Here's why soldiers wear 'dog tags'

Here's why soldiers wear 'dog tags'
PHOTO: Danny Ng

Many of us have seen people wearing Identity (ID) tags, better known as dog tags, as fashion accessories.

Celebrities like Justin Bieber are often seen accessorising with dog tags.
Photo: Style Bistro

But did you know that these tags have a military origin? Yup, these ID tags are used to identify a soldier if he/she had been severely injured or killed.

Notice that there are two differently shaped tags? Each soldier in the Singapore Armed Forces is given one of each when they enlist. If the soldier gets injured, the ID tags would be used to identify the soldier’s blood group and any allergies he/she might have. And in the event where the soldier is killed? The oval tag would be placed in his/her mouth because it is the safest place on the body and the circular one would be collected by his/her platoon mates to report the location of the body.

This isn’t a new invention though. In fact, there are stories dated all the way back to the early centuries when Roman soldiers wore ID tags known as the signaculum.

There were personal details on the signaculum and they served the same purpose as an ID tag would today.
Photo: Imperium Romana

Fun fact: Since the Medieval times, many soldiers who died were buried in graves marked with a single word “Unknown”. It wasn’t only until the 1800s that armies around the world started issuing official ID tags. In fact, during the American Civil War (1861 - 1865), soldiers wrote their names on a piece of paper or handkerchief and pinned it to their clothing before going into battle because they were worried that their bodies could not be identified.

Today, names are not engraved on the ID tags. Instead, the soldier’s NRIC number, blood group and religion go on one side of the tag while the other side would indicate any allergy the soldier might have.

Like the SAF 11B, details are engraved onto the ID tags at CMPB itself!

This is the machine used to engrave details onto the blank ID tags.

Have you also noticed how some of the tags have a black rubber ring around them?

Photo: Mervin Tay

The black rubber casings are meant to silence the sound of metal clinking onto each other. You wouldn’t want your enemies to know where you are during a battle just because you are wearing two metal tags right?

Also, I am not sure if this is a current practice in Singapore but I have read of instances where soldiers in US wear one tag around their neck and the other threaded through a boot lace. Reason? It is unlikely to have both your head and foot removed in the same injury so there would be at least one ID tag remaining on your body.

A Library of Congress tribute probably said it best.

"The tag itself individualises the human being who wears it, despite his/her role as a small part of a huge and faceless organisation. While the armed forces demand obedience and duty to a higher cause, dog tags, hanging under service members' shirts and close to their chests, remind them of their individuality."

This article was first published in ConnexionSG.

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