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Can you wear dog tags off duty?

Can Civilians Wear Dog Tags?

Dog tag chain on an American flag

Soldiers receive dog tags to provide identification if they are wounded or killed in action. However, they have also become considered a fashion statement. So, can civilians wear dog tags without disrespecting the military?

Table of Contents

  • Is It Disrespectful for Civilians to Wear Dog Tags?
  • Where to Buy Dog Tags?
  • When Did Soldiers Start Wearing Dog Tags?
  • Why Do Soldiers Get Two Dog Tags?
  • What Information Does a Dog Tag Include?

Civilians can legally wear dog tags. Yet, attempting to use the dog tags for personal gain may be considered an act of stolen valor, which is a punishable offense. Some veterans and active military members may consider it disrespectful, while others do not care.

Is It Disrespectful for Civilians to Wear Dog Tags?

Some military personnel may find it offensive for civilians to wear dog tags. A civilian wearing dog tags may be considered comparable to civilians wearing combat fatigues, flag patches or saluting a soldier. However, everyone has personal opinions on the matter.

A civilian is unlikely to go unnoticed by former and current members of the military when wearing dog tags. Veterans and active members of the military rarely wear their dog tags in public. Members of the military are not required to wear their dog tags outside of combat situations.

American flag with dog tags on camouflage

As members of the military rarely wear their dog tags in public, wearing them openly is often considered a sign that someone is posing as a veteran.

Members of the military who see a civilian wearing dog tags may consider it:

  • Disrespectful
  • Comical
  • Unusual

Yet, loved ones occasionally wear the dog tags of those that they have lost. A civilian may wear dog tags that belonged to a grandparent, parent, or spouse. They may wear the tags to remember and honor their family members.

Civilians may also purchase fake dog tags. Fake tags are available with personalized inscriptions. Unlike wearing dog tags that belonged to a loved one, wearing fake dog tags is likely to be considered disrespectful.

Where to Buy Dog Tags?

Military-style dog tags are available from a variety of online retailers and almost every major online marketplace. Most options are available with personalization. Customers can have dog tags engraved with their name or a message.

Family members and veterans who wish to replace lost tags must use a commercial service. Dog tags are only replaced for active service members.

When Did Soldiers Start Wearing Dog Tags?

Soldiers first started wearing ID tags in 1906, several years after the end of the Spanish-American war. While US soldiers started wearing dog tags in 1906, the use of identification tags started with the Spartan Army during the Roman Empire. The Spartans wrote their names on strings that they tied to their wrists.

The creation of dog tags for US soldiers was proposed by Army Chaplain Charles Pierce. Pierce oversaw the Army’s morgue in the Philippines. He recommended that all soldiers wear circular disks to identify those that were severely injured or killed.

The original US Army dog tags were the size of a half-dollar coin and attached to a cord or chain worn around the neck. The US Navy started requiring service members to wear dog tags in 1917. By World War II, the dog tags resembled the current shape of a rounded rectangle.

Why Do Soldiers Get Two Dog Tags?

Soldiers receive two tags for identification purposes. If a soldier is killed in action, his fellow soldiers are supposed to remove one of the tags and leave the other with the body.

Originally, one tag was stored inside one of the soldier’s shoes. The other tag was worn around the neck. Troopmates would take the tag worn around the neck, leaving the other tag in the shoe.

What Information Does a Dog Tag Include?

Dog tags contain personally identifying information. The purpose of a dog tag is to easily identify a soldier killed or severely injured in combat. However, the exact information included on the tags varies depending on the branch of the armed forces.

All tags include the soldier’s first name and last name. The tags also include the soldier’s religious preference and blood type. The US Coast Guard and Navy still include the soldier’s Social Security number.

The US Air Force and Army replaced the Social Security number with the soldier’s Department of Defense ID number. The DoD wanted to protect the privacy of soldiers if their tags are lost or stolen.

The US Marine Corps replaced the Social Security number with the soldier’s EDIPI number and branch. The Marine dog tags also include the soldier’s gas mask size.

Replacement Dog Tags

Replacement military dog tags

AT&T Military Discount

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 them?

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 legion they were serving in.

Centuries later in China, both sides of the struggle known as the Taiping Rebellion wore military IDs 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.

The United States Army began issuing dog tags circa 1906, which were required to display the soldier’s name, rank and military unit. Military service numbers were added in 1918. Later versions of dog tags in the 20th century included the military member’s Social Security number.

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


  • 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


  • 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, , 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 are fairly open-ended and are not regulated the same 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 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 Jeff Ousley

Jeff Ousley is a mortgage credit specialist and Air Force veteran. He’s passionate about providing the best possible advice and finding smart solutions to help people achieve their dream of homeownership.

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