Umm, you’re wearing your flag backwards.

A national call to action to maintain America’s brand.

Written by: Lyndy McLaughlin

Do you know why the American flag is worn backwards on military uniforms? I didn’t.

Living in America, there is an ingrained, unspoken understanding that the flag should be displayed with the stars in the upper left hand corner and the stripes extending out to the right. But have you ever noticed or wondered why it is displayed backwards on military uniforms?

Here’s the official explanation: Army Regulation 670-1 states, “the American flag patch is to be worn, right or left shoulder, so that “the star field faces forward, or to the flag’s own right. When worn in this manner, the flag is facing to the observer’s right, and gives the effect of the flag flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward.”

In short, it’s all about branding.

Being in the marketing field, I have a great respect for this, a respect that someone has thoroughly thought about the perception of our country and what our nation stands for. The perception of the American brand was analyzed in such depth that even the smallest detail, placement of a flag on a U.S. military uniform, was considered. The “backwards” flag woven into the sleeves of our nation’s soldiers ensures that when our military men and women are charging forward, our flag will always appear to be charging forward with them, never retreating.

My career thus far has been in creating, maintaining and promoting brands. A brand is not just a logo or a color scheme, nor is it the way a brand wishes to be perceived. It is an intangible asset, one that is ultimately created through engagement. A strong brand gives consistent experiences and interactions, meaning that it is not just the way a brand represents itself but, more importantly, the way those on the outside perceive that brand.

I recently read an article that equates brand perception to a person looking in a mirror. Their reflection is still, almost motionless in the mirror—this is how we perceive ourselves to a large extent. But those around us see us in action; responding, reacting and engaging with outside forces. It is these interactions that truly define who we are and how others will form perceptions of us – establishing our personal brand.

America is a brand.

The American flag is a visual representation of that brand – of a strong, free and persevering nation.

And as a symbol of our brand, uniformed Americans wear our flag “backwards,” signifying that we are never running away, but that we are charging ever forward, and our flag charges forward with us, allowing for no doubt in the eyes of bystanders who we are and where we are headed. Our flag was never meant to stand still for eternity, nor was it designed to be displayed behind glass in a museum. It was designed to live, to react, to blow in the breeze, to be a symbol of freedom and to be an emblem of forever charging forward to ensure our freedom. But the flag wouldn’t be representative of the land of the free and the home of the brave without Americans who live up to that perception.

With this in mind, the responsibility to defend the American brand does not rest solely on our military. It is a responsibility that should be shared by all Americans – with a concerted effort on supporting those who put their lives on the line to defend the American brand, our troops, our veterans and our military families. Americans need to charge forward to ensure that our servicemen and their families are well cared for and see that they do not return home to a country that appears to have turned its back on them, by making it difficult for them to integrate into the workforce, by making it difficult for them to receive streamlined healthcare, or by not having the resources ready and available to aid them in achieving that American dream for which they so bravely fought.

So, what’s the message?  I hope that we all feel a personal drive to maintain the perception of America. As a nation, we need to represent the American brand – the land of the free and the home of the brave – for generations to come. We certainly cannot take for granted that we live freely because American men and women have valiantly fought and died protecting that freedom. We all have a responsibility to support those who have kept us safe – to join the mission to serve those who have served. And as a nation, we need to be the force that removes our stagnant flag from its display case and causes it to appear backwards in a fury of forward action in the pursuit of what our country stands for. And, at the very least, we should all understand why uniformed men and women proudly wear a “backwards” flag.

Lyndy McLaughin is the Assistant Director of Communications for Digital Media and Marketing at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families.


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