What Does the ‘Secret Squirrel’ Patch Mean?

One of the most fascinating things about militaries the world over, and the United States military in particular, is the patches.

Unit patches, rank patches, patches denoting special status or training, the list goes on. This has sort of overflowed into the morale patch craze that has been going on strong for most of the 21st century.

soldier in the field

One of the earliest, and also most recognizable, is the secret squirrel patch. But what does the secret squirrel patch mean?

The secret squirrel patch today is simply a playful reference to the covert or secretive nature of the person wearing it. Historically, it was the patch of a real unit which flew a secret mission in the first Gulf War.

It’s a fun expression that most folks who have been in the military, into the gun scene, or involved in other tactical endeavors have heard of. But the origin story of the secret squirrel patch is pretty interesting in and of itself.

Keep reading and I’ll tell you everything you need to know about this playful and mysterious patch…

What is the Secret Squirrel Patch, Exactly?

For all five of you reading this that have never seen the secret squirrel patch, it might be a letdown.

It’s typically a fabric patch with an image of a sitting, upright squirrel on it, sometimes depicted with or without an acorn in its grubby little paws, and the word secret embossed above the squirrel. A secret squirrel. That’s it. No esoteric markings, no crazy in-jokes, nothing like that.

There are many makers of this patch, but one of the oldest and most popular is made by Mil-Spec Monkey.

The Origins of “The” Secret Squirrel

Where did the term secret squirrel even come from? Was there a “patient zero,” as it were, for this compelling alliterative term?

It’s easy to think so: that some low-ranking soldier once saw something or someone way, way above his pay grade, and was subsequently told to mind his own business.

When asked about it, he replied “I don’t know man, that’s all secret squirrel to me.” There have been more popular sayings that have originated in much the same way!

But, as best we’re able to find out, the originator of the term is far more mundane, and something you might not expect.

It actually comes from a cartoon of the exact same name, Hanna-Barbera’s Secret Squirrel that first aired in the 1960s. The eponymous squirrel was a trench-coated rodent that got up to all sorts of espionage and spy games in the course of his adventures.

Naturally, popular culture being a memetic force no matter what era it is found in, it was only a short while before the term jumped into the context of military usage, as a playful slang term for something that was a secret, covert or need-to-know.

Little did these troopers know back then, but a legend was born.

Today, Secret Squirrel Could Refer to a Unit, Person or Status

Today, at all levels of military service, and in all branches, the term ‘secret squirrel’ is used as slang or shorthand for a unit, person or status, with the intended noun or adjective meaning that the subject in question is wholly secret.

For instance, a clandestine operator from any national intelligence agency would be called a secret squirrel. Top secret intel or sensitive weapons and other technology are referred to as secret squirrel.

A service member that is in the loop when it comes to sensitive information that is propagated only on a need to know basis is said to be secret squirrel.

Basically, the term now refers to anyone and anything that’s of a secret or sensitive nature, or one that is engaged in covert, deniable or “black” operations.

It is also used, perjoratively, to refer to people who jump up the importance and mystery of otherwise mundane and boring jobs in the service.

The Original Secret Squirrel Patch is From a Secret 1st Gulf War Bombing Mission

But the real secret squirrel patch is no mere meme, or at least it didn’t start out that way.

The actual, real deal Secret Squirrels where the aircrew members of the 596th Bomb Squadron’s 2nd Bomb Wing, today quite famous for flying the mission originally termed Operation Senior Surprise during the first Gulf War, notable for being the first use of the then highly classified B-52 carried conventional air-launched cruise missile, or CALCM.

The story is really quite something and worth a read, but more important to our story is the patch later adopted by that unit, one featuring a skydiving squirrel with a cape, helmet and goggles, border top and bottom by the words “Secret Squirrel”.

This is it: this patch is the real deal, legitimate, original Secret Squirrel patch, and one that only the intrepid and brave members of those aircrews rate wearing.

The original secret mission was even retroactively named Operation Secret Squirrel in their honor. An amazing achievement!

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