We received e-mail recently from a reader asking why the flag on the right sleeve of the Boy Scout uniform shirt differs from the one worn by the U.S. military. Here’s an excerpt:
This has been bothering me for the longest time. The American flag is on the Scout uniform backwards, and I would like to know why we are the only organization around that has it backwards.
This shows a sign of retreat. Are the Boy Scouts of America in retreat? Have you ever seen an American flag fly backwards?
Thanks for the question. In search of an answer, we went to the source: the Boy Scout Handbook. Page 76 of the handbook directly addresses this question. “Following the guidelines of the U.S. Flag Code,” it reads, “[the flag patch] is placed with the blue field to the flag’s own right (to the left, as someone views it).”
The handbook goes on mention the difference in how the U.S. military wears the flag. On military uniforms, the flag faces the opposite direction on the right sleeve. It’s called the reverse-field flag. That’s because, according to Department of the Army regulations, “…it is proper to reverse the design so that the union is at the observer’s right to suggest that the flag is flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward.”
So on military and some police or fire uniforms, you’ll see the flag facing one way, while on the BSA uniform and in other uses—such as special-edition hats in Major League Baseball—it faces the other way.
Which is right? Both, as long as you’re in line with the regulations or code of the organization responsible for the uniform in question. And the BSA makes it easy for you. The American flag is pre-sewn on all uniform shirts, meaning you’ll always be right—or left.
Have a question about the uniform or anything else related to Scouting? Send us an e-mail, and we’ll try to find the answer.