Army regulations specify that branch scarves may be worn with both service and utility uniforms for ceremonial occasions. For members of the Armor and Cavalry branches, however, chances are good that they’ll receive such authorization on a more frequent basis than members of other branches of the Army, because the yellow scarf is almost as much a part of the Armor and Cavalry tradition as Fiddler's Green or fife-and-drum tune “Garry Owens.”

One reason the yellow scarf has become such an enduring component of the Cavalry mystique is its sheer practicality. Riding horseback across the hot, dusty plains of the American West in the second half of the 19th century, Cavalry troops would use scarves to keep the sun off their neck and the sandy grit out of their mouths. A scarf dipped in water and wrapped around the neck kept riders cool on sweltering days; it could be removed and used as a bandage or part of a tourniquet; and of course it could always be used simply for wiping dirty hands and faces clean.

Interestingly, the color of the scarf was not always sacrosanct. General George Custer, for example, was noted for wearing a red bandana (a bit of trivia accurately portrayed in the film Little Big Man), while the Rough Riders led by Teddy Roosevelt wore polka-dot neckerchiefs. Historical accounts reveal that scarves of varying colors and sizes were worn by the Cavalry serving out West, which again emphasizes the utilitarian nature of scarves.

Yellow, of course, is the branch color of Armor / Cavalry, but long before they were united the famed American painter Frederic Remington produced scores of works featuring U.S. Cavalry troopers wearing yellow scarves around their necks, helping further establish the pattern of a yellow scarf on a blue uniform. And who can forget the arrival of Lieutenant Colonel William "Bill" Kilgore in Apocalypse Now, dashing with his Stetson atop his head and yellow scarf around his neck?

But while such images are inspiring, it doesn’t mean that Armor and Cavalry can don the yellow scarf any time they wish: Regulations regarding the necessity for command approval for its wear are short and crystal clear.

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