How to Size a Sword/Saber

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How to Size a Military Sword

Sword Manual of Arms

From The Honor Guard Manual

We periodically receive questions about how to properly size a sword or saber. Contrary to much of the information that is “out there”, the sword and saber blade length is not simply a function of a person’s height.

The correct length is the blade length that will place the tip of the blade at approximately eye height when an individual carries the sword at the “Carry Sword” position (sword drawn, arm at side, and blade in a vertical position pointing up). More correctly then, the correct blade length is a function of the individual’s arm length, the individual’s neck length, how the individual carries the sword piece, and even the type of sword.

Why is blade length important?

For those intending to mount the sword or saber on a wall and having no intention of executing manual of arms (draw sword, present arms, parade rest, etc.), blade length is not critical. A 30-inch blade length is the most common length, generally fitting those between 5’8″ and 5’11” in height.

For those intending to execute manual of arms, blade length is important. A sword blade that is too long not only looks odd and non-uniform, but also risks knocking off headgear or increases head movement when going to the “Carry Sword” position.

What sword or saber length do I need?

  1. The best way to size a sword or saber is to hold another sword or saber in the “Carry Sword” position to see how the length fits.
  2. If one does not have another sword or saber on hand, measuring for the fit is possible. Stand at a modified position of attention with your arm extended down at your side and your fingers extended down.
  3. Measure from your eye to the “V” between your thumb and your index finger. Using this measurement, the correct sword length depends on the type of piece:
  4. If you are within a 1/2-inch of a sword size: we generally recommend rounding up to the nearest size.
  5. If you are within 1-inch of a sword size: we generally recommend rounding down to the nearest size.
  6. For 1-1/2-inches: since most of our swords are sized in 1″ increments (a few are offered in 2″ size increments) it would be rare to have a 1-1/2-inch rounding issue, unless we were back-ordered on some sizes and you needed a sword very quickly. We would generally suggest against rounding 1-1/2-inches or more, but if necessary, we would suggest rounding down to the nearest size. It is easier to compensate for a shorter length sword by slightly raising your hand/arm’s position (to bring the point up to eye level) than it is to compensate for a longer sword by lowering your hand.

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Folded American Flag

How should multiple flags be folded when taken down?

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How should multiple flags be folded when taken down?

The American flag must always be folded into a triangle. (Never fold a fringed American flag into a triangle!)

What about other flags that fly with the American flag?

All other flags are twice folded in half length-wise and then folded in half width-wise three or four times depending on their length. You should end up with a rectangle.

May a state, POW/MIA, tribal or other flag be folded in a triangle?

No. The triangle fold is reserved only for the American flag. It is inappropriate to straight-fold any other flag into a triangle.

However, if you live in Minnesota (click here or the image to go to the article):

Folding the MN State FlagAnd click here for the South Carolina state flag.

Flags on the same Pole
Depending on the number of flags being taken down, all of the flags (same pole) are taken down and gathered into different individual’s arms and then folded at the same time- or at least the American flag is folded first if not enough personnel are available at the same time.

The DrillMaster


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Honor GuardCriticism

There are different types of criticism:

  1. Negative (personal to one or more people)- criticism that has no real point except to tear a person down which only leads to defensiveness. Examples:
  • “That was terrible.”
  • “You really did a bad job on that.”

2. Constructive (professional)- the ability to point out that a performance (in our case) may have had faults, but here is how to improve on those issues. Examples:

  • “Your entrance was not timed very well, I suggest that you get the audience’s attention and then proceed. You will probably find that the ceremony begins much more smoothly.”
  • “Overall, the performance was poor due to the members of the team seeming to not know what to do next. Reviewing your training and sticking to that training is what is needed.”

I hope that it is obvious that we all need constructive criticism. Everyone needs improvement in certain (all) areas of our lives. When one steps into the world of pageantry arts (marching band, indoor music and visual performance ensembles, honor guard, drill team, etc.), many then seek professional criticism for ways to improve.

What if someone doesn’t want to hear criticism?

  1. Performer: Then don’t ask for it. But why would you not want to receive feedback on a performance, no matter what kind it is? Yes, the type of performance is irrelevant: funeral, exhibition drill, colors presentations, all are subject to a critique to help you improveand that is the bottom line.
  2. Critic: Don’t give it when not asked. Sometimes this can be difficult, but it is best to keep quiet until asked.

