In the Air Force the official way to call cadence is not “Left, Left, Left, Right Left” (more on that later). In the USAF drill and ceremonies manual, 36-2203, it states that when calling or counting cadence (AF cadence is 100 to 120 SPM- steps per minute- with a 24-inch step) you say, “HUT, TOOP, THREEP, FOURP; HUT, TOOP, THREEP, FOURP.” Always in sets of two or eight counts total. (Image at right courtesy USAF)
USMC and USN Cadence is: “112 to 120 steps (12, 15, or 30 inches in length) per minute. It is the normal cadence for drills and ceremonies.” MCO P5060.2. And US Army cadence is 120 SPM.
Note 1: Regardless of marching at a full step, half step or marking time, the cadence stays the same!
Note 2: Step size is always measured from the back of one heel to the back of the other heel.
But why the “P” after each word? Why not, “Hut Two, Three, Four”? When you say “three” and then “threep” to yourself, do you here the difference? Do you hear that the “P” actually helps give the word an ending? The words, two, three and four all do not have a distinct end, they trail off and therefore do not help trainees, especially, learn the beat of marching.
In marching band and drum corps, we use an electronic metronome hooked up to a loudspeaker or bullhorn to help the whole ensemble stay in step. Each beat of the metronome is sharp, short and precise. None of the beats coming through the speaker are long, they are, in musical terms, staccato, short.
When using the AF’s cadence of HUT, TOOP, THREEP, FOURP, one must not drag out each word, they must be short and precisely on the heel of each foot. Even commands called while marching must be called when the heel strikes the ground and no other time.
“Lef, Lef, Lef, Righ, Lef!”
Where did this type of cadence come from? The other services and the AF picked it up. It’s not a big deal. However, when you call cadence using “Left, Right, Left,” you still must say these words as the heel strikes the ground and keep each word short, staccato, and never drag them out. When one drags out the words, the cadence can then be unclear since the word last the whole time the foot is rolling through the step. And please, enunciate! Say the whole word!
Years ago the service honor guards experimented with changing the commands for the Firing Party Three Volley Salute (it is NOT the 21-Gun Salute or a 21-Rifle Salute!) at a funeral. The apparent issue was the “Fire!” trails off and does not have a distinct end, so timing could be off when the seven or three members pull the trigger. “Pull!” was substituted for a while, but dropped a little while later.
The AF Honor Guard commands for Firing Party are slightly different. When part of the team is also used as Pall Bearers, they must ground their weapons and then pick them up again. This process is called Ground, ARMS and Take ARMS, respectively. After each of those commands is given, the next command is Ready, UP. This command must be enunciated properly since the firing sequence has one command that is repeated three times, “READUP!” This command is the word “Ready” with a “P” added and a “U” stuck in there because “READYP” sounds weird. The “P” gives the word a distinct end and the command is short, not dragged out so that the Firing Party members can then go through the firing sequence simultaneously with “boomers” (shots fired that sound like one).