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U.S. Military Puts Its Insignia in Order

The Department of Defense's Institute of Heraldry is tracking its archived badges, medals and other insignia with RFID tags, and is using handheld readers to locate them, as well as a fixed portal to alert staff members if an item is removed.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 31, 2010The Institute of Heraldry, a repository for all of the U.S. Department of Defense's (DOD) badges, medals and other military insignia, is employing EPC RFID technology to create a more open-door environment for insignia designers.

The institute, which supports the U.S. Army, maintains approximately 15,000 items in its repository in Fort Belvoir, Va. These items are manually indexed in metal drawers within storage cabinets, and the agency uses a database with an Excel spreadsheet to track the locations of specific objects. If someone, such as an illustrator, needs to access a particular insignia—some of which are rare—that individual must make a request, and the item is then retrieved from the repository by the institute's staff.

Prior to the RFID system's implementation, workers would go into the database and look up the drawer, compartment and storage cabinet numbers to determine where a particular item was stored. To confirm that they had the correct insignia, they simply had to examine it, as well as the ID number written on its packaging. The illustrator would then look at the item in an approved area of the building outside the repository. Typically, illustrators examine the insignia, take measurements and photographs, and base the creation of new insignia on those they have examined.

After that process, to actually manufacture the insignia, vendors must use DOD dyes and hubs (metal-forming tools used in the medal-manufacturing process), which are stored in another area at the Heraldry.

The manual system was not working well for the agency, however, says Thomas Casciaro, the chief of the Heraldry's technical and production division. It was time-consuming for staff members to locate items, he explains, and security concerns often kept illustrators and other individuals out of the repository, where they could otherwise be examining the insignia while planning the design of a new version. What's more, certain insignia simply could not be identified or located—or, in some cases, they might have been removed from the repository.

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