When asked to provide criticism, where should one begin?

  1. Knowledge and training based on a standard. Just because one is very involved in a certain area does not necessarily mean that one is qualified to judge or provide a through critique.
  2. Don’t just go from memory.

DrillMaster Critiques
Whether adjudicating an honor guard or military drill team performance/competition the only published standards available today are:

  1. The World Drill Association Adjudication Manual and Rule Book for all military drill performances and, additionally,
  2. The Honor Guard Manual for honor guard performances.

The WDA Manual is based on decades of adjudication standards for indoor (marching band) color guard performances. After I was trained and certified through Winter Guard International (WGI)/Color Guard Nederland as a General Effect judge, I spent several years judging and seeking more training to hone my skills. Eventually, with WGI’s blessing, I ‘filtered’ the WGI Manual through my military experience and created the WDA Manual. Both books are based on professional visual adjudication standards, many educators over the years have had input on the WGI Manual and I was able to take that and bring it to the military drill world.

The Honor Guard Manual is based on the American military’s joint service honor guard standards where applicable with Air Force Honor Guard standards as the default (e.g. firing party, six-man flag fold) and my decades of honor guard experience.

  • Pike pole and fire axe manuals: these two manuals were created to mimic, as closely as possible, the manual of arms for the colors rifle. Technically, it is my personal preference along with work accomplished by McAllen, TX firefighter Mark Zamora, that went into each manual, but each are still based on the military standard.

Personal Opinion is out
Can one provide a completely dispassionate, objective critique? No. But with continued education and training as a judge one can provide the most professional criticism as possible to help others achieve their goals.

Drill Posters- Be Positive

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Routine Mapping Tool Sample

How to Write Exhibition Drill: The “Boxes of Three” Method

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drill team traiing: XD Cover 2AExhibition Drill for the Military Drill Team

The First DrillMaster Book for Drill Team Training: Exhibition Drill for the Military Drill Team

How to Write Exhibition Drill (XD): The “Boxes of Three” Method

When beginning any task it is always best to go from simple to difficult, even when writing drill. “But, my team already knows ‘difficult moves!” I hear you exclaim. No problem, you can still use these moves because they easily fit into a parade routine (long road that may not be very wide) and also an XD routine since you want to show the audience and judges that you have a wide ranging vocabulary of moves (along with foot/body work and also equipment work- yep, that’s three different vocabularies!).

What exactly is a “Box of Three? Beginning on either foot, take 3 steps forward, flank (pivot) to your right or left, depending on which foot you began, take three steps, pivot, three steps, pivot, thee steps and a final pivot. You just marched in a square and are back where you started. Add another person to either side and/or front or back, have everyone begin on the same foot and have them flank in the opposite direction either just before or after you flank, repeat the whole process of making a box as stated before, and you’ve just marched the move called Blackout which was first developed back in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Blackout uses 1s and 2s, actually, black and white, not numbers. I learned it back in 1979 as black and white, I substituted numbers due to some people only seeing negative when color is used to identify positioning. The team looks like this for Blackout:

1     2     1     2

2     1     2     1

1     2     1     2

2     1     2     1

The 1s go to the left and 2s go to the right all making boxes of three with flanks in between. I don’t count the flanks as steps,it seems easier to teach that way. If a commander position was marched, the commander would be to the left of the team, centered about three steps away- in this case the diagram above is marching “up”; the squad leaders are in the top rank. The command, Blackout, March, is called on 2 consecutive left steps.

That’s the basic idea, now you can put variation in there while still marching the same boxes of three:

  • Squads/Elements: the outer squads flank outward while the second squad marches forward, (To the) Rear March, X steps, (To the) Rear March; third squad executes (To the) Rear March immediately, X steps, (To the) Rear March.*
  • Ranks: first and third go right, second and fourth go left and when finished reverse the directions.
  • Groups: using our diagram of 16 members above, each group of 4 on each corner can march a different box of three.

*The “X” above is a certain number of steps that you can figure out. The total steps are 13.

All of these moves, including all of the steps required, are written out for you in my first book, Exhibition Drill for the Military Drill Team.

