UNITED STATES ARMY: Unit Histories and Heraldries

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This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).

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Crest of the Center of Military History
United States Army Center of Military History

Lineage Terms and Devices[1][edit]

  • Unit Lineage and Honors information is posted in subordinate directories based on the type of unit (branch or functional area). The Armor directory contains all of the entries for units in that basic branch; Signal the signal units, etc. Cavalry contains information on units with a cavalry designation no matter how they are organized (i.e., as ground reconnaissance, armor, infantry, or aviation). Other directories are self-evident from their titles.

Glossary of Lineage Terms[2][edit]

  • Activate. To transfer a constituted Regular Army or Army Reserve unit from the inactive to the active rolls of the United States Army. The unit is usually stationed at a specific location and assigned personnel and equipment at this time; however, a unit may be active at zero strength -- that is, without personnel or equipment.
  • Allot. To allocate a unit to one of the components of the United States Army. The present components are the Regular Army (RA), the Army National Guard (ARNG), and the Army Reserve (AR), formerly known as the Organized Reserves and Organized Reserve Corps. During World War I units were also allotted to the National Army, and during World War II t the Army of the United States. An Army National Guard unit is usually further allotted to a particular state or group of states. A unit may be withdrawn from any component except the Army National Guard and allotted to another; the new allotment, however, does not change the history, lineage, and honors of the unit.
  • Assign. To make a unit part of a larger organization and place it under that organization's command and control until it is relieved from the assignment. As a rule, only assignments to divisions and separate combined arms brigades are shown in unit lineages.
  • Consolidate. To merge two or more units into a single unit. The unit may retain the designation of one of the former units or it may have a new designation, but it inherits the history, lineage, and honors of all of the former units. In the nineteenth century, consolidation was frequently a merger of several under-strength units to form one full-strength unit. At the present time, in the Regular Army and the Army Reserve, units are usually consolidated when they are inactive or when only one of the units is active; therefore, personnel and equipment are seldom involved. In the Army National Guard, on the other hand, active units are often consolidated and their personnel are combined in the new unit.
  • Constitute. To place the designation of a new unit on the official rolls of the United States Army.
  • Convert. To transfer a unit from one branch of the Army to another -- for example, from infantry to armor. Such a change always requires a redesignation; however, there is no break in the historical continuity of the unit. Active as well as inactive units may be converted, but if the unit is active, it must also be reorganized under a new table of organization and equipment (TOE).
  • Demobilize. To remove the designation of a unit from the official rolls of the Army. If the unit is active, it must also be inactivated. This term is used in unit lineages only when referring to the period during and immediately after World War I.
  • Designation. The official name of a unit, consisting usually of a number, a branch or function, and a command echelon, e.g., 145th Medical Battalion, 353d Civil Affairs Command, 1st Cavalry Division. Additional descriptive terms may appear in parentheses, but such parenthetical identifications are not part of the unit's official designation.
  • Disband. To remove the designation of a Regular Army or Army Reserve unit from the official rolls of the United States Army. If the unit is active, it must also be inactivated. Disbandment is intended to be permanent and irreversible, except in extraordinary circumstances.
  • Element. A unit that is assigned to or is part of a larger organization.
  • Federally recognize. To accept an Army National Guard unit into the force structure of the United States Army after the unit has been inspected by a federal representative and found to be properly stationed, organized, and equipped in accordance with Army requirements.
  • Inactivate. To place a Regular Army or Army Reserve unit that is not currently needed in the force structure in an inoperative status without assigned personnel or equipment for a limited period of time. The unit is transferred to the inactive rolls of the United States Army, but it can be activated again whenever needed. Its personnel and equipment are reassigned to one or more active units, but its historical records and properties are placed in storage. Upon reactivation, the unit retains its former history, lineage and honors, and it may retrieve its records and properties from storage. The term "inactivate" has been used only since 1921. Before that time, units either remained active or were removed from the rolls of the Army.
  • Order into active federal service. To place an Army National Guard unit on full-time active duty under the control of the United States government. The unit remains in federal service until released by the federal government, at which time it reverts to the control of its home state or states.
  • Order into active military service. To place an Army Reserve unit on full-time active duty, usually during a war or a major crisis, such as the Berlin crisis of 1961-62. After completing its active duty, the unit may be inactivated or it may be released from active military service, reverting to reserve status. This phrase does not apply to Army Reserve units on annual active duty for training.
  • Organic element. A unit that is an integral part of a larger organization -- for example, a lettered company of a battalion or regiment.
  • Organize. To assign personnel and equipment to a unit and make it operative -- that is, capable of performing its mission. For Army National Guard units, this term is used instead of activate (see above).
  • Reconstitute. To restore to the official rolls of the United States Army a unit that has been disbanded , demobilized, or had its federal recognition withdrawn. The reconstituted unit may have a new designation, but it retains its former history, lineage, and honors.
  • Redesignate. To change a unit's official name. Active as well as inactive units may be redesignated, but personnel and equipment of an active unit are not changed unless the unit is reorganized at the same time. Redesignation is a change of name only; the unit's history, lineage, and honors remain the same. (See also convert.)
  • Reorganize. To change the structure of a unit in accordance with a new table of organization and equipment (TOE) within the same branch of the Army -- for example, from mechanized to light infantry. When referring to the Army National Guard, this term also means to organize an active unit again.
  • Withdraw federal recognition. To remove the designation of an Army National Guard unit from the official rolls of the United States Army. Federal recognition is withdrawn when the unit no longer meets Army requirements or is no longer needed in the force structure.

