The Minimum and Maximum Number for a Color Guard

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Firefighter Color Guard Axes at Right Shoulder

DrillMaster Honor Guard Academy Graduation Chino Valley Fire 2016 Firefighter Color Guard Axes at Right Shoulder

Two of the questions that I receive quite often:

  1. How many flags can our color guard carry?
  2. What do we do if one of our four team members do not show?

The Maximum
With two rifle (axe) guards you can have what the joint service color team carries (in this order):

  1. US
  2. State (not usual with more than one service color)
  3. Army
  4. USMC
  5. USN
  6. USAF
  7. USCG

The USCG is a military service and during times of war serves as a component of the US Navy. Any other time, it is a law enforcement agency serving under the Department of Homeland Security. Please read About Joint Service Order (which includes information in the comments section regarding the Public Health Service- PHS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration- NOAA) and Military Service Order of Precedence .

Or you could have:

  1. US
  2. State
  3. City or Service
  4. Department or Service JROTC

The standard color guard:

  1. US
  2. State or Service

So, the maximum number of colors would be eight flags with the minimum being two flags. Remember, this is not the maximum “authorized” or “appropriate,” this is hypothetical and you may have occasion to carry a variation of the above.

Notes:

  • The US is ALWAYS on the marching right or at the front for a military color team (NEVER in the center- not even if it is taller)
    • The only exemption to this may be a Tribal Nation color on Tribal Lands (which would be all of the US, technically)
  • A state color is ALWAYS before any service flag, right after the US

The Minimum
Now we get to a sticky point for some. This section answers the second question of what happens if someone does not show up.

For the military service honor guards in and around Washington DC, it is quite common to see a color guard of three members at various ceremonies. The flag for this setup is an American (funeral for the President) or a foreign nation’s flag (an arrival ceremony). Each service color guard, any other time, will always carry the American and the service flags. While ceremonial units overseas will carry the US, host country, and service flag, stateside installation teams may carry the state at certain times.

There are situations where a personal color (flag) is carried, but that color is only for that individual and never has rifle guards. A personal color is a general or admiral’s flag, a US Secretary’s flag (armed service, etc.) and even the POW/MIA flag.

Does this mean that your team should never march three members on your color guard? Not necessarily. Here is an example:

Three-man color guard

Three-man color guard courtesy of Honor and Remember

Four members of your team are set to march a parade, you have all practiced and all team members know, as they should, the manual for for the flagstaff and the rifle (axe). The morning of the parade comes and one member is unable to show for whatever reason. Do you now march with one rifle (axe) guard? No, march with the American flag. This is making the best of a potentially bad situation.

What About the POW/MIA Flag?

Color Guard with POW/MIA flag in formation

Color Guard with POW/MIA flag in formation courtesy of US Army, Ft. McCoy

This is a contentious topic. The POW/MIA flag always/never marches with the other flags in a color guard. Just ask some very well-intentioned veterans and service men and women in different parts of the country and you will get either answer. My advice? The US military honor guard standard is to carry and post it separately. I recommend carrying it separately.  Read the article, Can the POW/MIA flag be in a Color Guard, here. There isn’t any official guidance for carrying the POW/MIA flag in a color guard, the Flag Code guidance is for flying it on an outside pole directly under or next to the American Flag.

Color Guard with POW/MIA flag outside of formation

Color Guard with POW/MIA flag outside of formation courtesy of maritime.edu

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