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.
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.
- For the USAF, the commander does not assume Attention when calling commands, but performs all of the movements with the rest of the team.
- The gold ceremonial cord and tassels is not authorized in the Flag Code and US military for any display or color guard.
- Gold fringe is not authorized for the American flag for all Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard colors displays and color guards. The Flag Code forbids attaching anything to the flag.
- It’s a good idea to call the supplementary command of Colors (“Bearers” for pallbearers, and “Firing Party”), for all commands whenever performing in funerals or with other elements (ex. Colors, Present, ARMS).
- Fixed bayonets or using sabers/swords is not authorized for a color guard. Only US Army and Marine Corps designated Cavalry color guards use swords/sabers when mounted and dismounted.