The First Team Patch

 "The big yellow patch does something to an  individual that makes him a better soldier, a better team member, and a better American than he otherwise would have been."  
General Creighton Abrams, while commander of  all U.S. Forces in Southeast Asia

"The patch had to be large enough to be seen through the dust and sand at Fort Bliss and we made it that way because it is worn by big men who do big things."
Mrs. Gladys Finch Dorcy, "Mother Dorcy"

"Wearing this First Team patch changes us all, to some extent.  It makes us walk a little prouder and talk a little louder, because of the pride we feel for our unit.  Wearing the largest patch in the Army inventory also brings with it a responsibility to be the best."
General Peter W. Chiarelli
Commanding General of the First Team during Operation Iraqi Freedom II

The patch of the 1st Cavalry Division has a history as colorful as its design, reflecting the proud heritage of the United States Cavalry in a timeless manner.  


On a "sunset" yellow triangular Norman Shield with rounded corners 5 1/4 inches in height, a black diagonal stripe extends over the shield from upper left to the lower right.  In the upper right, a black horse's head cut off diagonally at the neck, appears within 1/8 inches of an Army Green border.  The traditional Cavalry color of yellow and the horse's head is symbolic of the original organizational structure of the Cavalry.  The color black is symbolic of iron, alluding to the organizational transition from mounted horses to tanks and heavy armor.  The black stripe, in heraldry termed a "Sable Bend", represents a "baldric" (a standard Army issue belt worn over the right shoulder to the opposite hip - sometimes referred to as a "Sam Browne belt") which retains either a scabbard which sheaths the trooper's saber or revolver holster.

During the Vietnam War, the yellow background of the patch for wear on the field uniform was changed to a subdued Olive Drab (OD) green in order to minimize targeting of personnel.  The subdued patch is currently worn on the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU).


For operations in a desert environment the field of the patch was again changed to tan (Khaki) color and emblazoned, "Sable" black charge element was changed to saddle brown (Spice) so that the contrast between the Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU) was minimized.  The yellow/black patch is retained for Class "A" uniform dress.  Otherwise the patch has not changed from the original design and shape.

With a change in the utility uniform from the BDU to the Army Combat Uniform (ACU), came another change in the uniform.  Patches, no longer sewn to the uniform were attached by the use of Velcro.

History of the Patch

Shortly after the 1st Cavalry Division was authorized the War Department issued a directive asking for the submission of possible designs for the 1st Cavalry Division's "shoulder sleeve" (shoulder patch).  The regulations for the competition required (1) that the patch should have only two colors, (2) that it be an easily recognizable sign around which men could reassemble during or after battle, and (3) that it would bring men together in a common devotion.

The design chosen, a distinctive bright-yellow Norman knight's shield with a diagonal stripe and the silhouette of a horse's head, was submitted by Colonel and Mrs. Ben H. Dorcy.  At the time, Colonel Dorcy was commander of the 7th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Bliss.  His wife, Gladys Fitch Dorcy, later would be hailed as the "official mother" of the First Team.

The Dorcy's held an unusual edge in the design competition.  They were internationally recognized experts in heraldry, the study of the symbolisms and genealogy of coats of arms.  But their duty station in El Paso also had something to do with their choice of symbols for the 1st Cavalry Division patch.

One afternoon in September 1921, after the patch competition had begun, the Dorcys enjoyed an especially beautiful sunset.  Mrs. Dorcy was cutting up one of her husband's old dress-blue capes.  The cape's liner was bright yellow; blue and yellow had long been the traditional colors of cavalry.  At that moment, a trooper rode past their house on a handsome, blue-black thoroughbred.  The design of the patch quickly took shape in their minds after this conjunction of seemingly commonplace events.

Material from Colonel Dorcy's cape liner became the yellow cloth for the first patch.  The colonel drew a sketch of a Norman shield and a horse's head on the cloth.  Across the yellow field of the patch, his wife sewed a diagonal bend, symbolic of the scaling walls of enemy castles.  The stripe - a "Ben Dexter" in heraldic terms - also represents a baldric, a belt worn over one shoulder in medieval times to support a sword or bugle.  Swords and bugles, of course were two of the strongest symbols of cavalry.

Originally, the patch was yellow and blue.  But black, symbolic of iron and armor, later replaced the blue and improved visibility.  The patch also was the largest divisional patch approved in the United States Army.  "The patch had to be large enough to be seen through the dust and sand at Fort Bliss," Mrs. Dorcy later explained.  "And we made it that way because it is worn by big men who do big things."

The original patch designed by Colonel and Mrs. Dorcy was displayed at the U.S. Army Military History Library at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  (Photo)

After her husband's death in 1926, Mrs. Dorcy, who became known affectionately as "Mother Dorcy" by the 1st Cavalry troopers, often lectured before civilian and military groups on the art of heraldry and how it had been instrumental in designing the First Team's patch.  In 1959, she was awarded a certificate of achievement by Major General George E. Bush, who then commanded the 1st Cavalry Division.  The certificate named her the "mother" of the division and honored her dedicated interest in the 1st Cavalry since its inception.

Her activities on behalf of the First Team continued until she died May 25, 1974 at the age of 88 in Washington, DC. 

Excerpted from the "The 1st Cavalry Division, A Historical Overview 1921-1983".  Copyright 1984, Taylor Publishing Company.

"The First Cav--that's where you sew the jacket onto the patch"
Attributed to a jealous NCO from another unit

"Throughout its history, the 1st Cavalry Division has covered itself in glory.  You've proven once again that the big yellow patch stands for skill, and courage, and honor."
Vice President Dick Cheney in a speech delivered on 26 February, 2008 to the Troopers of the Division after their return from OIF 06-08.

Schematic drawing of the 1st Cavalry Division Shoulder Sleeve Insignia from The Institute of Heraldry, 28 August 1974.