all you say is that this is your way of showing your support for the Armed Forces and all they do for our nation. Too easy, crisis averted. Thanks for checking in, and wear the flag with pride.

      Updated comment: see the discussion below. I’ve left my original comment above, which is true in its larger point, though technically wrong. (I came by this position honestly – read below). Sorry for any confusion.

  6. x SF medic says:

    Jason- as a former SF medic and weapons guy, i get where you are coming from with the reversed flag, but it is to be worn on the right side sleeve only per regulations. all other wear of the US flag is governed by the US Flag Code (Title 4 of the US Code) states that the US Flag shall be flown or presented with the blue field of stars to the Flag’s own right, unless blown by the wind. The reasoning behind the reversed field on the combat uniform is that the flag is flying into battle, and to have it displayed with the field to the flag’s own right would set it for retreat… I personally, and a number of my SF Brothers would appreciate it if you were to properly display the flag on your gear, out of full respect for the flag. Please think about it. From an 18B/18D, DOL.

    • jason says:

      SF medic – thanks for the note, and I hear what you’re saying. The small point I’ll make is that the GORUCK Flag is not the US Flag. The US Flag is the most important symbol to me of what our nation stands for, and my goal and our goal at GORUCK is to honor it at every turn. The GORUCK flag is an abstract of the reverse US Flag that we servicemen wore into combat, and it’s meant to highlight all the things you and I agree on that you list in your note and that I talk about in the post. Digging even deeper into the regulations, though:

      The [Federal] Flag Code itself, however, suggests a general rule by which practices involving the flag may be fairly tested: “No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America.” Therefore, actions not specifically included in the Code may be deemed acceptable as long as proper respect is shown.”

      One example that comes to mind with the US Flag is the IR compliant reverse US flags the guys and I all wore on the front of our body armor. Two of us are pictured in the post. Technically, the reverse US Flag should only be worn on the right side sleeves. However, these were the only infrared visible flags we had, and they (as you know), help your teammates identify you as friendly because they light up like Christmas trees when seen under night vision. So we wore them. At the time, I had no idea of any technicalities that would view this as problematic, and I know it’s pretty common for SF guys to still wear reverse flags on the front of their body armor. I don’t think this was disrespectful. I sure hope not anyway. As for the GORUCK Flag, my hope is that people who read this story will view it as our logo and not as the actual US Flag.

      Give my best to the guys. I’ll send you a note to your email address and I’d love to grab beers and swap stories sometime.

  7. Tom says:

    I’ve been wearing a reverse flag on my current backpack for just about four years now. My best friend is serving in the Navy, hoping to one day become a SEAL. I wear the flag on right side of the backpack, stars facing forward, to show respect for our service men and women.

    I was immediately sold when I discovered that GORUCK respects the reverse flag like I do.

    I’ve had my current backpack for ~10 years now, and I’m currently saving up to get a GR1. I’ve been searching for nearly a decade to find the perfect backpack. Until GORUCK, I hadn’t found a worthy replacement. The GR1 is nearly identical to the bag I designed and even considered making for myself. Hopefully I’ll be able to pull the trigger on the GR1 soon…

    Your company is amazing. Thank you!

  8. John Robinson says:

    Hello all: there’s some additional significance to the reversed flag. If you imagine yourself in a traditional line of battle advancing toward an enemy, seeing the flag with the field to the right also means you are positioned to the right of that flag (assuming a traditional battle line with the standard in the center). Historically, the right of the battle line was where the strongest, most reliable troops were placed. A subtle nod to military history, perhaps?

  9. Brian says:

    Why is the reverse flag worn on plate carriers? I operate under the assumption that the field should always be to the individual’s right shoulder. When displayed horizontally or vertically, the field should always be to the top-right, from the speaker’s (or wearer’s?) perspective.

    So when I see the reverse flag on a PC and the field is over the individual’s left shoulder, it throws me a bit.

  10. Bob says:

    If someone wanted to get the Goruck flag as a tattoo would that ok? Would placement matter?

    Or is it too much like the American flag?

  11. William says:

    I saw one of these “backward” flags on the front of someones vest worn on his right side of the vest. Is this correct or not – I’ve seen it both ways now. – pls/adv

  12. Fran says:

    I guess the question I have with the revise flag is I know you ware it on your right sleeve ,but what if you have it on your vest right side can you ware the reverse flag there.

  13. PsychoUSMC says:

    While this is a very entertaining explanation, it’s a load of crap. The flag was never worn backwards until 2004. And even if it is suppose to be worn on the right shoulder, why do you show pictures of it being worn on the chest, obviously in violation of regs.

  14. DetroitWolf313 says:

    I have a question on the use of the American flag used as a template for support of any professional group or cause. I have seen a subdued flag (with stars and stripes) with a red line to represent Fire, a blue line to represent Police and most recently a green line to represent Border Patrol. I have also observed a pink line on a subdued flag for Cancer Awareness/Survivor support. Should this be happening? Piggybacking your group or cause on top of the flag seems disrespectful. I love America. I support the groups and understand the causes but there seems to be a devaluing of the American flag in order to put one group or cause above what the Stars and Stripes stands for.

    • jason says:

      I am not sure the origins of those kinds of subdued flags, though I know FIRE and POLICE do it when one of their own falls. Instinctively, I think it greatly honors their sacrifice, ties it with America and our unified symbol (the flag), and reminds all who see it why people serve, and that many sacrifice everything.

