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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 24, 2006

Troops to keep patch for service in combat

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

100th Battalion/442nd patch, left, and the 29th Infantry Bri gade patch are worn on the left shoulders of the units' soldiers. After serving in a combat zone, troops may also wear their unit patch on the right shoulder.

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An order that would have stripped many Hawai'i National Guard soldiers of hard-won combat patches from Iraq and Kuwait duty has been revised after the issue was examined by higher command.

A March 1 memo from Brig. Gen. Joseph Chaves, who commanded the 29th Brigade Combat Team when it went to Iraq in early 2005, called for soldiers to give up a variety of right-shoulder patches earned when they served under other commands in Iraq and Kuwait.

Among those patches are the 3rd Infantry Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, and 1st Corps Support Command.

The memo directed the citizen soldiers to instead sew on either the insignia of the Guard's 29th Brigade or the Army Reserve's 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry.

"Joe Chaves is not going to make them take (the other patches) off. If they've already got them sewn on, that's fine," Maj. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, the head of the Hawai'i National Guard, said yesterday.

"I'm just so proud of our soldiers answering the call to serve over there. This is a band of brothers and sisters that served in that group."

All soldiers wear the patch of their current unit on the left shoulder, and the troops departed from Hawai'i with either the 29th Brigade or 100th Battalion, 442nd insignia.

When they've served in a declared combat zone, they earn the privilege to also wear that unit patch or the patch of another unit they are attached to on the right shoulder.

The right-shoulder patch is a badge of honor that readily identifies a soldier as having served in a combat zone with a particular unit. Some soldiers proudly wear the same combat patch for the rest of their Army careers.

But with the completion of the mission, Chaves, citing Army regulations, had said those other combat patches were no longer authorized to be worn.

The brigade's 3,700 soldiers about 2,200 of them from Hawai'i were split up in Iraq and Kuwait, and most reported operationally to other commands.

The Hawai'i soldiers wore tan desert camouflage uniforms in Iraq and Kuwait. As news of the March 1 memo spread, some soldiers were unhappy with the called-for change.

Lee said when the dark green woodland uniform is put on back home, Army regulations say "you've got to put on (Hawai'i's 29th Brigade) patch on the right side."

But Lee said Chaves is not "going to have heartburn" over a multiplicity of patches, whether on desert or woodland uniforms. At least one Vietnam War veteran in the Hawai'i National Guard still wears his combat patch from that era.

In six to nine months, all Hawai'i National Guard soldiers will be issued the Army's new digital camouflage uniform.

Those uniforms have hook-and-loop attachments for shoulder patches, meaning the citizen soldiers will be able to easily switch combat patches to suit the occasion. "Thank goodness for Velcro," Lee quipped.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com.