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Why We Follow Manuals

DrillMaster Ask DrillMaster, Color Guard/Color Team, Drill Teams 2 Comments

A Question from a cadet

Hello sir,

I need some advice. I am a [JROTC] deputy drill team Commander. I was trained both by my summer instructors and you that one should ALWAYS follow the manuals. However, my commander and my officer in charge refuse to take any ideas about following the manual. Do you have any advice?

I greatly appreciate your time and consideration.

My Response

Dear cadet,

What a seemingly tough situation. Here’s my thoughts on the subject.

Why does each branch of the military have manuals? To ensure standards are at least met if not exceeded. When a civilian ships out to Basic Training or Boot Camp, he or she is inundated with standards. When I went to Army Basic Camp (83) and then Air Force Basic Training (85), we had to line up our shoes in a specific order, fold our underwear in six-inch squares, and exactly space our hangars in the locker so that everything in the whole bay was exactly the same and in the same order. There are two reasons to do these monotonous and almost insignificant tasks.

  1. To ensure adherence to orders. Everyone follows orders or good order and discipline breaks down and the unit cannot accomplish its mission.
  2. To save lives. No, folding underwear in an exact six-inch square does not directly save anyone’s life, but it shows that you can handle the tiny, little, sometimes excruciating, details that can directly result in saving or preserving a life.

Following your service’s drill and ceremonies manual is exactly the same. Yes, we have three different manuals for regulation drill, that is due to traditions, but it is not an excuse to pick and choose what you want to follow and what you don’t.

I know, teenagers in general believe that nothing can hurt them, will live forever, and they know everything. Then, you go into post-school life and life hits with reality. My daughter, when she was 21/22 once jokingly commented to her mother and me that she wished she could go back to high school when she already knew everything.

For someone to think that they don’t have to follow what they may consider an insignificant guideline, shows a considerable arrogance and ego problem that must be dealt with immediately or the cadets with this kind of attitude are going to become adults lacking in standards, which just might get someone injured or killed- no matter what profession they choose. Ignoring standards now can even mushroom into disregarding laws later on. That’s not hyperbole, its a caution.

Christian Flag over American Flag?

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As a Christian, I get it. On church grounds, inside or out, the Christian flag should be flown above the American during services or really, all the time. After all, God is the One in control. However, Christians know that we are to follow the rules of those appointed to authority (Romans 13). Those rules state that no other flag is placed to the right or above the American flag (US Flag Code).

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.

1 Peter 2:13

I’ve gone back and forth about this, but have come to the conclusion, after about five years of scripture and flag display information reading/studying, the Christian flag needs to be subordinate to the American. It is the best decision to follow scriptural guidance, even though I may feel the Christian flag should be in its rightful place of prominence, subordinate to no other flag. However, it is not about how I feel, it is about submitting to authority, as internally uncomfortable as that may be.

The following is an excerpt from my book, The Honor Guard Manual.


“Nothing can be above the American flag.” Part II

Let’s take a look at some information on the subject.

  • American Law: The Bill of Rights, Article 1, The Constitution of the United States: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
  • The United States Navy: During the Service of Divine Worship led by the Fleet Chaplain, a triangular Pennant of White with a blue Latin cross is flown at the masthead above the American flag.
  • Flag and Protocol Manuals from each service say basically the following: Placed in mourning. Flags carried by troops will not be placed in mourning unless ordered by the President or the Secretary of the Army. When so ordered, a streamer of black crepe 7 feet long and 1 foot wide will be attached to the staff at the center of the streamer immediately below the spearhead of the U.S. flag and the organizational flag. Example text from AR 840-10
  • The State of California: Excerpted from Stars, Stripes and Statues, National Flag Foundation, p. 66, item 2. No flag or pennant shall be placed above, or if on the same level, to the right of, the United States flag, except flags flown during church services. (Emphasis mine)

The Unofficial Code for the Christian Flag

DrillMaster Note: this Code does not replace the United States Flag Code. Again, the Flag Code states that no flag will be placed to the right of or above the American flag. Period.

