Don’t Reflective Armbands Defeat the Purpose of Camouflage?

Wes O'Donnell
5 min readNov 20, 2023

Friendly identification and why the Ukrainians choose safety over camouflage.

Courtesy AFU

Right around 1995, the U.S. Army started issuing yellow reflective Velcro ankle belts. They were to be worn during physical training — specifically to protect soldiers running on public roads at zero-dark-thirty.

By the time I was in the Air Force during the War on Terror, that cute little anklet had evolved into a full-blown reflective belt that we were forced to wear anytime we ventured out to the flight line to work on the AWACS.

After all, you never know when you might be run over by an errant Boeing 707.

After a while, different colors began to appear besides the normal fluorescent yellow: pink, blue, and green. If you were in the reflective belt manufacturing business in the mid-2000s, you were raking it in.

These reflective belts, and various versions of reflective tape, served an important safety purpose when we were on base. But once we deployed, the reflective belt got stowed away in the interest of operational security. After all, we didn’t want to make it any easier for the enemy to spot us when we were in a dangerous environment.

Well, technically, we still had to bring (and wear) our reflective belts in theater, but not when actually “on mission.”

Because the timeframe of the War on Terror coincided with the advent of social media, the reflective belt memes were relentless:

Author’s meme

So, when the Ukraine War started in earnest, tens of thousands of American Post 9/11 veterans collectively pointed at the screen like Leo when they saw our allies, the Ukrainians, wearing reflective armbands.

As it were, the reflective belt was probably the single most hated item in the entire U.S. military’s inventory. And now we’re watching our Ukrainian allies wear them, or a variation of them, in combat.

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Wes O'Donnell

Army & Air Force Veteran | Global Security guy at War is Boring, GEN, OneZero | Intel Forecaster | Law Student | TEDx Speaker | Pro-Democracy | Pro-Human Rights