The Colors Counter March How-To

DrillMaster Color Guard/Color Team, Honor Guard Training, Instructional 1 Comment

The Marine Corps’ Counter March for the Color Guard can be somewhat of a mystery. Why? The guiding directive, MCO P5060.20 is not as crystal clear as one would like.

For a complete outline of the footsteps, see this article, The Colors Reverse How-to.

Before we continue: “If a female is part of the color guard she wears trousers and not a skirt, for uniformity. When designating the uniform for the color guard, consideration should be given to the effect that the color bearers’ slings may have on ribbons and badges. Slings are adjusted so that the colors are the same height when at the carry or, if this isn’t possible, the national colors are slightly higher than the organizational colors. If necessary, have the senior color bearer slightly taller than the organizational color bearer. All members of the color guard wear the pistol belt (white belt if in blues [yes, even the female members -DM]); the color bearers wear the pistol belt over the sling to keep the sling firmly in place. If the color guard is wearing the service cover, then they use two chinstraps. One is worn normally and the second one is worn under the chin.

“All colors carried by the color guard are attached to staffs of equal height. The standard color staff consists of a 9 1/2-foot, hardwood pole capped at each end by metal ferrules. The use of the all-metal staff is only authorized for Marine Barracks, Washington, DC. A metal spearhead screws into the top of the staff.”

Alignment of the color guard members. The text and pictures* do not match in the manual. “The color guard is formed and marches in one rank at close interval [yet, at least two pictures show the color team shoulder-to-shoulder while standing fast and marching, DM] with the color bearers in the center. While marching, members of the color guard do not swing their free arms. ”

*Some of the pictures are of Marines attached to the honor guard in DC and thereby show hand positions that are not authorized for the rest of the fleet and JROTC units: knuckles horizontal when at attention and index finger pointed to the ground when using the strong grip on a flagstaff. The first one got me, but followers on social media were able to help me figure it out.

Counter March text from the manual


1. The command is “Countermarch, MARCH.” It may be executed while halted, marking time, or marching. When marking time or marching, the command of execution “MARCH” is given as the left foot strikes the deck. When this command is given while marking time or marching, the color guard will take one more 2-inch vertical step in place or one more 30-inch step forward with the right foot before starting the half steps for this movement. If executed from the halt, the color guard will immediately begin the designated steps starting with the left foot. (See figure 7-18.)

Counter March

2. The national color bearer pivots to the left [a Face-in-March works, so does marking time, stepping to the left and turning in place. DM], moving into the position formerly occupied by the organizational color bearer, facing the new direction of march and begins marking time.

3. The organizational color bearer takes one-half step forward, pivots to the right outside the national color bearer, moving into the position formerly occupied by the national color bearer, facing the new direction of march and begins marking time.

4. The right color guard takes two half-steps forward, pivots to the left, outside the organizational color bearer, moving into the position formerly occupied by the left color guard, facing the new direction of march and begins marking time.

5. The left color guard takes three half-steps forward, pivots to the right outside the right color guard, moving into the position formerly occupied by the right color guard, facing the new direction of march and begins marking time.

6. Upon completion of this movement, the entire color guard marks time until it is halted or until it receives the command “Forward, MARCH” or “Colors, HALT.”

Notice that in the description above the pivot foot is not necessarily indicated. One can then assume that a pivot on the outside or inside foot is appropriate. Also, even though step counts are given, it does not mean those counts are when the pivots must take place.

Take a look at this video and see what I mean about the pivots happening on the inside (right rifle guard) and outside (MC color bearer and left rifle guard) feet and step counts- all team members take three steps and pivot on that third step. Start at 3:46 to see just the Counter March performed twice.


NOTE: JROTC units are not authorized to execute Reverse Present (as shown in the video) from outboard shoulders, that is an 8th and I technique only.

Also, notice that the Marines glide as they march- this is proper marching technique and comes from using the hip, buttocks and leg muscles as they were meant to be used. Let us not forget the core muscles as well!

The text coupled with the video should help many in the MC, N & CG JROTC cadets better understand their responsibilities.

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