The following is paraphrased from

  1. When the Christian flag is on the floor level, the Christian flag is placed to the right, front, of the congregation and outside of the communion railing (if present).
  2. When the Christian flag is placed within the chancel, communion railing or choir loft, it is placed to the right side of the pastor, and of the choir as they face the congregation.
  3. When the Christian flag is displayed with the American flag and other flags:
    1. DrillMaster Note: the Christian flag should be displayed alone or with the American flag as a minimum. The Christian flag should not be displayed with other flags without the American flag.
    2. Place the American flag and other flags symmetrically on the opposite side of the sanctuary and on the same level as the Christian flag.
    3. If desired, it is also proper to place the Christian and national flags side-by-side wherever stationed in the church, thus symbolizing both the spiritual and patriotic loyalties of the congregation.
    4. When the flags are placed side-by-side, the Christian flag is always stationed on the right of all other flags.
    5. The Christian flag never dips to any other flag. It should dip to the Cross.
  4. Use of the Christian flag in other situations:
    1. Where a Cross is carried in a processional, the Cross leads, followed by the Christian flag.
    2. In a single-column formation processional, the Christian flag precedes all other flags.
    3. In a double-column formation processional, the Christian flag is on the right.
    4. When the Christian flag is on the same flagpole with any other flag, the Christian flag receives the top position.
    5. Where the Christian flag and another flag are on separate poles, the Christian flag is on the right as it faces the street or audience (viewer’s left).
    6. When posting the Christian flag staff in its base, it should be adjusted so that the blue canton and Cross are turned toward the congregation, fringe gather facing forward, and draped to its left (viewer’s right).


How to Write Drill

The Seven Parts of an Exhibition Drill Routine

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Canadian Air Cadet DTThe Seven Parts of an Exhibition Drill Routine

In the article, How to Keep a Drill Team Going, I briefly mentioned the seven parts of an exhibition drill (XD) routine. Here, I will expand on and explain those parts.

These parts are a good way to break down the routine into digestible parts when programing (creating).

The information provided below is for a soloist, tandem, tetrad (4 or 5) or full team (9, 12, 16, 25) in competition.

1. The Opening Statement

  • Before you enter the drill area, this should be no are than around 10 seconds long
  • Butt slams, chants and high tosses are examples of great ways to get the attention of your audience and build excitement.

2. Up to the Report-in

  • This includes the report-in
  • This part of the sequence can be all high energy work or it can have peaks and valleys
  • The report-in should be within the first 2 minutes
  • Block, staggered and wedge formations work well here for the report-in formation.

3. After Report-in

  • The transition away from the report-in and the head judge/audience, around 30 seconds to a minute
  • This is separated from the Routine Body because it matters how the team transitions away from the report-in; different is a good thing

4. The Routine Body

  • This is the majority of the routine, (2-3 minutes for a drill team)
  • Visual peaks of high intensity work and valleys of relatively low intensity work are a must
  • Display a wide vocabulary of
    1. Drill moves
    2. Body (head, torso, arms and hands) and foot work
    3. Equipment (flag, rifle, sword/saber and/or guidon) work

5. Before Report-out

  • It also includes the Report-out
  • This is the transition toward the the head judge, about 30 seconds to a minute, the report-out should be within the last 2 minutes
  • This is separate from the Routine Body because, again, it matters how this transition away is made.

6. After Report-out

  • This is the build up to the closing statement
  • A high energy build up is a great way to to create intensity for a powerful report-out

7. The Closing Statement

  • Us this time even if judging stops when the team crosses over the line
  • Your last chance, with an exclamation or an understatement, to “wow” your audience, no more than around 10 seconds long
  • Exclamation: High Energy- creates a clean, powerful ending
  • Understatement: Low energy- leaves the audience wanting more

Choose your distance
Some big moves look great from far away, but when viewed from close up, they lose their impact. The same goes for smaller, more intricate work- usually this work requires he soloist or team to be closer to the audience. These aspects should be taken into consideration during the creation process.

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How to Properly Mount a Flag on a Flagstaff

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This issue has been on my mind for a little while. I have this outlined in my book, Exhibition Drill For The Military Drill Team, Vol II, and I really need to go over it here.

There is only one way to properly mount a flag on a color team flagstaff. Because I say so? No, because I’ve learned through many years how a flag acts and how it is supposed to look whether carried or posted.

Glendale has been offering flags with the hook-and-pile fasteners now for a few years and thank goodness! The leather tabs wore out easily. Here is an excerpt from regarding one of their American flags (emphasis mine):

“They are finished with flannel-lined pole hems* and Velcro tabs and, if requested, golden yellow rayon fringe. These are very durable flags for parade use.”

