Tactical professionals are often familiar with the nuances of their profession that might be confusing to civilians. This is especially true when it comes to military etiquette and the proper way to display the American flag. While many people might think that a backwards flag is a sign of disrespect, it is actually part of the etiquette and protocol for service members to wear a reverse flag patch on their uniforms.
This protocol dates back to the Civil War where cavalry and infantry units would appoint a flag bearer who carried the Stars and Stripes into battle. As the bearer charged forward, the flag would stream backward as a symbol of courage and dedication. This symbolism is replicated today when service members wear a reverse flag patch on their right shoulder.
The reason why a patch on the right shoulder looks backwards is because it is a requirement of the US Flag Code that states when the American flag is displayed on any aircraft, vehicle, or uniform that the Union must be in the highest position of honor and should always face forward. This mirrored appearance is meant to mimic a flag that is flowing in the wind when seen from an aircraft or vehicle moving forward.
It is also important to note that a flag patch worn on the right shoulder of a uniform is not to be confused with an actual flag that is sewn onto a soldier’s uniform. While a real flag can be worn on the right shoulder, it is not required by any military regulation and may be considered inappropriate.