Navy SEALs want more ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ patches, eight months after controversy


A “Navy Jack” patch is placed on a U.S. Navy sailor’s uniform in Afghanistan. (U.S. Navy)

A military command that supplies U.S. Navy SEALs with new gear says it wants more shoulder patches emblazoned with “Don’t Tread on Me,” less than a year after a firestorm erupted after it was reported that the longstanding tradition could be ended.

U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command’s contracting office in Virginia Beach, Va., quietly announced their intent to buy more patches in a notice to industry published June 3. Companies interested in supplying them must be able to show they can obtain the materials used in numerous kinds of Navy uniforms, including those with desert and woodland patterns. The U.S. flag will have seven stripes that can be seen using infrared equipment, the command said.

The notice’s publication follows a controversy last year in which it was reported that Navy SEALs were no longer allowed to wear the “Don’t Tread on Me” logo, also known as the first First Navy Jack. Flown on U.S. vessels, the flag depicts a rattlesnake over red and white stripes.

Navy personnel closely associate the logo with the global war on terrorism because then-Navy Secretary Gordon England authorized it on May 31, 2002, as the official jack, or maritime flag, for the Navy for the duration of the global war on terrorism. The entire Navy began flying the Navy Jack on Sept. 11, 2002, the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It has been widely worn on the left shoulder by sailors deployed in war zones since then, including SEALs.

The controversy erupted after Carl Higbie, a former Navy SEAL and current Republican candidate for Congress, reported in November for the Daily Caller that some SEAL commanders had ordered their personnel not to wear the “Don’t Tread on Me” patch. He speculated that it was because it is similar to another flag with the “Don’t Tread on Me” motto adopted by the conservative Tea Party political movement.

“The Obama administration and the yes-men top brass have decided to wage war on our Navy’s heritage,” Higbie wrote. “Will the SEALs choose to defend that heritage and defy them, with all the impertinence the flag’s slogan implies? Or will they be tread upon?”

The Navy quickly pushed back, telling the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets that they had investigated the issue and found no evidence of a ban. Higbie stood by his story, saying his information came from several active-duty SEALs.

The Navy Times later reported that a senior enlisted sailor had misinterpreted new uniform regulations. As of September 2013, the Navy actually expanded its usage of the “Don’t Tread on Me” patch to allow SEALs to wear the patches while in the United States, rather than just while deployed or in pre-deployment training, officials told Navy Times.

Dan Lamothe covers national security for The Washington Post and anchors its military blog, Checkpoint.
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Dan Lamothe | June 16