*By the way, this flannel lining is going to give way eventually, you will have to sew the hook-and-pile fastener (Velcro) through the flag material to make it stay.

There are two parts to the hook-and-pile fastener, one is already partly sewn to the flag at the top and bottom of the flagstaff (pole) hem and one is sticking to it and had a glue-like backing to make it adhere to the staff. Here is how to attach that sticky-backed piece as pictured above. The arrow in the picture points to the small hole in the hook-and-pile fastener tab where you can drill a hole and then insert a small, thin screw (about a half-inch long). The screw should stick out no more than a quarter inch. When you attach the flag, ensure the hook-and-pile fastener(s) that is sewn into the flag goes over the screw. If you are going to mount that flag at the top and bottom, which is good thinking, you need to perfectly align the tabs and ensure that the tabs and screws do not pull/stress the flag material.

How to mount a flag on a staff. The eagle finial is NOT AUTHORIZED for any military color guard, you must use the spade (Navy and CG may use the battle axe at local expense). These are flags from my church that needed some maintenance. It is for permanent display only, hence the eagle and cross. Only the light ash staff is authorized for a color guard. The gold cord and tassels are NOT AUTHORIZED for use by any military color guard.

  1. With the finial flat, mount the spikey velcro strip at the top. Drill a small starter hole.
    • If your finial has a face, you must mount the strip at the back of the staff/finial.
    • If your flag has a usable leather tab, use the screw and then wind strapping tape around the tab.
  2. Insert a small screw. I used screws about a half-inch long.
  3. Mount the flag onto the staff and place the fuzzy velcro strip around the screw.

Attaching the Cord and Tassels

A gold cord and tassels is not authorized for any military color guard. Please read this article for more information, All About the Military Color Guard.

  1. Loop the cord through the eye (if there is one, if not there is a special knot to use).
  2. bring the tassels up, under, and through the loop. Tighten the loop.
  3. The tassels should hang evenly.

The flagstaff ornament in this picture is the spade or Army Spear. It is the standard authorized ornament for all military services with the Navy authorized to use the battle axe (Parade Store photo):



What about flags that still have a leather tab?
Thin strapping tape is a must for you! Eventually, you may want to purchase hook-and-pile fasteners and sew them into your flag(s) at the top and bottom of the flagstaff hem.

So, what does mounting a flag like described above do?
It allows you to carry and post the flag the way it was intended. You see, the leather or hook-and-pile fastener tabs are sewn into the flagstaff hem directly across from the sew line which means that when the screws and tabs are mounted squarely so that the flag will hang as it is supposed to do with the point where the fringe meets centered on the flat spade. Like the American flag in this picture below (USAF photo):

Notice that all three flags in this picture above are not the same. That’s a no-no. The other two flags are the German and USAF.

When carried, the point where the fringe meets faces behind the color bearer this facilitates properly posting the flag and “diamonding” it so the fringe is off to the right.

All About the Military Color Guard

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Please read this article very carefully. The following information is based in regulation drill. Much of the information directly relates to ceremonial unit color guards. Even though this is not about ceremonial drill (honor guard), color guards are ceremonial in nature and all must adhere to the standards.


  • Military color guard. A uniformed Active Duty, National Guard, or Reserve color guard made up of a minimum of four members.
    • This then extends to all Veteran Service Organizations, First Responders, ROTC and JROTC cadets, Scouts, Explorers, and any other uniformed military or paramilitary organization. If you follow one of the three drill and ceremonies manuals, you then must abide by the other manuals that influence that D&C manual.
    • For first responders who follow the ceremonial aspects of The Honor Guard Manual, much of this applies, see also the Manual.
  • Flag, Colors, or Color. Different terms for the same thing.
  • American, US, Ensign, National Ensign. Terms for the American flag.
  • Color Guard and Color Team can be used interchangeably.

Who is Represented?

All Ceremonial Guardsmen have somewhere in their creed a line that states something to the affect of,

I represent all members past and present”.

The only way to view this information is to think, “Who does my team represent?” If you are in the military, a first responder, a JROTC or other cadet, the answer is easy- the uniform you wear is the service or profession you represent. Other organizations might not have it stated so clearly. I’ll help you with that.

