Replacement Dog Tags

Updated: February 28, 2022

Table of Contents

    Replacement military dog tags

    Courtesy photo by HM1 Paul Trusdell.

    Dog tags are as much a staple of the stereotypical notion of military life as the Sherman tank, the Army jeep and lousy chow-hall food. But what is the purpose of dog tags, and is it possible to replace missing dog tags?

    A Brief History of Dog Tags

    Some websites would have you believe that the use of dog tags is a uniquely American innovation, but history shows us plenty of examples of the use of such identifiers as early as Sparta and the Roman legions.

    According to the book, “The Late Roman Army by Pat Southern and Karen Ramsey Dixon, Roman legion recruits were given disks to wear around the neck with the recruit’s name and the name of the legion he was serving in.

    Centuries later in China, both sides of a struggle known as the Taipei Revolt wore dog tags in the form of wooden belt tags.

    In the American Civil War, soldiers wrote their personal information on paper that they pinned to their uniforms to identify them if they were killed in action. Others stenciled the information on bags, clothing, etc.

    In 1907, the British Army adopted something close to what later became known as the American dog tag. 

    The United States Army also began issuing dog tags circa 1906, requiring the tags to bear the name, rank and military unit the wearer was assigned to. Military service numbers were added in 1918. The later versions of dog tags in the 20th century had the military member’s Social Security number on the tags.


    Where Dog Tags Are Worn

    Dog tags have traditionally been worn around the neck and/or laced into the combat boot. Dog tags are worn in combat zones, during military operations, etc., but may not be required in peacetime or noncombat-related military duty.

    In some cases, the wearing of dog tags may be forbidden. Aircraft maintainers and others who work with power tools, moving engine parts and the like may be required to either stow the dog tags during such duty or carry them in such a way that they pose no hazard to the workers or equipment.

    In general, aircraft maintainers and those in similar positions must not wear jewelry of any kind while servicing vehicles and aircraft for safety reasons.


    Traditional U.S. Military Dog Tag Formats

    Each branch of the service has its version of a standard format for dog tags. They have traditionally included the following details:

    Air Force

    • Last name, first name, middle initial
    • Social Security number, followed by branch (“AF”)
    • Blood type
    • Religious preference

    Air Force Alternate Format

    • Last name
    • First name and middle initial
    • Social Security number, followed by branch (“AF”)
    • Blood type
    • Religious preference

    Army

    • Last name, first name, middle initial
    • Department of Defense ID or Social Security number (prior to 2015)
    • Blood type
    • Religious preference

    Coast Guard

    • Last name, first name, middle initial
    • Social Security number with no dashes or spaces, followed by branch (“USCG”)
    • Blood type
    • Religious preference

    Marine Corps

    • Last name
    • First name, middle initials, suffix; blood type
    • Social Security number (with three/two/four spacing:123 45 6789)
    • Branch (“USMC”); gas mask size (S, M, L)
    • Religious preference

    Navy

    • Last name, first name, middle initial
    • Social Security number (no dashes or spaces) followed immediately by branch (“USN”); blood type
    • Religious preference

    There has been a move in recent years away from including Social Security numbers on dog tags. Depending on the branch of service and other variables, SSNs may still be required, but this feature is likely on the way out for all branches of service.

    The United States Army has transitioned away from SSNs in favor of a randomly generated ID number.


    Getting Replacement Dog Tags

    Those currently serving do not need to pay to replace their dog tags; they can be obtained from the office that processes ID cards and common access cards, or you may need to discuss replacing them with a mobility section or readiness center.

    Because dog tags are issued to military members for identification purposes only, there is no provision for getting replacement dog tags for former service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard. Families who wish to have dog tags replaced for a loved one are required to have them printed by commercial companies that offer such services.

    Several companies offer these services, and they are easily found via Google, Amazon.com, etc.

    It is recommended that families opt out of including a service member’s Social Security number on such replacement dog tags. This detail is too easily used for nefarious purposes should the tags fall into the wrong hands.

    Does the National Archives Provide Replacement Dog Tags?

    Military members and their families can request replacement military records such as discharge paperwork from the National Archives. However, replacement dog tags are not available.


    Dog Tag Etiquette

    Buying replacement dog tags in honor of a loved one or friend is a fairly common practice. The use and display of dog tags is fairly open-ended and is not “regulated” the way the Flag Code instructs in the proper use of the American flag.

    Most service members agree that dog tags should be concealed beneath the duty uniform.

    However, context matters. It’s one thing to wear dog tags openly on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, etc. A show of patriotism in such cases excuses the open wearing of dog tags as a show of support.

    Other uses of dog tags, such as placing them on display as a reminder of a veteran’s service in the home, in a vehicle, in shadow boxes, etc. do not seem to generate the same negative connotations for vets and currently serving military members.

    As with many other cultural issues, context is everything. The best rule of thumb to follow when deciding how to wear or present dog tags is to err on the respectful side of their use, display, or wear.


    Not All Dog Tags Signify Military Service

    Some kinds of dog tags are used for medical reasons, and some dog tags are purely decorative, with no ties to military service at all.

    Despite their resemblance to the real thing, these nonmilitary dog tags do not carry the same cultural signifiers as actual military-issue tags, and the context argument mentioned above would not apply.

    Finding Replacement Dog Tags

    You may find replacement dog tag services online, and third-party vendors serve military communities on base with services including dog tag replacement. These may be operating in AAFES locations such as a Base Exchange or Post Exchange or other DoD-authorized retail activities on bases stateside and overseas.

    Military training bases that have frequent graduations such as basic training for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard may have more than one such vendor competing for your replacement dog tag dollars. Many such locations feature kiosks or storefronts offering mementos, souvenirs, graduation video services and replacement or replica dog tag creation.


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    Written by MilitaryBenefits