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Military Health System

New Flag and Patch Symbolize Growth at the Defense Health Agency

Image of Service members from the Army, Air Force and Navy display the new Defense Health Agency patch following a reflagging and repatching ceremony at Defense Health Agency Headquarters in Falls Church. Service members from the Army, Air Force and Navy display the new Defense Health Agency patch following a reflagging and repatching ceremony at Defense Health Agency Headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, Aug. 20, 2021. The military tradition of unit and service patches dates to the Civil War and serves as an important symbol of affiliation and pride for members of a unit, service, or organization. The new patch symbolizes the growth and maturity of the agency and the unity of the Defense Health Agency team. (MHS photo by Jaime Chirinos)

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The Defense Health Agency is unveiling a new organizational flag and seal along with a new patch to be worn by service members assigned to its joint medical billets.

The new symbols are emblematic of the agency’s transformation and the operational role it plays in providing health care to military members and their families across the force and the life-saving medical support for troops deployed overseas.

“The reflagging symbolizes the growth and maturity of our organization,” said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, the DHA’s senior enlisted leader. 

“It represents the purpose of DHA, which is to generate a medically ready force by providing high-quality health care to our population with a medically competent staff.”

All service members who are assigned to the DHA, regardless of their service affiliation, will wear the DHA patch “to signify the oneness of the agency,” said Gragg.

“It doesn’t matter what service you come from – you will still identify with your service on your left chest – but you will also have an organizational patch on your arm to signify that you belong to this family as well and that you have dual citizenship.”

The new flag, seal and patch will be formally revealed during a ceremony at the DHA headquarters in Virginia, Aug. 20. Watch the ceremony

The unveiling comes as the DHA is completing a congressionally mandated transition to begin overseeing military treatment facilities (MTFs) around the world, which were traditionally managed by the individual services.

At the same time, the DHA is standing up regional markets that will streamline care for beneficiaries by providing greater access to doctors, hospitals, and clinics across the military regardless of the patient’s service affiliation. 

Gragg recalled that when he joined DHA in June of 2020, he felt the organization lacked a traditional military culture. He explained how today’s DHA grew into an operational agency from its origins as the TRICARE Management Agency, which administered military health benefits but did not oversee any military health facilities or health care professionals.

The new Defense Health Agency flag and seal was unveiled at a ceremony on Aug. 20
The new Defense Health Agency flag and seal was unveiled at a ceremony on Aug. 20. (MHS photo)

“The DHA is a military organization that did not realize it was a military organization,” he said. “The overarching DNA of the agency was that of a civilian, business-like agency that was in charge of a benefits plan.”

“We needed to reinforce that we are not a civilian organization doing business – we are a military organization that is in the fight,” he said. 

Since DHA was built from elements of the different service departments, the new flag, seal and patch will help unify the agency as it builds a cohesive culture, he said.

“We needed to act like, look like, and have the traditions of a military organization so that our people can see themselves in us and also realize what we’re here to do,” he said.

The organizational change stems from Section 702 of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which directed DHA to assume responsibility for the administration and management of health care delivery at all MTFs, calling for the establishment of high-performance military-civilian integrated health delivery systems. It’s been a phased, market-based transition that began several years ago.

“It gave us the roles and responsibilities of being a combat support agency and managing the MTFs, but also the elements of public health, research and development, and training of all the medical personnel who go into the Department of Defense,” said Gragg.

He explained he wants “the people inside the agency to realize what we are here to do: We are in support of the National Defense Strategy, and we do that by providing world-class health care.”

Gragg added that the DHA is comprised of “medically ready, medically competent personnel, outside the continental United States and within it, ensuring that our fighting men and women are able to receive the best care whenever they need it, wherever they are.”

Historically, flags have been used as symbols to identify their bearers’ affiliation, particularly in wartime environments where communication is a challenge.

“The flag has been the rallying call to get people on the battlefield moving in the same direction, to understand where the battle lines were,” said Gragg. “This flag does all that, but additionally, signifies the maturity of DHA’s mission, vision, and purpose.”

Like flags, the use of military patches dates to the 1800s, when British military officers wore them to distinguish their rank. In the United States, they were first worn informally by soldiers during the Civil War, and became more common as of World War I.

Meaning of the Flag and Patch

The elements of the new DHA flag and seal were selected to symbolize the unity of individual services’ medical expertise under one umbrella. According to the Department of the Army’s Institute of Heraldry, in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, the symbolism of each element is as follows:

  • The globe represents the health services that DHA provides for U.S. military men, women, and their families around the world.
  • The gold rope and grid lines represent Navy Medicine and its requirement to provide “medical power for naval superiority.”
  • The blue on the shield represents Air Force Medicine and pays tribute to their ability to rapidly reach and render “trusted care, anywhere.”
  • The maroon on the shield represents Army Medicine and its commitment “to conserve the fighting strength.”
  • The eight white stars represent the eight entities served by the Defense Health Agency.
  • The staff of Asclepius is a symbol traditionally associated with military medical units.
  • The motto, “PRO CURA MILITIS,” translates to “the care of the warrior.”

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