All about “Color Guard” and “Color Team”

DrillMasterAsk DrillMaster, Color Guard/Color Team, Commentary, Honor Guard, Honor Guard Training 6 Comments

I received this question: How and why does a military color guard and marching band color guard differ?

My answer: This is a great question and one that I’ve dealt with for several years since I have been a judge for marching bands, winter guards and military drill teams/color guards. So here is a detailed explanation and a little history. color guard

Marching Band Color Guard History
Purdue University put the first marching band on a football field and created a “Block P” in 1907. All bands began as military units and then developed into ceremonial units and other types of bands (brass, parade, etc.). High schools eventually created their own marching bands and, from what I can gather, the color guard became part of the marching band’s show in the  late 1940s and 1950s. Preceding the color guard came majorettes, baton twirlers and pompom girls. Picture courtesy

When veterans returned after WWII, they began local marching bands and drum and bugle corps (eventually creating DCI in 1970). Most often, the girls went into the color guard and carried the American flag, state or organizational flag and had two rifle guards. Most of these rifles were made of solid wood and were replicas of the M1 Garand which made its debut in WWII. The DrillMaster iDrill M1 Rifle is an example. High schools probably mirrored what was happening at this point. marching band color guards had only one place to go for information on the flag: the US Army, and Field Manual 22-5, Drill and Ceremonies* was the only manual available to anyone in the military or in the civilian world to explain how to carry a flag in a color guard**.

color guard and color team

I found this insulting picture on the web and educated the individual who posted it. He was most grateful to learn the origins.

The responsibilities were few for the marching band color guard on the football field and in parades: carry the American flag guarded by two rifles guards and present the colors at some point in the performance. That was it. Then someone had a bright idea: put more girls on the field with generic flags and have them all dip when the Anthem is played. The color guards marched with their bands all marching the 6 to 5 “Chair” step (6 steps to 5 yards). Lines were straight and drill was symmetrical! Flag movement was present to the front and left/right sides; plus other vertical, horizontal, and angled movements with an occasional spin.

Along with generic flags, rifles came unto use eventually and then sabers. All movements were very rigid and militaristic for all pieces of equipment. The three- or four-member color guard would not move during a field show, but the rest of the guard would march around with the band/corps. In the early 1980s dance was introduced little by little and eventually all guard movement was completely governed by dance layered underneath equipment work. The American flag-carrying color guard made its last appearance in the late 1970s or so as veteran groups no longer ran competitions; there was no more colors presentation requirement. We now have what no longer resembles a military color guard, but the activity owes its beginning to hundreds of giving military veterans from WWII.

Dance and WHAT?
Carving: when a piece of equipment (now there’s 3: flag, rifle and sabre – spelled in French since all dance uses French terms) is fluidly moved through the air, carving out shapes. Straight lines and angles all but disappear. Military uniforms gave way to more dance-oriented clothing that allows better movement.

The same goes with the drill the band marches: for many bands, 6 to 5 now becomes 8 to 5 creating a much more smooth, gliding step and the formations are becoming asymmetrical at times with curves and various other shapes.

It’s Concert Season, but what do we do?
When football season is over, so is marching season for the marching band. Now the band moves indoors and concentrates on putting on concerts for the winter. But what does the color guard do? It used to be that the girls would do homework until the next semester. Enter Winter Guard International (WGI). In 1977 some people associated with DCI wanted to keep and build on the skills of the color guard’s girls- and eventually guys, and created a winter program that culminates in April.


The Military Color Guard/Color Team
It has been decades since the first military color team was first marching down American streets or in military parades and not much has changed except some adjustments in movements for timing.

“Color Team” better defines a military unit that carries the colors and helps separate it from the marching band-type color guard.

The picture at right is of a Spandahlem Air Base Honor Guard (2004) color team presenting the colors in France during a memorial ceremony inside a WWI American Military cemetery. The DrillMaster is the American color bearer.

It all began with the military color guard and evolved from there, but in pretty much one direction only: the marching band color guard. Military color teams stayed the same, as we would expect.

Color Guard:

  • Wears any kind of clothing that enhances the mood of the music
  • Can interchangeably use three pieces of equipment in a performance (flag, rifle and sabre)
    • Why “sabre”? All dance terms are in French, hence the spelling. For military applications, we spell it Saber.
  • Dances and moves to music

Color Team:

  • Wears only a military or military-type (firefighter, police, etc.) uniform
  • Presents the colors at all kinds of events
  • Uses only colors (flags) and rifles or ceremonial fire axes (never rifles with bayonets or swords/sabers)
  • Extremely strict adherence to movements only prescribed in military manuals (never any exhibition-type movements as that is inappropriate in conjunction with the American flag)

*FM 22-5 is now Training Circular 3-22.5.

**For the marching band and winter guard worlds, these two words are sometimes put together: colorguard. The same for winterguard.

Comments 6

  1. I am a Highschool girl and I am in Color Guard. I spin “random colored flags”, riffles and sabers. I also dance and perform while I spin. I am not protecting anything nor do I feel associated with the military. I am In Color Guard just not the ones you old DrillMasters know and remember. No matter how much you guys hate us we will never stop and demote the name of what we love to color team, since that is not what we are. We are the modern day Color Guard and we love what I do.

    1. Post

      Well Cecilia,

      You didn’t read the article, you started whining like a little brat. You could have been more mature about this and calmly read it to see that you are absolutely 100% wrong, but opted not to do that. That means that you are now the first individual who I have specifically written about to help educate you and others with your same nasty, arrogant, and hateful attitude. Here it is Severe Ignorance Concerning the Color Guard.


    1. Post

      No, it’s not permissible and it’s unnecessary. There is no need for a color bearer to render a hand salute since he/she is part of a formation that would already be rendering honors (dipping the non-national color).

      Thanks for the question!

  2. I disagree on the term of Color Team. We are not a Color Team, we are a COLOR GUARD. We embody the spirit of Guarding our nation, and do so by Guarding our Nation’s Colors, ergo Color Guard. The Color Guard Guards freedom and ensures that all remember the price payed for them to have all of the freedoms they enjoy. Now, My question to you, what are those girls spinning randomly colored flags “guarding”?

    1. Post

      Cadet Bratcher,

      Disagree all you want, the fact is that the Army and USAF have been using the term “color team” for many, many years now- and it’s quite possible that the other services do at the honor guard level as well. I will also use the term since this website has a varied audience and education is my top priority.

      There are, at a minimum for a standard team, 4 individuals: 2 Color Bearers and 2 Rifle Guards. The 2 Rifle Guards are the “Color Guards.” Labeling the team as a “Color Guard” can then be misleading. It’s only that the term has been ingrained for decades in the America lexicon that we accept it as the name for the team, which is just fine, really. However, when it comes to defining our terms when two different audiences use the same title, an explanation is needed, hence this article.

      “Those girls spinning randomly colored flags” also still present the American flag. They do guard it. The guys in a colorguard do too. The extension from that role is what we see as the modern-day marching band (drum corps, winterguard, etc.) colorguard.

      When we begin to slight another activity simply because we only see it for what it is at the moment and do not understand its history and value, we begin a slippery slope of devaluing the people in that activity.

      Please don’t let this happen with you.

      If you would like, please join me this summer in Millersburg, KY for the first ever Cadet Joint Service Honor Guard Academy (read about it here: I’ll show you what Colors is all about.


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