  15. Nick says:

    Is it acceptable for a civilian to wear the backwards flag patch? I am a civilian working at a VA with deep respect and love for our nation and our veterans. The last thing I’d want to do is offend a veteran or give the impression that I’m a veteran myself.

    I have a GR1 that I wear for walks on lunches and have received many complements about the bag. I’m absolutely loving it.

    • jason says:

      That’s an IR (infrared) compliant flag. Under night vision, it lights up like a Christmas tree, so it’s a standard flag worn by US soldiers while deployed/in combat.

  16. Roger says:

    With ALL due respect, I’m more confused now than I was before reading this thread. I recently received new work shirts from my employer and they all have the reversed, black and grey flag previously sewn to the right sleeves. I have not served however hold the highest respect along with equal appreciation for those who have. But…

    As for my understanding of this form of flag, i am at a loss.
    Stars forward, i get that.
    Night vision identity, I get that too.
    Worn on plate carrier, I even got that.
    The one part I do not ever want to get,
    Is any personnel ripping me to shreds due to the possibility that they, themselves may not yet know the reasons for this form of flags’ existance.

    What would you advise?
    I remove them, drop them off at my local VFW and explain it to my employer ?
    Should I leave them be and hope nobody gets offended?

    Btw, I work on people’s homes, in their homes while they reside in them and I do happen to take great pride in my craft on every job and never quit until completed including customers satisfaction, even if it becomes at my expense.

    All my love and twice my respect!

    Thank You.

    • jason says:

      Keep working hard, such is our way. And wear your uniform with pride. Ultimately, the flag (reversed or not) is a symbol – if you’re proud to wear it and I can tell you are, do that. 🙂

  17. slepubutar@qwfox.com says:

    Wearing a backwards flag is the most un American thing I can think of, why not wear an upside down cross too while you’re at it. Save the stiff wind story for the flag on a pole you DOLT. Display our country’s flag correctly and where it with pride, not backwards you dumb fuck!

      • JayTee2430 says:

        Hey jason wats up bro just wanted to say to u and everybody else on here that whatever everybody on here is saying about the way u wore u US flag or ur GORUCK flag was obviously for a reason but to everybody on here it doesnt matter wether he wore it backwards,forwards, upside down or downside up, horizontal or in front chest plate left or right arm because at the end of the day u wer the one out there putting ur life on the line for ur country and us as well and dont matter which way it was worn because when enemies saw it all they saw was stars nd stripes nd they damn sure knew ut was an american flag nd when friendlies saw it lit up like a Xmas tree nd thats wat matters so i myself am very thankful for ur service. So u keep wearing ur GORUCK FLAG the way u want nd ur AMERICAN FLAG the way u want as well because u’ve earned that right too wear it anyway u want. Anybody else that thinks otherwise is is obviously dumber than anything on this earth and are not worthy of an explanation bcuz like i said at the end of the day u wer the one out there not them

  18. Gary Mooney says:

    If you believe in the rule of law and the U.S. Code as being the law of the land– a reverse flag is improper to display as a fixed emblem or uniform patch. A flag with gold trim (of implied trim) symbolizes the admiralty, rather than a constitutional Civil government. The subversion of public opinion being considered as fact is overwhelming. Civil cervents and first responders are now embracing this (reverse) symbol as a uniform culture.

    Reversing our flag is much more subtle transformation than when the German nationals adopted a swastika on their national flag. Thus remains, reversing a symbol substantially reverses its meaning. The misinformation is seductive and convincing. May God bless, and have mercy on his people.

  19. Tim says:

    I am a small business owner in SC. I have made the commitment that all of our shirts that our team members wear each day has the American flag on it. I love the American flag in reverse and what it stands for. Would it be disrespectful for civilian’s to wear the American flag in reverse on the right shoulder? I would like to think people observing this shirt as a way of paying our respect to our military, obviously the last thing I would ever do is be disrespectful to anyone in the armed forces.

  20. William e Moren JR says:

    I was in the Army National Guard 30 years ago never been to war and I wear the USA flag on both shoulders and I support are troops now and always amen

  21. anon says:

    Every soldier in WW2 wore their stars on the left. Find a pitcure of a flag before the Gulf War wearing the stars backward, it doesn’t exist. Wearing the flag on a military uniform has important meaning under international law and the law of armed conflict. Wearing stars on the left is a privilege to which the American armed forces are no longer entitled. Why? When did it change? In a designated conflict zone, wearing the national flag of a country without authorization is a war crime and gives no legal protection while in action against local law, so all kills are murders without immunity, legally, which can then be prosecuted, locally, even in absentia. All else aside, this is the most important point on the issue of the law of the flag. Without the Stars on the left Americans are legally out of uniform. In Syria for example, your trial and sentence will last less than sixty seconds. Assad doesn’t need any other reason to execute perfidious combatants with prejudice, legally. This isn’t emotional patriotism, this is the law of deadly force.

    Additional Protocol I

    Article 39(1) of the 1977 Additional Protocol I provides: “It is prohibited to make use in an armed conflict of the flags or military emblems, insignia or uniforms of neutral or other States not Parties to the conflict.”

    So if the United States isn’t a conflict party legally, the who are you actually fighting for? What happened to the United States so the military can no longer use the American flag properly, with the Stars on the left like veterans of previous wars? Obviously, the real reason is not public. Do your leaders even understand? If you believe the blowing-in-the-wind story you would probably believe anything told to you by an authority figure or politician.

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