Army Takes Bite Out of Dog Tags

A metal embossing machine is used to make ID tags at the Soldier Readiness Processing building at Fort Knox, Kentucky. (US Army photo)A metal embossing machine is used to make ID tags at the Soldier Readiness Processing building at Fort Knox, Kentucky. (US Army photo)

The U.S. Army is finally starting to remove Social Security numbers from dog tags. But it won’t happen to anytime soon for most soldiers. Those deploying get first dibs on the newly revamped identification tags, as my colleague Amy Bushatz reports at

The tags will instead display the 10-digit Defense Department identification number currently included on Pentagon ID cards, and will be issued to solders on an as-needed basis, with those deploying getting priority, service officials said in a press release.

“This change is not something where Soldiers need to run out and get new tags made,” Michael Klemowski, the soldiers programs branch chief at U.S. Army Human Resources Command, said in the release. “We are focusing first on the personnel who are going to deploy. If a Soldier is going to deploy, they are the first ones that need to have the new ID tags.”

What’s amazing is how long it took the military to begin this process. The Pentagon almost a decade ago announced plans to move away from using Social Security numbers on so many items to reduce risk of identity theft.

What’s even more interesting is how many soldiers and veterans apparently hated the inclusion of Social Security numbers on the devices in the first place.

One of my colleagues, a Vietnam veteran, wrote me in an email, “Biggest mistake ever using those. I went in with an old fashioned RA number, and it was switched to my SSN within weeks.”

One of the commenters to the article wrote, “It was a stupid move.”

The military apparently started incorporating Social Security numbers on dog tags beginning in the late 1960s and the old service numbers were phased out in the early 1970s. But does anyone know why this decision was made in the first place?

The Social Security Administration has this colorful tale about how the Roosevelt administration in the 1930s actually debated assigning Social Security numbers to citizens by issuing them on metal nameplates — but nothing at first glance on the decision decades later to actually include them on dog tags.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • It was probably because they’re easier to remember. Identity theft wasn’t much of an issue in the late 1960’s, I’d imagine. It certainly wasn’t a big consideration when I joined the Corps in 1992. Probably the most entered piece of data on forms was the SSN – and of course, none of the forms used the same format for standard information.

    • JCitizen

      in ’85 the paperwork pukes started making sure no documents were laid on a clerks desk with the SSN showing face up. They were starting to realize even back then. I should probably burn all the old software I have locked away in storage; but computers weren’t used in the standard 1st Sergeant’s office back then either.

  • JCitizen

    So the Army went back t the old service number system (that might as well be what it is) – just goes to show – sometimes tradition is the way to go.

  • Bucket 1

    When I went in back in 67 we were issued either an RA 00-000-000 if we joined or a US 00-000-000 if drafted. I remember mine today without any trouble at all. When they went all volunteer all they had to do was remove the RA or the US & you’d have a nice eight digit number all ready to go. Before anyone starts barking I’m well aware that the all volunteer Military was way after they started using SSANs for ID purposes. It was just an easy way to put it into topic. BTW us Old Farts had SSAN cards that stated, “unlawful to use as any form of identification” printed on the face at the bottom. I still have mine, for some reason when I saw a Fellow Infantryman’s new SSAN card without that statement I sent mine home & applied for another, sure enough, no statement on mine either! The way the Military & most other users of SSANs splash that number around scares me! I don’t think we should make an ID thief’s job any easier!!

  • Submarine Johnny

    Do dog tags still have a notch on one end? They did in 1960 when I got mine, the only set I ever had until I retired in 1980. Pretty gruesome stories about what that notch was for.

  • Guest

    The notch was there so it could be embossed over at the hospital by Medics or Corpsman.