A veteran organization, whether formal or not, wears a uniform. If most people not associated with the military assume JROTC cadets are Active Duty military, its a safe bet someone might think you are too or at least associated with one or all of the branches of service. Here’s the take away: you DO represent all of the military branches. Even if your team is made up of three retired/veteran Sailors and one Soldier, you represent all of the other services as well. Now, pick a manual, Army, Marine Corps, or The Honor Guard Manual, and follow it and the associated protocol and flag manuals for it.

General Information

The senior guidance for the flag comes from Title 4, United States Code, Section 7. All manuals mentioned refer to this section commonly called the “Flag Code”.

The three military drill and ceremonies manuals are:

  1. Training Circular (TC) 3-21.5 (US Army),
  2. MCO (Marine Corps Order) P5060.2 (USMC, USN, & USCG),
  3. and AFMAN (Air Force Manual) 36-2203 (USAF).

All three manuals, plus the other required Protocol and Flag Manuals are available for download here.

The Honor Guard Manual is the only published manual for first responders and others wanting to incorporate ceremonial drill into their program.

Equipment for the Color Bearers

Colors Harness. Air Force: black clarino (fake, shiny leather) for performances, dark blue web (same style) for practice. Personal note: If you get any other type of colors harness/sling/carrier than the one show here, you will be restricted in size and quality. Your hand won’t be able to fit at the cup and there are a couple of others issues I’ve come across as well. The AF mandates this type of harness (AFI 34-1201) that is shown below, the Honor Guard Leather Flag Carrier: Double Harness. This image is from Glendale Paradestore.

Ceremonial or Web Belts. All services except the Air Force require belts for team members.

Flagstaff (vs. “Flagpole”). I differentiate between the two. A flagstaff is what color guards carry and are used for indoor display and a flagpole is a permanent structure outside with a single or double halyard. All color guard flagstaffs must be the same height and use the same finial.

Note: The American flag should not be higher than the other flag(s) in the formation. The only exception to this is when the color bearers are so different in height that the colors harness cups/sockets are as close as possible in height, but the American flag is never lower.

All military service color guards use the two-piece light ash wood guidon flagstaff with a ferrule at each end. The AF may also use one-piece staffs. Metal staffs are not authorized. AR 840-10, MCO P5060.2, and AFI 34-1201.

Staff height goes according to the size of the flag:

  1. Organizational flag: 3 feet by 4 feet, mounted on an 8-foot staff. Battle streamers are not authorized on this staff/flag.
  2. Ceremonial flag: 4 feet 4 inches by 5 feet 6 inches mounted on a 9- or 9.5-foot staff. Battle streamers are authorized on this size flag and staff, but may not be authorized for your unit to carry. Check your specific manuals.
  3. Army JROTC female color guards are most often authorized to use aluminum staffs for the color guard competition. It depends on the Standard Operating Procedure for the competition. Other than this, no one is authorized to use any other kind of staff other than what is stated above.

See also How to Properly Mount a Flag on a Flagstaff.

Flag Fringe. The Army and Air Force have gold-colored fringe on all flags carried by a color guard, all of the time. These flags are called indoor-outdoor flags, have a pole hem, and do not have grommets. The Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard have gold-colored fringe on all flags except for the American flag at all times. AR 840-10, MCO P5060.2, and AFI 34-1201.

Flagstaff Finial. The only finial (top for the flagstaff) authorized for all services is the silver-colored Army Spade/Spear. Navy and Coast Guard units may use the Gold-colored battle ax. The spread eagle finial is not authorized for any color guard other then the Presidential Color Guard. AR 840-10, NTP 13B, AFI 34-1201. Some states, organizations, or foreign countries may have their own required finial (e.g. Maryland).

Cord and Tassels. Not authorized for use on the smaller flag. Gold-color is not authorized for any color guard. The only cord authorized for the American flag is colored red, white, and blue. Streamers, when authorized, replace the cord and tassels. AR 840-10, MCO P5060.2, and AFI 34-1201.

Equipment for the Guards

Guards, depending on their organization, have several options.

