Across the country, JROTC units receive requests to perform duties several times each year and Memorial Day is no different. Unfortunately, what the cadets are requested to do can create concern. Here is an example.
Recently a CMSgt JROTC instructor wrote to me seeking guidance since his cadets had practiced and practiced a certain way (read: properly, as the Chief had learned during his career and taught his cadets), but the request included some quite odd requirements. One requirement was to take the flags that would already be at half-staff, raise them, and lower them back to half-staff for the ceremony.
My reply: Going from half-staff to half-staff is improper.
Just like when a base or first responder honor guard receives a request for a ceremonial element for a performance- you are the ceremonial expert, not the requesting party (Education is Key!). You are the ones who dictate what happens to follow proper protocol based off the Flag Code and your service manual or The Honor Guard Manual. The requesting party may request slight variations to the norm and that may be OK, but you, as the ceremonial element that will provide the performing members, must be well educated in proper procedures.
Going to Half-staff
One of the two halyard bearers attaches the American flag to the clasps, the flag bearer only unfolds the triangle folds, and holds it in his arms. On the first note of music, the two team members on the halyard, briskly raise the flag while the one pulling counts the number of times he’s pulling the flag up. Once at the top, lower the flag half of the number of pulls using the same arm reach. Secure the halyard. All three members look straight forward the whole time. Once the flag leaves the flag bearer’s hands, that individual renders the hand salute. See also The American Flag at Half-Staff.
A ceremony for Raising and Lowering the American Flag.
Two Flags Going Up
Use one team member for each flag. Attach the American and attach the other non-national flag (POW/MIA, state, etc.). Do not raise the flags any higher the the halyard bearer’s head; attach both flags and bunch them in your arms until raised unless you are working with a crank and internal halyard. DO NOT LOOK UP. Follow the technique outlined above.
Do not look up, like these Soldiers are doing.
In my research, I cannot find specific guidance for having two flags at half-staff on the same pole/halyard, the American and the POW/MIA, for instance. However, the Flag Code’s guidance is only for the American flag and that could be taken as flying another flag underneath it is not appropriate, but that is only conjecture. It is up to you as to what you find is the most appropriate way to honor our flag and our nation.
The POW/MIA flag goes directly beneath the American, then the state flag. That may seem strange, but its guidance from the Flag Code.
Also read: Guidance for Multiple Flags on a Single Pole
Coming From Half-staff
The flag(s) is raised briskly to the top and lowered all the way down slowly and ceremoniously. While the flag(s) is lowered, the flag bearer(s) renders the hand salute looking straight forward the whole time (do not look up to see if you need to get the flag!). Use your peripheral vision and glance at the ground to see the flag’s shadow to gauge when it is getting closer. Once the flag comes into your field of vision – looking straight ahead – drop your salute and proceed to the flag to gather it. If lowering two flag, each team member must gather their own flag while the halyard bearer detaches it from the clasps.
Difference Between Staff and Mast
The word, Mast, is a nautical term used by the Marines, Navy and anyone else associated with water. The term, Staff, is used by the Army and Air Force. Color guards use Staffs and flags are flown outside on a Pole, but “Half-pole” sounds silly.
Distance Between Flags
When flying two flags on a single mast and halyard (there are double-halyard masts), to my knowledge, there isn’t any guidance on the distance between flags except for the USAF. The USAF protocol manual states that the bottom flag must attach to the halyard far enough below the American flag so that the American does not touch the lower flag when at rest.
So, unless you are on an Air Force base, you may place the second flag where you feel it is most appropriate. I must admit that the USAF standard of having a large space can look quite strange.