Honor Guard Competitions

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Right ShoulderWhat is the reason for competing? In the military drill world, a competition has been a means of showing other teams how much hard work has been put into the routine, and I’m not just talking about exhibition drill. Honor guard units compete against each other in funeral ceremonies and the tasks associated with them. Color teams post the colors in competitions. But why? To hone the team’s skills, to bring about esprit de corps, build camaraderie, etc. Of course many people believe the twisted world view of competition: gotta get the trophy, that’s all that matters, I (we) must beat everyone else. The fact of the matter is, competition was meant to be friendly and to gather to have a good time and congratulate everyone on a job well done.

Back to my original point: veteran, police and firefighter honor guard competitions are great opportunities to build relationships and learn from others. The main idea I want to get across is that they are also a time of standardization so that teams can work together and also a time to compete in relevant phases of competition.

How many times do you present the colors at the end of marching in a long “U” shape? My guess would be, never. Then why practice and compete doing it? Here is another question for you: Since police, fire and veteran honor guard units are offshoots of the military (most often the Army or Marine Corps), then why do things differently? Hopefully the answer to that is not “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

The following are paraphrases from a PDF file that an organization uses for its honor guard competition OI/SOP (Operating Instruction/Standard Operating Procedure). I have taken quotes from the Instruction and then explained my take on the quote. In no way have I done this to point fingers and scream “YOU’RE WRONG!” On the contrary, my attempt is to work on education, standardization and camaraderie.

When posting and retrieving, color bearers will place their foot on the flag stand…

Why on earth would you do that? That has NEVER been a stated standard, but some idea that has been passed along.

All colors are removed from the harness cup after the National Color.

I understand the need to create the utmost respect for the American Flag, but this then creates a synch issue with the other color bearers. Color movements should be simultaneous.

On the command of Post, COLORS, color bearers thrust the flagstaff into the stand.

Then we can safely assume that the slamming of the flagstaff into the stand creates some sort of relatively loud noise. This, like the parochial “Half Step Stomp” is not fitting when posting the colors. If your team must half step, click here and learn how to do it properly. By the way, “Post, COLORS,” is a command that was created, it is not in a manual.

After the colors are in the stands, all color team members face the National Color and render a salute.

The colors should be front and center for honors to be rendered to it and then posted. This is what it should look like. And here are the commands for posting/presenting at Port and the commands for posting/presenting at Right Shoulder. While TC 3-21.5 does state that the color team salutes after posting the colors, this is not the way the honor guard posts. Why there is a difference, I do not know. However, the TC does not state that all color team members must execute tiny facing movements to face the National Color.

Color team makeup is 4 people: 2 flags and 2 rifles or 6 people: 3 flags and 3 weapons.

There is an old concept of a “color team commander.” It is derived from the US Army’s rendition of posting the colors complete with the Sergeant Major who is centered on the formation helping with casing/uncasing the colors. To my knowledge has any service ever used an individual outside the formation to give commands and yet this practice is rampant. The Color Team Commander (NCT: NCOIC of the Color Team), who bears the National Color, is the one in charge and giving commands. No one else. Honor guard units also only use 2 rifles, ceremonial pike poles or ceremonial fire axes, never swords, rifles with bayonets or sidearms.

We are all honor guard units doing our best to render the proper honors. Let’s work together to standardize (if you want, get a copy of The Honor Guard Manual) since units are having to work side-by-side at ceremonies more and more.

Semper ad Honorem.

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