WASHINGTON - The Army has changed its policy on the wear of combat patches as a result of the way Soldiers and their units now deploy.

Since 1945 the intent behind the wear of the combat patch, known as the "shoulder sleeve insignia-former wartime service," was to recognize Soldiers' participation in combat operations. However, this only applied to Soldiers who were serving with such large echelon deployed units as separate brigades, divisions, corps, Army commands or higher.

"Soldiers deploy differently now, at smaller echelon levels such as companies, battalions, combat brigade teams and as individual augmentees in support of larger echelon units," said Sgt. Maj. Katrina Easley, branch chief for uniform policy at Army G-1. "At those levels they weren't authorized to wear their unit patch as a combat patch."

Once Soldiers report to their first units, they wear their command's patch on their left sleeves. When deployed to a designated combat zone, Soldiers may also wear the company-level or higher patch that they serve with on their right sleeves.

In the past, confusion resulted over which combat patch should be worn by Soldiers who were cross-leveled, assigned, attached or serving as augmentees to deployed units. This also affected Soldiers under temporary duty orders in a combat zone.

The new guidance states that when echelons below company level deploy, Soldiers in those units may now wear the combat patch of the lowest-echelon command they deploy with, as long as it's at company level or higher.

The new implementing instructions to Army Regulation 670-1 became effective March 28 and are not retroactive.

As before, Soldiers who have earned multiple combat patches may choose which patch to wear. Soldiers may also elect not to wear a combat patch.