Whatever impulse drives soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines to commemorate their units with insanely random, over-the-top, or awesomely bad patches, we say: Cultivate it.
Trevor Paglen, a bi-coastal artist and author based in Oakland and New York City, brought bad military patches to new heights of glory with his 2007 book I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me. It’s a collection of more than 100 insignias from the most secret of military units. The following are some of the best patches from a new edition of his book coming out.
Paglen’s first book got coverage in a lot of newspapers and on The Colbert Report. So, any satellite operator or drone pilot wanting to immortalize their units would send along a patch for the next edition.
That didn’t always thrill higher-ups. “I heard that one commander started a little witch hunt to find out who’d leaked a space-related patch to me,” Paglen says. “None of these patches are ‘classified’ per se, but some were produced with an informal understanding that they wouldn’t be made public. I hope nobody got into trouble.”
Paglen knows about some white-whale patches that he hasn’t gotten his hands on yet. Know anything about Ibis Dawn, Scarecrow, Sundowner, or something that says Invisus cum libertas et iustitia omnibus? “If you have one of these,” Paglen says, “I’d love to trade something cool for it, or even get a nice scan.” Until he puts out yet another edition, these 10 designs have to stand as a high-water mark in awesomely bad military patches.
Like a Space-Phoenix From Hell
The Latin phrase below the Phoenix translates to “The Devil You Know.” That’s the rationale behind the spy-satellite operators at the National Reconnaissance Office, who peer into the workings of foreign military arsenals from hundreds of miles into space.
This patch, from National Reconnaissance Office Launch 49, puts a bold face on a failure: the Future Imagery Architecture, a $10-billion disaster in the guise of a satellite able to peer through heavy cloud cover. The end of Future Imagery Architecture meant that NRO had to continue with its KH “Keyhole” satellite family, many of which the United States uses to spy on Russian nukes. Launch 49 of the KH-11 series supposedly used spare parts from Future Imagery Architecture — hence the Phoenix design.
Image: Courtesy Trevor Paglen