The United States Army Institute of Heraldry is probably pretty pissed right now. Created in 1919 to approve and coordinate the coats of arms and insignia of U.S. Army organizations, for almost 100 years they have been the standards bearer for heraldic and other military symbols for not only the US Army, but other elements of the federal government, including the Executive Office of the President of the United States. So whats the my big deal this week, it is that the Army logo is supplanting the offical Army emblem (and seal) and muddying up our brand.
In 1778 the fledgling United States Army created its official “seal” to authenticate documents. That same seal was the original logo of the US Army and lasted unfettered throughout the expansion of the military, the Indian Wars, the Mexico Incursions, World War 1, and Word War II. The first change to it was only because it included the label “War Office”, and it then included the Roman numeral date MDCCLXXVIII, the year it was adopted. That symbol represented the United States Army until 1947, some 169 years. Talk about brand staying power!
Even then, it wasn’t until after the Military Departments split and the creation of the Department of Defense/NME to cause the brand to change. Thanks to the National Security Act of 1947, the seal underwent a minor cosmetic change with the replacement of wording “Department of War” with “Department of the Army,” and the addition of color and a change of the date to the creation of the US Army, 1775. With that change it was designated as the official Army Emblem, while the Army Seal still exists as originally created. According to the Center for Military History “The Secretary of the Army approved the design as the official emblem to represent the Army on 29 January 1974.” So what’s with the Logo, Army?
Slogans and the Army have been hot and cold since the days of Uncle Sam wanting YOU. I attributed the “Be All that you can Be” campaign to hooking me, the slick advertising and catchy song made this young man investigate the Army as a path in 1981. But before it, there were other slogans Look Sharp, Be Sharp, Go Army and Today’s Army Wants to Join You. From WWI until 2001 our slogan may have changed, but our symbolisms have remained. It appears our emblem was pushed to the side and replaced with an Army logo because we (the Army) were not marketing professionals
Rolled out in January 2001, an Army logo was created by advertising agency Leo Burnett Worldwide, and incorporated in the much maligned campaign “An Army of One.” When announcing the change, then Secretary of the Army Luis Caldera spoke of a two-year marketing study by McKinsey and Company where they somehow convinced he and his staff that “we didn’t have an Army ‘brand.’ They said we needed something that identified all the different components of the Army, that tied together the opportunity that the Army represents.” Hmmm, you would think they would have had one of those emblems hanging up in his office somewhere because we most certainly did. Could you imagine if a marketing company told the USMC they didn’t have a “brand” and replaced their anchor and globe with something else? Chesty Puller woulda come back and cut someone with a Ka-Bar.
Don’t think people didn’t kick and scream about the campaign, but it was often about the slogan and not the logo. Many argued that “An Army of One” slogan worked against the teamwork approach in the Army, meanwhile the star logo began to pick up steam. But heck, who knew it would take off like it did and now is more prominent that the Army emblem. Retirees like me proudly wear a green enameled pin that represent our emblem, I even have an emblem with RETIRED bar that I guess can go next to my official pin. I am a Drill Sergeant who is currently out of business, but I proudly wore the symbolism of the breastplate (called a “jupon”), the “Don’t Tread on Me” phrase and the snake that were depicted on early flags of our nation, and the motto of our forefathers, “THIS WE’LL DEFEND” on my Drill Sergeant insignia. Our branding was fine and a new logo was not what brought us back from our endstrength and recruiting problems, war and bonuses did. Meanwhile, The Army of One was scrapped in 2006 for the current “Army Strong” slogan, and the logo is firmly entrenched. Recent rumors are that even Army Strong as a slogan is fading.
From the Department of Defense in discussing seals “There is no such substitute for the Department of Defense Seal, and there is NO optional graphic that would represent the Department of Defense.” Pretty clear there about how they feel about logos. Yet soon after the new recruiting slogan hit the streets and probably well timed with the fielding of the Army Combat Uniform with large fields of empty velcro, patches based on the Army logo began showing up on the sleeves of Army uniforms. If an Army logos has to be anywhere it should be on recruiting and retention promotional items and not marginalize our true logo and brand and on our combat uniform. According to the Army itself, “The US Army logo patch is not considered a distinctive insignia in the same manner as the shoulder sleeve insignia.” Okay, so that’s clear, so meanwhile it is authorized for wear?
I think this one is too far down the road for anything to change, with billions spent and so much done, but we need to recognize our heraldry, and our institution should not swing wildly without considering the institution. I leave this as a cautionary tale as we get back to our roots that we do not allow well-meaning people to dash our over 200+ years of tradition and heritage, and that we don’t forget to include our own institutions. Those like TIOH, to play their appropriate role. And if its not a policy then maybe its time to change policy, or stop doing things just to be doing them.
CSM Dan Elder, USA, Retired