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What are military dog tags?

A dog tag is the informal name for the identification tags worn by military personnel, because of their resemblance to actual dog tags. The tag is primarily used for the identification of dead and wounded along with providing essential basic medical information for the treatment of the latter such as blood type and history of inoculations. Dog tags are usually fabricated from a corrosion-resistant metal or alloy such as aluminum, monel or stainless-steel, although during war-time they have been made from whatever metals were available. In the event the member has a medical condition that requires special attention, an additional red tag with the pertinent information is issued and worn with the dog tags.

Wearing of the tag is required at all times by soldiers in the field. It may contain two copies of the information and be designed to break easily into two pieces. This allows half the tag to be collected for notification while the other half remains with the body when battle conditions do not allow the casualty to be immediately recovered. Alternatively, two identical tags are issued. One is worn on a long chain around the neck; the second on a much smaller chain attached to the first chain. In the event the wearer is killed the second tag is collected and the first remains with the body.

Dog tag tattoos, alternately known as "meat tags" are growing in popularity for active U.S. soldiers. These are tattoos that are usually featured on the torso, and can be used for identification in case the deceased is otherwise unidentifiable.

What should be printed on military dog tags?

In the 1990s, the U.S. Army stopped using the term dog tags, replacing it with the designation ID tags.

A persistent rumor is that debossed (imprinted with stamped in letters) dog tags were issued from World War II till the end of the Vietnam War and that currently the U.S. Armed Forces is issuing embossed (imprinted with raised letters) dog tags. In actuality, the U.S. Armed Forces issues dog tags with both types of imprinting, depending on the machine used at a given facility. The military issued 95% of their identification tags up until recently (within the past 10 years) with debossed text.

The U.S. Armed Forces typically carry two identical oval dog tags containing:

U.S. Air Force (Format 1)
  • Last name, first name, middle initial
  • DoD ID number or Social Security number, followed by "AF" indicating branch of service
  • Blood Group
  • "blank"
  • Religion
U.S. Air Force (Format 2)
  • Last name
  • First name and middle initial
  • DoD ID number or Social Security number, followed by "AF" indicating branch of service
  • Blood Group
  • Religion
U.S. Marine Corps
  • Last name
  • First and middle initials and suffix; blood group
  • DoD ID number or Social Security number with no dashes and no spaces
  • Branch ("USMC"); Gas mask size (S small, M medium, L large)
  • Religious preference, or medical allergy if red medical tag
U.S. Navy
  • Last name, first name, middle initial
  • DoD ID number or Social Security number with no dashes or spaces followed immediately by "USN", space, blood group
  • Religion
U.S. Army
  • Last name
  • First name, middle initial
  • DoD ID number or Social Security number
  • Blood type
  • Religion
U.S. Coast Guard
  • Last name, first name, middle initial
  • DoD ID number or Social Security number, no dashes or spaces, followed immediately by branch (i.e., 123456789USCG)
  • Blood group
  • Religion

Religious designation

During World War II, a dog tag could indicate only one of three religions through the inclusion of one letter: "P" for Protestant, "C" for Catholic, or "H" for Jewish (from the word, "Hebrew"), or (according to at least one source) "NO" to indicate no religious preference. Army regulations (606-5) soon included X and Y in addition to P,C, and H: the X indicating any religion not included in the first three, and the Y indicating either no religion or a choice not to list religion. By the time of the Vietnam War, some IDs spelled out the broad religious choices such as PROTESTANT and CATHOLIC, rather than using initials, and also began to show individual denominations such as "METHODIST" or "BAPTIST." Tags did vary by service, however, such as the use of "CATH," not "CATHOLIC" on some Navy tags. For those with no religious affiliation and those who chose not to list an affiliation, either the space for religion was left blank or the words "NO PREFERENCE" or "NO RELIGIOUS PREF" were included.

Although American dog tags include the recipient's religion as a way of ensuring that religious needs will be met, some personnel have them reissued without religious affiliation listed—or keep two sets, one with the designation and one without—out of fear that identification as a member of a particular religion could increase the danger to their welfare or their lives if they fell into enemy hands. Some Jewish personnel avoided flying over German lines during WWII with ID tags that indicated their religion, and some Jewish personnel avoid the religious designation today out of concern that they could be captured by extremists who are anti-Semitic. Additionally, when American troops were first sent to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War there were allegations that some U.S. military authorities were pressuring Jewish military personnel to avoid listing their religions on their ID tags.

What does a dog tag set consist of?