Military, VSOs, Cadets. You are authorized to carry a holstered handgun, but that just doesn’t give off the professional tone that we look for. The M1 Garand, M14, and M1903 are perfect rifles for ceremonial applications. Any kind of more modern rifle (M16, etc.) does not present a ceremonial image. And while, we need to maintain an obvious realism, there is always the ability to use the replica M1 Garand or M1903 sold by Glendale If you do decide to go the ceremonial replica route, please do not get the solid wood Parade Rifle or Mark 1 as they will not convey a professional military appearance. Rifles should have slings.

First Responders. LEOs usually carry a rifle or shotgun. Firefighters, depending on their region usually carry either a ceremonial fire axe or rifle. The Ceremonial pike pole is not recommended. See The Honor Guard Manual.

Swords/sabers are not authorized for military teams unless mounted. See also, Of Flags and Sharp Objects.

Scouts. The 40″ or 60″ wooden walking staff is most appropriate for Scouting and similar activities. A complete manual of the Hiking Staff for color guard is forthcoming soon.

Others. Some organizations prefer to not have any kind of weapon for their guards (e.g. Seventh Day Adventist Pathfinder color guards). Unarmed guards for these formations are appropriate.


Marching. The majority of the services take a 30-inch step forward at quick time (AF- 24″) and a 15-inch half step (AF- 12″). Both steps for the Army and AF require a heel strike, no stomping. Half step for the other services requires a toe strike.

Staffs. The flagstaffs always remain vertical when at Attention and Parade Rest (Stand at Ease). Do not push a staff forward for Parade Rest, that is a guidon movement only.

Tucking Colors. Again, this is regulation drill, not ceremonial drill. For ceremonial drill, all colors are tucked- see The Honor Guard Manual for specifics.

Army and Air Force are not authorized to tuck colors. After the command Order, Arms and the staff touches the deck, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard will trim/strip the color by automatically (no command) reaching the right hand straight up, and manipulating the flag material into the fingers and bringing the hand down and moving the flag in between the right arm and the staff. Assume the Strong Grip and wait for, “Ready, Cut”.

Positions. Do not mix positions! (e.g. color bearers at Order and rifle guards at Port.) If one of the team members is at Carry (Right Shoulder), then all members are. This includes all positions: Order, Port, Trail, etc. The team must look, act, and move as one.

Say Cheese! Many a photographer, seeing a color guard standing in column for formation, has approached the team from the right side and asked the team to turn right for a picture. Don’t do it! This puts the American flag to the left of the other flag(s) and the team is then immortalized for setting up incorrectly. Members of the team must know better and ask the photographer to take the picture from a more appropriate position.

Authorized Formations

The minimum standard for all services. You must carry the US and your service’s departmental colors. Color guards are not authorized to replace the departmental flag at any time with any other flag. The image below is called Line Formation, members abreast. TC 3-21.5, MCO P5060.2, and AFMAN 36-2203.

The minimum color guard authorized for Air Force and Air Force-related units. Note: this three-man team is not standard, but may be used in certain circumstances. Try to use a full 4-man team at all times. AFMAN 36-2203

Note: Do not follow the pictures in the 2013 AFMAN of the Airmen holding the staffs with the left hand with the right hand at the side. The right hand holds the staff, the left hand remains at the side.

The “V”. This formation is quite common with scouting-type programs for parades. Not authorized for military.

The Line with US in Front. This formation is extremely rare. Flag Code Sect. 7, AR 840-10, MCO 10520.3B, and AFI 34-1201

Massed Flags Formation. Similar to the above. Services carry solely military flags (regiment, battalion, wing) in the massed flags formation. Do not mix departmental or state/territory flags in with the mass formation. Below are massed flag formations for even and odd numbers.

Column Formation and By Twos. Both are authorized for maneuvering through narrow passageways during performances and for greater distances when traveling (to and from a performance/ceremony).

For Column Formation, the right/lead guard always leads with the American flag bearer directly behind, then the departmental flag and left/trail guard. In this formation, the team is Prohibited from turning in place to the right, that puts the US subordinate to the Departmental. Instead, use the Every Left On method.

When traveling By Twos, the flag bearers lead and guards follow. Once the team arrives at their designated position, the team executes Mark Time and the guards move into positions in line formation and can march forward or halt.

