A dog tag is an informal term for ID tags that service members use, however, it is the most common. Military dog tags are used for identification, making them a quintessential part of military life.
Military dog tag information is extremely important. A military dog tag’s meaning lies in its role which carries a soldier’s most crucial personal information.
But what are on military dog tags? It usually contains their name, Department of Defense ID number, blood type, inoculation, and religion, among other things.
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What Goes on a Military Dog Tag
In the picture is an Army Vietnam-era dog tag. Compared to today, the military dog tag format stayed rather the same.
Generally, the format is this: the soldier’s name, their social security number, their inoculation, and their religion.
However, information on military dog tags will have some minor or major variations depending on the military branch.
Military Dog Tags by Branch
The military dog tag format varies from branch to branch. The information generally stays the same except for a few additions. The material for the dog tag is usually the same, which is stainless steel.
When you search for a dog tag on the internet, the Army is typically used as a dog tag example.
An Army’s military dog tags say their name, Department of Defense ID number, blood type, and lastly their religion if any.
In 2015, the DOD identification number was instead used rather than the Social Security number like the one from the Vietnam era in the previous section above.
2. Emergency Medical
These red-colored dog tags are called Emergency Medical dog tags. Soldiers wearing dog tags like these have been diagnosed with medical issues that might affect them during their time in the service.
This dog tag contains the wearer’s name, DOD ID number, expanded medical information like allergies, medical conditions, and information on their prescribed medicine.
3. Marine Corps
The Marine Corps dog tags have been used since 1916. Like every dog tag’s purpose, they secure the proper burial of their fallen wearer and get rid of potential doubt in their identity.
On the 1st line is the last name, and the 2nd is the first name and M.I., along with the blood type. On the 3rd line is the DOD ID number. On the 4th, is USMC then their gas mask size, in this case, it’s small. Lastly, the religion of the wearer.
In accordance with Navy regulations, there are two dog tags for all naval personnel to wear mandatorily. In times of capture or death, one remains on the wearer and the other is sent to the Bureau.
Information that is required to be on the dog tag is the wearer’s name, jacket number or service number, and on the same line his/her blood type, and then lastly, their religion.
In 2019, the U.S. Air Force changed its uniform regulations by matching the Army’s OCP uniform adoption. This removed the “AF ” next to the DOD ID number.
The Air Force’s dog tags are now the same as the Army, with the name, DOD ID number, blood type, and religious preference, respectively.
6. Coast Guard
The information on a coast guard’s dog tag is as follows; last name, first name and M.I., DOD ID number and USCG, then their blood type, and lastly, their religious preference.
7. Special Forces
Dog tags for the special forces like the SEALs, Commandos, Green Berets, and the Rangers, among others, were mandated by the military in 1967.
Since they are usually deployed at nighttime, instead of stainless steel, their dog tags are usually black, to provide concealment.
The information is usually the same as others; with the name, DOD ID number, blood type, religious preference, and specific unit.
The Evolution of the Dog Tag
The earliest mention of an ID for soldiers was in Polyaemus’ Stratagems 1.17 where the Spartans put their names on sticks and wore it on their left wrist.
Throughout the years, the dog tag has evolved. Yet, the military dog tag’s meaning or purpose has remained the same throughout the years. Which is to bear a soldier’s information.
1950 – 1953
This era of dog tags belonged to the Korean War, an inconclusive war that was fought between North and South Korea during these years.
Aside from the usual information that is found on typical dog tags, the wearer’s service prefix and number are included, and when the tetanus toxoid shot was taken.
1969 – 1974
These dog tags were from the Vietnam era. It features a rolled edge, and the hole is placed on the left.
While dog tags are traditionally worn on the neck, during the Vietnam war, one was placed on their boots. This was to help identify the soldier if they were beheaded.
1975 – 2015
This era features the Social Security Number (SSN) instead of the Department of Defense (DOD) ID number.
From the era of 1969-1974, it virtually remained the same. Save for the addition of the wearer’s blood type.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Purpose of a Dog Tag?
Military dog tag information is extremely important. This is because it gives the ability to easily identify soldiers that are killed in action.
Additionally, it also contains crucial medical information. This effectively helps wounded soldiers, and can potentially save the soldier’s life.
Why do soldiers wear 2 dog tags?
Soldiers wear 2 dog tags simultaneously, one on a shorter chain than the other. The reason is that the first tag was to remain on a soldier’s dead body, and the other is kept for burial service records.
What does it mean when a soldier gives you his dog tags?
There is no official meaning when a soldier gives you his/her dog tags. Hence, the meaning may differ from person to person. It is like saying that the dog tags Army meaning is different to the Navy meaning.
However, generally, this is considered an act of love. Platonically or in a passionate manner. For some people, this means that you are coming back to the person you gave it to, or your undying affection.
Does the US military still use dog tags?
Although great technological advances in DNA identification have been achieved, dog tags are still among the cheapest and easiest ways to identify fallen soldiers.
In cases where the body is burnt, decapitated, or missing altogether; dog tags are a far more effective way compared to DNA testing.
Why Is It Called “Dog Tag”?
For those who are confused, a military dog tag’s meaning is technically the same as an ID card. Only the name differs. The term was coined by newspaper magnate William Hearst in 1936.
According to the SSA, this was an effort to undermine Winston Churchill’s administration. Hearst called military ID tags ‘dog tags’ referring to the soldiers as government pets, in this case, dogs.
Similarly, World War II draftees called them dog tags because they allegedly were ‘treated like dogs’.
Hopefully, you were able to pick up on what are on military dog tags, either by branch or by era. You should now see that understanding dog tags is quite simple, and it hasn’t changed that much since it was first conceived.
Dog tags will always be an icon for service members around the world. Due to the dog tag’s significance to soldiers, we are now identifying it as a symbol. A symbol that represents what we see in soldiers, good or bad.
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