The dog tag set consist of 6 items. 2 indent stamped notched stainless steel tags, 1 stainless steel 24chain, 1 stainless steel duplicate 4chain and 2 black dog tag silencers. This dog tag set is the norm but dog tags, chains and dog tag silencers can be found in a variety of colors for personalization.

What is the main purpose of dog tags for military use?

The main purpose of dog tags for military use is to identify casualties. 1 of the 2 dog tags stay with the remains of the soldier and are not removed except in cases of the need to temporarily inter the soldier. If only one tag is found with the fallen soldier an identical dog tag is than created. If the soldier is found with both tags missing, two tags which indicate unidentified.

Do dog tags from different country militaries all look alike?

No, not all countries military dog tags look alike. The dog tags can differ in size, color, material used, information on dog tag and much more. The US Military dog tag is an oval shape that is measured 2x 1x 1/16 The 24chain has 365 ball links and the 4chain has 52 ball links. The chains became useful for prisoners of war as a capture time device. The prisoner of war will break off one bead from the large chain for each day he was kept captured and 1 ball link from the short chain for each week. The chains allowed the prisoner to count up to 1 year of capture time.

What are the specifications of the US Military dog tag?

The US military chain issued has to be 2.5mm, 24neck chain and 1, 2.5mm, 4duplicate chain. The ball chains can be upgraded to 3 mm diameter by the soldier if he chooses. The chains diameter has to fall between 2.5mm and 3mm, anything oven or under is unauthorized due to risk of breakage or inability to recover duplicate chain.

How are dog tags imprinted?

Dog tags are typically imprinted in 2 different ways; they are either embossed or indented. Emboss is a newer style of imprinting dog tags in which the letters are raised. The emboss imprint style was adopted by the US military in the 1980s. Today more than 50% of dog tags issued by the US Military are imprinted in an emboss style, depending on the equipment available on each base. The indent style on dog tags is considered the vintage style, which the letters are sunken into the dog tag. During the Second World War, Korean War and the Vietnam War the indent style dog tag was solely used up until the 1980s. Since the 1980s till present, dog tag lettering can be found in both forms.

What is imprinted on a dog tag?

For a member serving the US Military the following information can be found on their dog tag. Their name (last name, first name middle initial), social security number, blood type, military branch and religion are typically imprinted on the dog tag. Each branch of the US Military may come in a different format but all the same information can be found. The USMC dog tag can also be marked with either a “S“Mor “Lwhich denotes their gas mask choice in size between a small, medium and large.

Can I get a dog tag imprinted even if I didn't serve in the US Military?

Yes, you can get a dog tag imprinted even if you aren't or haven't served in any branch of the US Military. Imprinted dog tags are a common novelty good and fashion accessory widely worn around the world.

Who wears novelty dog tags?

Novelty dog tags are worn by a wide range of people for fashion, to indicate health problems and to show they are apart of something. Over the years these novelty dog tags have grown in popularity and can be found in youths and adults fashion. The dog tag can present one with a tough or militaristic image. Individuals with health conditions such as heart problems or epilepsy commonly wear dog tags identifying these conditions. Members of certain fraternities and sororities wear dog tags imprinted with there letters and can also include other information such as year of entrance, name and so on. Dog tags can be seen worn by celebrities including Jessica Simpson and Paris Hilton as a piece of jewelry.

What is imprinted on a novelty dog tag?

Anything of a persons choosing can be imprinted on a novelty dog tag that fits the space constraints. Popular things found on novelty dog tags include the person's details, beliefs, tastes, quotes, band name or a logo. When imprinting on a dog tag it is common to space out the characters to make it imprint easier to read.

How many characters can the typical dog tag fit?

The typical dog tag has 5 lines which can be imprinted. Lines 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th line can fit 15 characters including spacing; the 3rd line can fit 14 characters including spacing due to the hole for the chain. This is in general, some dog tags give you the option for a 6th line or, more or less spaces for characters.

How can I customize my novelty dog tag?

Besides choosing the imprint on your dog tag, there are several other ways to customize a dog tag. Dog tags can be found in many different colors from stainless steel, brass, different camouflage patterns or a person can get their dog tag screen printed before getting it imprinted. The dog tag silencers come in a variety of colors for a persons choosing. Also, the dog tag chains are available in different colors and lengths.

