Book Review: Desert Uniforms, Patches, and Insignia of the US Armed Forces

DesertBookCover-HighResolutionDesert Uniforms, Patches, and Insignia of the US Armed Forces, by Kevin M. Born & Alexander F. Barnes. (ISBN 9780764352065. Schiffer Publishing, 4880 Lower Valley Road, Atglen, PA 19310; 610-593-1777; www.schifferbooks.com. Hardcover, 8.5” x 11”, 400 pages,  1,035 color and black-and-white images, 2016, $79.99)

Collecting uniforms and insignia from the War on Terror with an emphasis  Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom is one of the fastest growing areas in the militaria hobby. While the material seems to be readily available, no systematic order that details time of issue /wear, construction origin, and technique, or attempts to organize seemingly endless variations. That is, until now.

Kevin Born and Alexander F. Barnes, both of whom have deep Army roots, have painstakingly assembled their detailed research into a ground-breaking treatise. And while the title, Desert Uniforms, Patches, and Insignia of the US Armed Forces, would appear self-explanatory, it fails to capture the amount of comparative research and analysis that went into compiling a unique perspective of a previously unexplored area of militaria: Desert combat uniforms, patches, and insignia worn by the US Armed Forces in combat from Desert Storm through Somalia and in the more recent hard-fought campaigns of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Remarkably, this book can be considered “comprehensive.” Using more than a thousand photos of actual uniforms and insignia along with a host of “in-country” supporting shots, this extraordinary reference book provides a detailed picture of field uniforms and insignia of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard units. Calling upon original source documents and extensive public and private collections, the authors have assembled a volume that will serve collectors, historians, and veterans.

Photos of insignia are clear and well-lit. In most cases, reverses of patches are not shown—given the number of images in the book, I understand this, but it is always nice to see the reverse, even if representative of several patches. I found some of the appendices covering patch and uniform manufacturers to be extremely helpful. Another useful appendix covered cloth headgear and the insignia worn on it—whether a helmet cover or a Boonie hat.

While the term “bible” is thrown around rather loosely in our hobby, “Definitive” retains its significance as an expression of honor and endorsement. I do not hesitate to say, “Desert Uniforms, Patches, and Insignia of the US Armed Forces by Born and Barnes is the definitive volume for anyone who is collecting the shortest-lived—but some of the most distinctive—uniforms in U.S. military history.” Not only is it a stand-alone reference for the collector and historian, it is also a tribute to the men and women of the US Armed Forces during this chaotic time in history.

All future research and publishing on this subject will, undoubtedly, reference this book. Be sure that this definite work is on your shelf. As time rolls on, we will all be encountering more and more cloth militaria from these conflicts. This book will provide us with the information to understand what all of it means.—JAG

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