The regulation that directs this order of precedence was Department of Defense Directive 1005.8, Order of Precedence of Members of Armed Forces of the United States When in Formations (31 October 1977) and now that information is contained in each service drill and ceremonies or protocol manual. The more interesting part of the story is the history behind why that precedence is observed by the Department of Defense.
Click here to read All About the Color Guard and Color Guard Flag Protocol.
Joint Service Order and Rules
- A joint service color guard may consist of two or more departmental flag bearers.
- Senior service standards are followed (i.e. if the Army is present, all moves and positions come from TC 3-21.5 for regulation drill).
- Order: The team is formed in line formation (abreast) from right to left with the right rifle guard in the first position (Soldier), followed by the US (Soldier), Army (Soldier), Marines (Marine), Navy (Sailor), Air Force (Airman), Coast Guard (Coastie), and the left rifle guard (Marine).
- The team stands and marches at Close Interval.
- Both guards go to Right Shoulder, not the outside/outboard shoulder.
- All flagstaffs must be guidon staffs 9.5′ tall*.
- All flags are 4’4″ x 5’6″ with gold fringe*.
- If all departmental flags do not have battle streamers, none of the flags should have them.
- No other flag is authorized in the formation (including foreign national, state, and territory).
*The standard is stated above, but staffs may be 8.5′ with 3′ x 4′ flags, but this should be rare.
Seniority of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps is obscured by the divergent elements of the intentions of the Continental Congress as compared to the realization of those intentions. Although the intention of the Congress to establish an Army is apparent in several resolutions of June 1775, the realization of those intentions was not effected until 01 January 1776 when General Washington stated in his orderly book, “This day giving commencement to the new Army which in every point of view is entirely Continental.” Likewise the Navy which the Congress created by resolution in October 1775 was not to be realized until several months later. The process of procuring and outfitting ships as well as enlisting and commissioning personnel was a time consuming one. The commander in chief of the Navy and other officers were not commissioned until 22 December 1775.
The Marine Corps, on the other hand, even though established by resolution on 10 November 1775, was actually a force in readiness before the Army or the Navy. Samuel Nicholas was commissioned a Captain of Marines on 28 November 1775, a month before the first officer of the Continental Navy was commissioned. In fact, the only facts that correspond to the present parade order of Army, Marine Corps, and Navy respectively are the dates when their first officers were commissioned, in June, November, and December of 1775. Indeed, the Marine Corps’ claim to being the oldest integral force in being results primarily from fortunate circumstances. The Corps was much smaller and more closely knit than either of the other services, and its origin was not complicated by the existence of provincial and local forces already in the field.
Thus, the Continental Marine force was all regular Marines from the beginning during the period when the Army was an amorphous mass of mixed Continentals and militia, and the Navy lacked ships. The Marine Corps, therefore, could be considered the first truly “federal” armed services branch of the United States of America. In any case, the present order of parade precedence has become one of our foremost military customs and as the foregoing has indicated, there is little evidence to support any change in that order. The present order of parade precedence is defined in DoD Directive 1005.8 as Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force. Therefore, by analogy, the order of display of colors in any fashion, to include service branch seals, should be in the same order.
There are other lines of reasoning for the precedence of Marine Corps colors before Navy colors, but these versions are less popularly accepted as the above. Here are two:
- The foundation of the Continental Navy is recognized as being on 13 October 1775 when Congress authorized the outfitting of two vessels “of ten carriage guns.” This is the date we quote as the Navy’s birthday. The Marine Corps was established the following month, on 10 November 1775. Jump ahead to 03 June 1785 when Congress authorized the sale of the one remaining naval vessel, the frigate Alliance. This was the end of the Continental Navy. For the next several years, the nation had no Navy, until 27 March 1794 when Congress authorized the construction and purchase of six frigates. This is the foundation of the U.S. Navy as we know it today.
- Although the Continental Navy was established by Congress on 13 October, 1775 – it disappeared when Congress had the Continental Navy’s ships absorbed into the War Department. The Department of the Navy, which today encompasses the Marine Corps, was not established until 30 April 1798 – well after the 10 November 1775 establishment of the Marine Corps.
The Navy and Continental Marine Corps were both disbanded by Congress after the finish of the Revolutionary War for 15 years and then Congress quickly reversed that decision with the rise of the Barbary Coast Pirates.
Navy established: 13 October 1775
Continental Marines established: 10 November 1775
Navy and Continental Marines disbanded: April 1783.
Action by US Congress:
US Navy reestablished: 27 March 1794
USMC reestablished: 11 July 1798
Major General Lejeune then ordered the date to be pushed back to 10 Nov 1775 with his General Order 47 in 1921.
So, today’s precedence makes no sense.
The Air Force and Space Force are the shortest continuously operating services and the Coast Guard has everyone beat! It was the sea-borne version of the IRS and morphed several times over the years into what it is now, but it was started before the Army and Marine Corps. Why isn’t it first in the lineup? Because it’s not DoD
Our City has a taller Center Flag Pole and 6 shorter Flag Poles surrounding the Center Pole upon which is flown the US Flag. These seven poles are viewed facing North from the Major Highway with Lake Erie behind them and to the North. Two Flag Poles are in Front of the taller US Flag, another on each side and two are to the rear of the taller US Flag. We are currently flying the 6 service flags in the following order: SW – Army, SE – Marine, E – Navy, NE – Air Force, NW – Space Force & W – Coast Guard. that is the proper sequence, but in a counter-clockwise circle so that the front two service flags are in proper order. Army to the left and Marine to the Right. Is this correct protocol?
