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UPDATE: 'Navy Jack' flag rumor started in the chiefs' mess, official says

Nov. 4, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
The Navy is flatly denying claims that SEALs are no longer allowed to wear the First Navy Jack patch on their uniforms. In fact, the Navy recently expanded the wear rules for the iconic 'Don't Tread on Me Patch.'
The Navy is flatly denying claims that SEALs are no longer allowed to wear the First Navy Jack patch on their uniforms. In fact, the Navy recently expanded the wear rules for the iconic 'Don't Tread on Me Patch.' (Navy)
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First Navy Jack patch (Navy)

A misunderstanding in the chief’s mess is to blame for the widespread (and false) rumor that SEALs can no longer wear the Navy Jack patch, a Navy official tells Navy Times.

A senior enlisted sailor misinterpreted the Navy’s uniform wear regulations for the Navy working uniform Type III, said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The mistake was attributed to a “game of telephone” between second- and third-hand sources in the chiefs’ mess.

In an op-ed originally published in the Daily Caller former SEAL Carl Higbie describes a “travesty” in which special operations sailors are being told to no longer wear the Navy jack on their arm. Higbie cites an anonymous email from a “senior enlisted adviser” that states the following:

“All personnel are only authorized to wear the matching “AOR” American Flag patch on the right shoulder. You are no longer authorized to wear the “Don’t Tread On Me” patch.”

Higbie expresses outrage in his column, putting much of the blame on the commander in chief.

“The Obama administration and the yes-men top brass have decided to wage war on our Navy’s heritage,” he writes. “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?”

A number of concerned readers contacted Navy Times to determine whether these claims were true.

Navy officials disputed the rumors and explained that wear rules for the First Navy Jack patch have actually expanded.

“As of September 2013, all Naval Special Warfare personnel are authorized to wear the U.S. flag and the “Don’t Tread on me” uniform patches,” Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Sarah Flaherty told Navy Times. “In the past, NSW did not authorize wearing either patch unless one was deployed or in a work-up cycle. However, NSW recently sought special permission from the Chief of Naval Operations staff to wear the patches within the continental United States.”

The “Don’t Tread on Me” flag dates back to the first Continental Navy ships in 1775. Sailors have flown the jack on ships and worn it as a uniform patch since the declaration of Sept. 11 as Patriot Day in 2002.

That order, from former Navy Secretary Gordon England and former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark, authorized use of the First Navy Jack throughout the duration of the Global War on Terrorism.

Higbie is a war veteran who served eight and a half years, most of that time with SEAL Team 10. He was discharged in 2012, leaving service as a petty officer first class.

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