Heraldic Achievements[3][edit]

  • Heraldic items for Army organizations reflect history, tradition, ideals, mission, and accomplishments. Shoulder sleeve insignia and distinctive unit insignia have been designed so that each is distinctive to the organization for which approved. Both serve as identifying devices and contribute to unit cohesiveness.
  • While the custom of bearing various symbols on shields, helmets, and flags existed in antiquity, heraldry was not introduced until the Middle Ages. The use of heraldic devices became more prevalent with the increased use of armor and the requirements for insignia to assist in distinguishing friend from foe on the battlefield. The designs included mythological beasts, symbols commemorative of incidents of valor, and other identifying marks to which specific symbolism was ascribed. Gradually a formal system of heraldry evolved, complete with rules for design, use, and display.
  • The currently authorized embroidered shoulder sleeve insignia had their origin during World War I . They serve the same purpose as the Corps symbols (badges) in use during the Civil War and the War with Spain. The Corps badges were of simple design; most could be cut from a single piece of cloth, e.g., a four-leaf clover, a heart, a star, a winged horsefoot, a caltrop, and a spearhead. Such devices were easily remembered and readily identified. Not only were they worn by the soldiers on their headgear, but also they were incorporated in the organizations' flags.
  • The first shoulder sleeve insignia is believed to have been worn by the men of the 81st Division during World War I. On their voyage to France they adopted as their insignia the figure of a wildcat that was in use as a distinctive marking for the division's equipment. Wear of the insignia was officially approved October 19, 1918, by a telegram from the Adjutant General, American Expeditionary Forces, to the division's commanding general. Insignia for other organizations of the American Expeditionary Forces were later authorized and designs were officially approved. Designs varied greatly. Many had their origin in designs already in use for organizational and equipment markings; others were based on monograms and geometric figures alluding to designations. Symbols associated with traditions, geographical locations, and missions of the organizations were also in some designs.
  • Since World War I, the authorization of shoulder sleeve insignia has expanded along with organizational and other changes within the Army. Most soldiers now wear shoulder sleeve insignia. Many designs are more elaborate than those of World War I. The more complex designs came into being because of an increase in the number of authorized insignia and the availability of embroidery machinery for production of various types of textile insignia. During the Vietnam era the policy governing the wear of subdued insignia as well as full-color items was established.
  • Distinctive insignia of metal and enamel are authorized for those organizations authorized shoulder sleeve insignia. These insignia may be traced to the use of metal and enamel badges authorized to be worn instead of the cloth badges during the War with Spain. The type of distinctive insignia currently in use was first authorized during the 1920s for regiments and some other units. As in the case of shoulder sleeve insignia the authorization was expanded as changes in organization of the Army took place. The designs are based on symbols reflecting the organization's lineage, battle honors, traditions, and mission. Usually they incorporate the organization's motto, which is often of an idealistic nature.
  • Shoulder sleeve and distinctive insignia worn on the uniform and the distinguishing flags incorporating the shoulder sleeve insignia designs are highly visible items of identification. They are significant factors in Army esprit de corps.



  1. Source: US Army Center of Military History
  2. Source: US Army Center of Military History
  3. Source: US Army Institute of Heraldry

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).

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