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Rumor Check: Are Navy SEALs Being Banned From Wearing Traditional 'Don't Tread on Me' Patch?


"...war on our Navy's heritage."

A former Navy SEAL claimed to have seen an email instructing active SEALS not to wear the First Navy Jack patch. The Navy has denied this instruction. (Image source: U.S. Navy via Wall Street Journal)

Late last week, a retired U.S. Navy SEAL penned an article that claimed some sailors were no longer allowed to wear a traditional patch bearing the iconic phrase "Don't tread on me."

But a spokesperson for the Navy says this isn't the case.

The patch in question is called the First Navy Jack. It features a rattle snake on a red- and white-stripped flag with the words "Don't tread on me."

navy jack patch A former Navy SEAL claimed to have seen an email instructing active SEALS not to wear the First Navy Jack patch. The Navy has denied this instruction. (Image source: U.S. Navy via Wall Street Journal)

Carl Higbie, who served two tours in Iraq while in active duty, wrote in an op-ed for the Daily Caller that a former teammate sent him an email dated October 22 that "[waged] war on our Navy’s heritage." It read (emphasis added):


WARCOM and GROUP TWO/ONE have pushed out the uniform policy for NWU III and any patches worn on the sleeve.

All personnel are only authorized to wear the matching “AOR” American Flag patch on the right shoulder.  You are no longer authorized to wear the “Don’t Tread On Me” patch.

Again the only patch authorized for wear is the American flag on the right shoulder. Please pass the word to all


Senior Enlisted Advisor

[Name Redacted]

Higbie wrote during his deployments, the phrase was on nearly every uniform, on flags and painted on barriers. Asking himself why this "battle cry" might not be allowed on uniforms, Higbie wrote that a friend of his was told, “The Jack is too closely associated with radical groups.”

"We must assume that this thought policeman embedded in the SEAL community is speaking of the Tea Party, whose flag (which also dates from the American Revolution) depicts a snake with the same defiant slogan as The Navy Jack," Higbie speculated.

A Gadsen flag waves in the wind. (Source: AP)

"This begs yet another question: Who defines 'radical group?' The last time I checked, all military personnel are under oath to 'support and defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic,'" Higbie continued. "The Tea Party stands for constitutional rights and founding principles of civil liberties and limited government. Radical? Not unless you’re a leftist hell-bent on destroying the foundations of our country. Or as the president has stated as the objective of his presidency, 'to fundamentally transform' America."

Chris Hagerman, a former Navy SEAL, wrote on NavySeals.com that he had heard the defense for this as "trying to maintain uniformity between the operators." This argument to Hagerman is "complete garbage."

"As members of special operations, we have had the ability to wear custom uniforms that often did not always match our teammates," Hagerman wrote. "We also could wear our own custom patches. These include state flag patches, unit or platoon patches or just plain motivational patches. From wearing blue jeans in Vietnam and non-military hunting camouflage patterns currently, to wearing the Punisher, Crusader or Navy Jack on our uniforms or body armor, special operations personnel bring the fight to the enemy using battle symbols we feel strongly about."

But is the Navy Jack really being banned from uniforms?

"As of September 2013, all Naval Special Warfare  personnel are authorized to wear the U.S. flag and the 'Don't Tread on me' uniform patches," Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Sarah Flaherty told TheBlaze in an email. "In the past, NSW did not authorize wearing either patch unless one was deployed or in a work-up cycle. However, NSW recently sought special permission from the Chief of Naval Operations staff to wear the patches within the continental United States."

Th Wall Street Journal reported that Higbie's accusation was investigated, but the Navy could not find a unit in the Special Ops community that banned the patch.

On Twitter, Higbie wrote the Navy needs to "get on the same page."

Higbie told the WSJ that Navy officials would "say they never said this," but so long as the SEALs are able to continue wearing it, "I am happy with that.”

The design dates back to 1775, flying on the Continent Navy ships' first flags. Since Sept. 11, 2002, it has been worn as a uniform patch and flown on ships in the war against terrorism.

(H/T: Freedom Outpost)



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