The modern Army serves in an era of high technology, marked by frequent changes in the force structure and by even more frequent modifications or changes in the Tables of Organization and Equipment (TOEs) under which the Army forms its permanent units. Many "new" units are actually reactivated older organizations, a fact that enables commanders to use the past immediately to promote unit cohesion and build morale.
For the Regular and Reserve units, the Army follows general military custom in recognizing that a unit has a corporate identity that transcends the individuals assigned or attached to it. The organization's history is traced through the intangible spirit of the unit itself, regardless of changes in the personnel that comprise it. Through this process, a unit retains an existence even during periods of inactivation.
Army National Guard units, on the other hand, use local identity as the basis of organization. All legislation since the colonial period has based units in specific geographic areas. Therefore, historians trace Guard lineages on the continuity of personnel from a specific place regardless of changes in the unit's branch or designation. Deviations from these principles are rare. The lineage of an Army National Guard unit is unlike the other components of the Army. It is based on a specific organization in a particular community or geographical area of a state. Regardless of redesignation, the lineage of an ARNG unit is the history of that unit and its personnel in a specific geographical location.
When a man or woman enters the Army he or she does more than just put on a uniform. By making soldiers feel that they are part of a unit, they can draw strength from the individuals who served before them. This phenomenon is esprit de corps. To have meaning and to enhance esprit de corps, a custom should grow naturally out of some especially significant event or experience in the life of the organization. It must be passed on and observed repeatedly. It may reappear in song or be emblazoned in the symbolism contained in a coat of arms or distinctive unit insignia. It may be commemorated in informal ceremonies.
Soldiers should know about units such as the 3d Infantry. On all ceremonial occasions unit members are entitled to march with fixed bayonets, commemorating the regiment's gallant bayonet assault at the battle of Cerro Gordo on 18 April 1847 during the Mexican War. The 5th Infantry derives its official motto, "I'll Try, Sir," from a similar incident in the War of 1812. At Lundy's Lane, Canada, on 25 July 1814, the unit launched an almost suicidal assault on British troops to secure an important victory. Often the organization's motto contains the theme of an excellent story about a former member or a significant episode in its history. The motto, "Stand Fast," of the 155th Infantry, Mississippi Army National Guard, perpetuates the spirit of the Mississippians during the Mexican War. When other troops began to fall back before the enemy assaults during the battle of Buena Vista, Colonel Jefferson Davis exhorted his fighting outfit: "Stand Fast, Mississippians." They did, and the battle was another victory for the US Army. In a similar vein, the special designation or official nickname granted to a unit might reflect the story of a former member or special deed. The 327th Infantry carries the traditional designation "Bastogne Bulldogs," reminding its members of the regiment's tenacity during the siege of Bastogne, Belgium, during the winter of 1944.
Many of the honors that fighting soldiers can earn have counterparts that are given to units for similar service or achievements. For example, a campaign streamer with inscription is comparable to a theater service ribbon with battle star, while many unit decorations are comparable to individual decorations. The Presidential Unit Citation (Army, Navy, or Air Force) is awarded for the same degree of heroism required for the award of a Distinguished Service Cross or Navy Cross to an individual; the Valorous Unit Award and the Navy Unit Commendation (when awarded for bravery) are given for the same degree of bravery as that required for the award of a Silver Star; the Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army), Navy Unit Commendation (when awarded for merit), and Air Force Outstanding Unit Award are bestowed upon units for the same degree of achievement warranting the award of the Legion of Merit. The Meritorious Unit Commendation (Navy) is comparable to the award of a Bronze Star to an individual. The Army Superior Unit Award, created in 1985, recognizes outstanding meritorious performance during peacetime of a difficult and challenging mission under extraordinary circumstances.
Traditional designations are nicknames that have been associated with a unit for thirty or more years, while distinctive designations are those that have been in use for less than thirty years. An example of the former is "The Old Guard," the traditional designation of the 3d Infantry, first used during the Mexican War. While only one special designation is normally authorized for a color-bearing unit, an organic element of a color-bearing unit that has used a nickname for at least fifty years is entitled to its own traditional designation. For example, the 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery, is officially recognized as the "Alexander Hamilton Battery," even though the 5th Field Artillery has no special designation. Distinctive designations tend to reflect unit missions or the actions of an outstanding individual. The 24th Transportation Company, a truck unit, selected "Truck Masters," as its distinctive designation, and the 11th Military Intelligence Company chose the nickname "Wizards of War," referring to its special skills in technical intelligence.
In combat, individual exploits and personal valor are important, but team effort wins the fight. The Army pays close attention to team performance, to the organizations in which its soldiers serve and fight, and to the flags and colors that symbolize those organizations. In the same way that patriots fight for their country's flag, soldiers fight for their unit colors. It is one of the missions of the U.S. Army Center of Military History to retain on the rolls of the Army those organizations with the greatest heritage.
The older an organization, the more soldiers, both active and retired, have had the opportunity of serving in and identifying with it and the more opportunities the organization has had to win battle honors. As the Army continues to shrink, it is essential that our oldest and most honored organizations remain. As posts close and units inactivate, flags and colors move around to ensure their retention. The term reflagging was coined in the 1980s to describe this phenomenon formerly called a "transfer less personnel and equipment." While such actions have occurred occasionally throughout the Army's history, they increased after World War II as the Army placed more emphasis on retaining units with the most history and honors.
Since World War II the Army has effected approximately two dozen division reflagging actions. In each instance division elements were reflagged along with the division headquarters. The first such action in the active Army occurred in 1950 when the 6th Infantry Division replaced the 4th Infantry Division in the training base at Fort Ord, California, so that the 4th could be used as a combat division. In 1954, after the Korean War, four National Guard divisions that had been called to active duty were reflagged by four active Army divisions so that the Guard organizations could return to state control. In 1965, when the 1st Cavalry Division was chosen to become the Army's first airmobile division, the 2d Infantry Division and elements of the 11th Air Assault Division at Fort Benning, Georgia, were reflagged as the 1st Cavalry Division, which then deployed to Vietnam. The 1st Cavalry Division, then serving in Korea, was in turn reflagged as the 2d Infantry Division, and the 11th was inactivated. After the war in Vietnam, another round of divisional reflaggings took place: the 5th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado, was reflagged as the 4th Infantry Division; the 1st Armored Division at Fort Hood, Texas, was reflagged as the 1st Cavalry Division; the 4th Armored Division in Germany was reflagged as the 1st Armored Division; and the 24th Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas, was reflagged as the 1st Infantry Division.
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