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.
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 syracuse.com
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**.
I found this 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 step (“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 and horizontal 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 never 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 saber) 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.
- 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
- 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.