NOT AUTHORIZED. US in the Middle, but Taller. Not authorized for any color guard, ever. The position of honor is to the right of the formation. That is the only position for the American flag. The only time the American flag is taller in the middle of a line of flags, is for a permanent (flag poles outside) or non-temporary (posted in stands inside a building) display, never when carried. Flag Code Sect. 7, AR 840-10, MCO 10520.3B, and AFI 34-1201

Foreign National, State, POW/MIA and Other Non-military Flags

All Services. Military personnel in uniform or civilian clothing are not authorized to carry any non-military flag AR 840-10, MCO P5050.2 and AFI 34-1201. This means all military color guards are not authorized to carry the POW/MIA flag in or outside of a color guard formation. The only time the flag is carried on its own (never with guards) is during a funeral for a former POW. It is not carried in parades.

The Service Departmental Flag does not dip to anyone except the The Secretary and Chief of Staff of that service or equivalent and anyone ranked higher, including foreign nationals. The flag always dips in salute to the National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner.

  • Cadet units are often authorized to carry either organizational (JROTC, Sea Cadets, or Civil Air Patrol), unit, or state flag.

Army and Air Force. Foreign national and state flags are authorized in the color guard formation as an additional flag (singular); this additional flag will not replace the departmental. You cannot mix foreign national and state flags since the largest authorized formation is three color bearers and two guards. At a funeral, Special, Positional, or Personal Colors (flag officer, Medal of Honor, POW/MIA, [in that order] etc.) are authorized. This extends to honor guard units. AR 840-10, 1-7 (4) f. and AFI 34-1201

Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard. MCO P5060.2. You may not carry any flag other than the National Ensign and the Departmental. The only exception to this is at a funeral when Special, Positional, or Personal Colors (flag officer, Medal of Honor, POW/MIA, [in that order] etc.) are authorized. State and Territory flags are only carried by Marine Barracks Washington Marines for certain ceremonies in and around the Nation’s Capital. The only color guard formation authorized for these three services is right rifle guard, US color bearer, departmental color bearer, and left rifle guard.

Marine and Navy Joint Service

When a foreign national color is authorized for a ceremony, another color guard must be formed and is subordinate to the standard color guard team shown above.

Full Joint Service Color Team

Please make every attempt to have each service represented by a member of that service carrying their service departmental flag. From right to left: Right Rifle Guard, Soldier; American flag, Soldier; Army flag, Soldier; MC flag, Marine; USN flag, Sailor; AF flag, Airman; CG flag, Coastie; Left Rifle Guard, Marine.

How to Blouse Your Boots

How to Blouse Your Boots

DrillMaster Drill Teams, Honor Guard, Instructional, Uniform Tips 2 Comments

Many years ago while I was still active duty in the Air Force I bought blousing weights to give a “squared-off” look to my Battle Dress Uniform trousers legs. I appreciated the look and the uniformity. If you would like to do this as well, please come with me:

How to Blouse Your Boots

How to Blouse Your Boots 1

First, pull on your trousers, put on your boots and tie and tuck the laces. Then, pull your trousers back down to your boots.

How to Blouse Your Boots

How to Blouse Your Boots 2

Next, pull the trouser legs up so that the hem is anywhere from 2 inches to 6 inches above your boots. This is something you are going to have to gauge for yourself: you need to have long trouser legs to begin with and you will need to see what feels and looks right for you based on that length. You will see what I mean in a minute.

How to Blouse Your Boots

How to Blouse Your Boots 3

Now place your blousing strap (pictured) or blousing band (little green things with metal hooks) around your leg just above the boot. A note here: some people prefer to use a blousing band and have it on the boot so that it doesn’t feel like their circulation is being cut off.

How to Blouse Your Boots

How to Blouse Your Boots 4

This is what I use for weight. While I was in the USAF,  I wrapped these with clear tape and had dozens of pennies on the inside because the weights were actually 4 inches wide and would stay up around my calf when I sat down. I cut them in half and used the 2 halves, but I lost some of the weight, hence the pennies.

How to Blouse Your Boots

How to Blouse Your Boots 5

After you pull your trousers on and get buckled and buttoned, reach down and now pull out to spread the material around to give the best presentation.

How to Blouse Your Boots

How to Blouse Your Boots 6

Here we have a more squared-off look. I don’t use the pennies as weights anymore so you can see that, even though the blouse is more horizontal, there is still some material that may bunch up.