From “Mountain” to “Jungle,” the US Army has a lot of tabs- twelve official ones to be exact, with countless unofficial ones.
While the authorized wear of said tabs vary from unit to unit, the sheer number of them -usually used to signify the completion of specialized courses or unit affiliation- pays compliment to the Army’s unique and varied capabilities.
Some tabs -such as Special Forces, Ranger, the President’s Hundred and Sapper- signify the completion of specialized schooling and course completion in order to wear the tab, be it to enter the ranks of elite units or to prove that an individual has what it takes to go above and beyond.
Number one in tab precedence, the Special Forces tab was established in 1983, long after the actual Special Forces existed. In order to earn it, one has to complete the Special Forces Qualification Course or the Special Forces Officer Course at Fort Bragg North Carolina. For those who have the tab, wearing it is not always necessary as the beard and relaxed uniform standards make it clear they have one.
The Ranger tab doesn’t mean you’re part of a Ranger battalion (those are scrolls), but signifies a completion of the brutal 61-day Ranger School course. The tab itself can be retroactively awarded to World War II Rangers, members of “Merrill’s Marauders” or Korean War veterans of the Eighth Army Ranger Company, so long as they have a Combat Infantry Badge. Ranger tabs have been a thing for over sixty-six years.
Similar (but not really) to a Ranger tab is the Sapper Tab, which was authorized in 2004 for soldiers who complete the Sapper Leader Course at the US Army Engineer School. The Sapper course is 28-days long and involves a lot of challenging combat engineering skills. For a long time, the Sapper tab was the only way for women to be able to get “tabbed,” since Ranger and Special Forces schools were off-limits.
Similar in the vein of the aforementioned tabs, the President’s Hundred Tab is awarded to the 100 top-qualifying Army shooters who attend the annual President’s Match at Camp Perry, Ohio. A similar tab known as the “Governor’s Twenty/Twelve/Ten” tab, is awarded to National Guard troops of varying states who excel above their peers in marksmanship. These tabs are actually quite difficult to get, and only so many are given per year.
The Special Forces, Ranger, Sapper and President’s Hundred are “forever tabs,” authorized for permanent wear, no matter what unit you end up in later in your career.
Not so much earned as they are part of the uniform, Airborne, Mountain, Combined Division and Honor Guard tabs are given to individuals assigned to respective Airborne Units (such as the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)), the 10th Mountain Division, The Second Infantry Division’s Combined HQ in Korea and the 3rd US Infantry Regiment,known as “The Old Guard.” While these tabs are more a unit signifier than anything else, one generally has to meet qualifications to enter such a unit (be it Airborne qualification or stringent uniformity requirements) and thus the tabs are a great source of pride for those who wear them.
For a very brief time, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) had a quasi-official unit “Air Assault” tab, as well as a dark blue beret. This only lasted about a year or two before it was discontinued. That said, units in the late 60s to 70s more or less did whatever they wanted.
Unit-specific but lesser known than the others, the Arctic badge and Jungle Expert tab are awarded to members of specific climate-specialized units for completing gruelling arctic and jungle leadership courses, respectively.
The Arctic tab is given to members of the US Army who complete the Cold Weather Orientation Course or Cold Weather Leadership Course in Alaska. Members under the command of US Army Alaska can wear the patch on combat uniforms while in the borders of Alaska.
The Jungle Expert/Jungle tab was formerly assigned to individuals who graduated from the Jungle Operations Training Center in Panama until the school was shut down in 1999, when the US handed the Panama Canal and all associated areas back to Panama.
Currently, the Jungle tab is assigned to members of the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division and others in the Pacific Area of Responsibility who complete a Jungle leadership course.
As much as we would like the “SNIPER” Tab to be an authorized tab (some units authorize to be sewn inside of Sniper’s boonie caps) for completing specific marksmanship courses, it (sadly) just isn’t the case. Originally meant for troops who graduated from the US Army Sniper school, the unofficial patch was later watered down during the Global War on Terror to signify graduates of Sniper School, the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course (SOTIC) and various advanced long-range marksman courses (due to the difficulty in getting soldiers sent to the actual US Army Sniper School amid countless back-to-back deployments and unit budget woes. Some units might even allow them for members of Sniper Platoons who haven’t gone to a marksman school at all, though this is generally a taboo practice.
Similar unofficial tabs include “FISTER” (for artillery spotters), “SCOUT” and “RECON” (for Infantry and Cavalry scouts, respectively).
Older tabs no longer in existence include the “Recondo” tabs for graduates of Recondo training and the “Pershing” tab, which was assigned to operators of the now-defunct Pershing missile system, which was phased out in 1991.
RECONDO or “RECONnaissance and commanDO” was a pretty cool school to go to/tab to get. These were generally reserved for graduates of Recondo school, which taught small but fierce and heavily-armed reconnaissance teams how to patrol -and survive- deep behind enemy lines. Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols/ Long Range Surveillance Detachments (LRRP/LRS-D) units frequently went to Recondo schools, often set up at their home installations. Unfortunately, the US Army -in its infinite wisdom- shut Recondo down, later eliminating LRRP and LRS altogether in favor of flying a million-dollar RC plane (flown by a paunchy and dissatisfied airman) over enemy territory. Way to go, Army.
Countless (very) unofficial “morale tabs” exist, often hidden under a pocket sleeve but readily available for display to those who belong to a tight-knit unit. Platoon nicknames or fire team monikers regularly made up the bulk of orders for custom tabs, particularly in the Iraq and Afghan wars. These were never authorized for use, but likely saw the light of day “in country” more than one could imagine.
No matter what tab you wear, the addition of a rocker over one’s insignia is a source of pride to be treasured.
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