ARLINGTON, Va. (AFNS) -- In the halls of the Pentagon or on the grounds of any Space Force base, Guardians stand out from their peers because of their U.S. Space Force name tapes and the unique, colorful patches on their uniforms. Space Force emblems are distinctive and different from those of the other U.S. military branches. They are also essential to unit cohesion and esprit de corps and often highlight the heritage of individual units. While uniform patches have become familiar symbols of both the service and specific units, many Guardians may not know that unit emblems are based on the traditions of medieval heraldry and that the wearing of uniform patches in the U.S. military dates to the 19th century. The Space Force, moreover, has its own process and design standards for new units to acquire an official emblem that Guardians can proudly display on their sleeves.
Perhaps surprisingly for a new service focused on the future, Space Force emblems have a heritage dating back hundreds of years. Utilizing emblems to identify military organizations is a practice that has its roots in the traditions of medieval heraldry—some of which date back to the eleventh century—where European nobles designed coats of arms that used meaningful symbols to identify themselves and their supporters. More recently, the U.S. Army employed different badges to identify its corps and divisions during the Civil War. And in World War I, the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, Gen. John J. Pershing, directed all of its divisions to design and wear a unique shoulder patch. At the same time, Army Air Service squadrons developed unique symbols to distinguish their units and airplanes.
That tradition of heraldry is alive and well in the United States Space Force. In fact, even prior to the creation of the service on Dec. 20, 2019, the Space Force Planning Task Force (SFPTF) at the Pentagon recognized the importance of service heraldry and began generating concepts for a service seal. Gen. John W. Raymond, the first Chief of Space Operations, wanted a seal to serve as a “focal point” upon which to build the Space Force’s culture and identity. Indeed, on Jan. 15, 2020, Raymond and other leaders met with President Donald J. Trump at the White House, where the president reviewed several options and selected the final seal design, which had been developed by two members of the public affairs team.
Although new, the U.S. Space Force seal recognized the history of military space operations. In a nod to the service’s origins, it contained all the elements present in the official emblem of Air Force Space Command. Even though many media outlets criticized the seal for allegedly copying Star Trek, a Department of the Air Force (DAF) representative noted that the new emblem honored the department’s “proud history and long-standing record of providing the best space capabilities in the world.” The delta symbol that has come to represent space, and which features so prominently in Space Force emblems, actually dates to the early 1940s and originally represented aircraft.
After the release of the seal in January 2020, Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett and Raymond approved a service flag design in February 2020. They presented the first flag to President Trump on May 15, 2020, in the White House’s Oval Office. Taken together, the seal and the flag established a foundation for the Space Force’s visual culture. They introduced its basic color palette and what became the dominant iconography of the Space Force: the delta, globe and orbit.
The Space Force next turned its attention to organizational emblems. A service patch and basic emblem criteria for the three Field Commands and the first wave of emblems for Space Deltas appeared in the summer of 2020. These showed the distinctive nature of Space Force emblems. First, the service selected different shapes for different levels of organization. Field Commands, Deltas, Squadrons and Space Base Deltas each had their own recognizable shape. The Space Force also borrowed a tradition from the U.S. Army by choosing distinctive border colors for each Field Command. Perhaps the most unique twist came in early 2021, when the service decided to move away from textile patches and instead use patches made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The PVC patches allowed much greater detail and were almost 3D in their design.
With service colors and shapes established, Space Force organizations began devising their emblems in the fall of 2020. Units had several options—simply transferring their U.S. Air Force emblem to the appropriate Space Force shape and changing the colors; bringing over parts of the design; or creating something completely new. Final designs ranged all over the spectrum. Many of these designs were unique and inspiring works of art in their own right. While there was an effort to move out swiftly on emblems in 2020, it quickly became apparent that enthusiasm was outpacing the process.
As the new emblems began taking shape, the service had to maintain a balancing act between allowing Space Force units to contribute their talents to the endeavor and requiring that they follow DAF policy and standards. The Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA) is responsible for assisting Space Force organizations with designing emblems that meet the standards of the US Space Force. The U.S. Army’s Institute of Heraldry takes the designs approved by AFHRA and provides final renditions and ensures the PVC patches can be manufactured. It is a long process, but it ensures that Space Force emblems meet high design and manufacturing quality standards that reflect favorably on the service.
So, when you see a Guardian, check out the distinctive patch on their shoulder. The patch that Guardian is wearing follows a long tradition of military heraldry. While its origins may date back to the knights and their heralds, Space Force emblems have developed into something new and unique. They not only honor a common heritage but help bring Guardians together in a new service culture.