This is a very good question and I’m glad you asked.
The Flag Code states that the the position of honor is to the north or the east. For your situation, the primary flag position would be the US Army flag at the NE corner and then moving to the right (flag’s left) in order of precedence. Precedence being Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, and Coast Guard.
I know the winds off Lake Erie can be quite strong, but here is more to consider. The state flag can be flown below the US that is in the center. Below that can be the POW. These two flags should be considerably smaller than the US so as not to put too much stress on the halyard, pully system, and the pole.
You can read more about POW display here: https://thedrillmaster.org/2019/01/15/all-about-the-pow-mia-flag-protocol/
I hope you find this information helpful. If you have further questions, please let me know.
We are a Veterans Club in a retirement community and present a Veterans Day and Memorial Day program. Currently we bring into our auditorium the National and Service colors in three ranks as follows (all from right to left): 1st rank- guard, National Colors, guard; 2nd rank- Army, Marine, Navy; 3rd rank- Air Force, Space Force, Coast Guard. Is this proper or would it be more correct to bring the Colors in using a column formation with Guard, National Colors, Service Colors (in order), Guard.
It’s not appropriate to have service colors in separate rows. Column formation is required.
I have a quick question, sorry if it sounds dumb I’m just curious to the answer,
Can USAF hold other branches service flags if they are posting the colors, and the other branches would not be available?
Not a dumb question! I’ve been thinking of writing an article on this. Anyway, so many Base Honor Guards, Civil Air Patrol, and AFJROTC units carry multiple service colors constantly in street parades to represent all, or most, of the services. While I understand this, it’s against color guard protocol. Here’s the information.
MCO 5060.20, Composition of the Color Guard, “c. A Joint Armed Forces Color Guard will consist of eight members; three Army, two Marine, one Navy, one Air Force, and one Coast Guard. The national color bearer and commander of a joint color guard will be a Soldier. The respective service colors are aligned to the left of the national colors.”
AFI 34-1202, 2.11. Order of Precedence of Flags. “22.214.171.124. In Joint Service Color Teams, the Army carries the United States Flag and commands the color team as the senior Service. The rifle guard nearest the United States Flag is Army and the rifle guard furthest from the United States Flag will be a Marine.”
These two excerpts tell us that each position is manned specifically and not just by anyone in any position.
Knowing all this, it is incumbent on us to plan to fill each position for a color guard using the correct personnel for each position. What if we are unable to find a Space Force Guardian (for example)? Then, the SF flag should not be carried. Again, I do understand why units of one service carry all the departmental flags, but it’s not appropriate.
A static display is different.
I hope this is helpful.
What would be the correct order if joint nation/service color guard? Right Rifle Guard (Spanish Armada), Spanish Flag (Spanish Armada), American Flag (USMC), USMC Flag (USMC), Navy Flag (USN), Left Rifle Guard USMC Rifleman?
Joint international color guards are not addressed in any US military regulation, but not forbidden. They go a long way to good international relations.
What you have written is the correct order on Spanish soil. The two national flag bearers and the guards would change position on American soil (in Spain on an American military base or embassy grounds.
I hope this is helpful for you.
A few questions:
Are Flags with fringe allowed as part of a Color Guard indoors or outdoors?
Where is a State Flag positioned in a Joint Color Guard?
POW/MIA, can they be part of the Color Guard?
Please read the series of articles, The “Why” of the Military Color Guard – (service). That will help you understand fringe.
Only an Army, Air Force, and Space Force color guard is authorized to carry a state flag. It is carried to the immediate left of the American.
The POW/MIA flag is NEVER carried in a color guard. It is ONLY used as the personal color for the funeral of a former POW or one who was MIA and recovered.
DoD Directive 1005.8 was cancelled by the Army some years ago. It was useful, but isn’t official guidance any longer.
The Army’s TC and honors, parades, and precedence regulations are what guides the joint color guards now.
I appreciate it, thank you.
Is it mandated in a DoD directive or military regulation that the rifle guards be Army and Marine? Or can you use other services if they are not available.
A properly manned full joint service color guard will have a Soldier as the right rifle guard and a Marine as the left rifle guard. This guidance is in all service drill and ceremonies or protocol manuals. The answer to your question is, yes, positions are mandated.
However, if you do not have the manning, you will just have to do the best you can do.
Thank you for the info on the Joint Colors. Where would the uniformed services US Public Health Service (est 1798) fit in the sequence? Before Air Force by date? Or after Air Force after the armed services? Thanks
That’s an excellent question! No other colors march or are posted in between the military service colors. The guidance is to have the Public Health Services flag posted to the viewer’s right, at the far left of the other colors. The NOAA flag would come after the PHS flag.
Thank you for such an interesting question!