Army Navy Dogtags

Military dog tags have recently found their way into youth fashion by way of military chic. Originally worn as a part of a military uniform by youths wishing to present a tough or militaristic image, dog tags have since seeped out into wider fashion circles. They may be inscribed with a person's details, their beliefs or tastes, a favorite quote, or may bear the name or logo of a band or performer. Some people also prefer to have the information on their tags transferred to a smaller, sometimes golden or silver tag by a jeweller, as the original tag can be considered too large and bulky by some. Some are also used for health problems such as heart problems or epilepsy.

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The history of dog tags and military id tags

During the American Civil War of 1861-1865, some soldiers pinned paper notes with their name and home address to the backs of their coats. Other soldiers stencilled identification on their knapsacks or scratched it in the soft lead backing of the Army belt buckle.

Manufacturers of identification badges recognized a market and began advertising in periodicals. Their pins were usually shaped to suggest a branch of service and engraved with soldier's name and unit. Machine-stamped tags were also made of brass or lead with a hole and usually had (on one side) an eagle or shield and such phrases as "War for the Union" or "Liberty, Union, and Equality." The other side had the soldier's name and unit and sometimes a list of battles in which he had participated.

A New Yorker named John Kennedy wrote to the U.S. Army in 1862, offering to furnish discs for all officers and men in the Federal Army, enclosing a design for the disc. The National Archives now has the letter along with the reply, a summary refusal without explanation.

In the Spanish-American War, soldiers purchased crude stamped identification tags, sometimes with misleading information.

Franco-Prussian War

The Prussian Army issued identification tags for its troops at the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. They were nicknamed Hundemarken ("marks on dogs" or "dog marks") and compared to a similar identification system instituted for dogs in the Prussian capital city of Berlin at about the same time.

First World War

The British Army and their Imperial forces in Canada, Australia and New Zealand issued identification tags from the beginning of the First World War. The tags were made of fibre, one in red and one in green and suspended around the neck by butcher's twine. The same pattern was worn into the Second World War and the Korean War by Commonwealth forces.

The U.S. Army first authorized identification tags in War Department General Order No. 204, dated December 20, 1906, which essentially prescribes the Kennedy identification tag:

"An aluminum identification tag, the size of a silver half dollar and of suitable thickness, stamped with the name, rank, company, regiment, or corps of the wearer, will be worn by each officer and enlisted man of the Army whenever the field kit is worn, the tag to be suspended from the neck, underneath the clothing, by a cord or thong passed through a small hole in the tab. It is prescribed as a part of the uniform and when not worn as directed herein will be habitually kept in the possession of the owner. The tag will be issued by the Quartermaster's Department gratuitously to enlisted men and at cost price to officers..."

The Army changed regulations on July 6, 1916, so that all soldiers were issued two tags: one to stay with the body and the other to go to the person in charge of the burial for record-keeping purposes. In 1918, the Army adopted and allotted the serial number system, and name and serial numbers were ordered stamped on the identification tags of all enlisted troops. (Serial number 1 was assigned to enlisted man Arthur B. Crane of Chicago in the course of his fifth enlistment period.) In 1969 the Army began transitioning (Servicemen were issued both a SSN and SN) to the Social Security number for personnel identification. Some nations (e.g. Germany) had instead a single tag with identical information stamped on both sides of it, which could easily be broken off for the purpose of record-keeping.

World War II

There is a recurring myth about the notch situated in one end of the dog tags issued to United States Army personnel during World War II. It was rumored that the notch's purpose was so that if a soldier found one of his comrades on the battlefield, he could take one tag to the commanding officer and stick the other between the teeth of the soldier to ensure that the tag would remain with the body and be identified. In reality the notch was designed to hold the tag in place when being imprinted on the carbon paper medical form by the Model 70 "Addressograph" (a pistol-type imprinting machine used by the Medical Department during World War II).

Following World War II, the US Navy Department adopted the dog tags used by the US Army and Air Force, so a single shape and size became the American standard.


In the Vietnam War, American soldiers were allowed to place rubber silencers on their dog tags so the enemy would not hear the metallic clanking. Others chose to tape the two tags together with black tape. Still others chose to wear one tag around the neck, and the other tag on the lace of one boot. All three variations were commonly seen among U.S. troops.

Prior to the use of Social Security Numbers on dog tags beginning in the 1960s, the military printed the individual's military service (or serial) number.

Dog tags are traditionally part of the makeshift battlefield memorials soldiers create to their fallen comrades. The casualty's rifle with bayonet affixed is stood vertically atop the empty boots, with the helmet over the stock of the rifle. The dog tags hang from the rifle's handle or trigger guard. Service members also often give them to loved ones before deployments or when dating, similar to the student practice of giving a sweetheart one's letterman jacket or ring to wear.