All About Posting or Presenting Colors

DrillMaster Ask DrillMaster, Color Guard/Color Team, Honor Guard, Honor Guard Training 33 Comments

Honor Guard Color Guard at PortThere is quite a bit of information and several situations that every color team needs to know to maintain the American flag in the position of honor – on the marching right or in front. The American flag never marches any other position. Never. Military and para-military (just about every organization that has its members in uniform) should follow military guidance and never march the American flag in the center. The position of honor is to the right- not the center. All flags are marched so that the finial (top ornament, the spade) is as close to the same height as possible. All flagstaffs must also be the same length.

Color Guard- No Way

What Flags do we Carry and in what Order?

Joint Colors

Military, Civil and Citizen teams have different requirements. The colors listed are in order from the marching right (viewer’s left):

  • Military teams (the US military, ROTC, and JROTC, and other cadet organizations) carry the American, (state,) and service colors. The organizational color would be last.
    • All services must always march with their service color, it may not be replaced by any other flag.
    • The Army is authorized to add a state, territory or foreign national color (only one) and can carry up to four flags, the rest being unit colors.
    • The Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard are only authorized to carry the National Ensign and the service color. They may add another three-man color guard for a foreign national color.
    • The Air Force are authorized to add a state, territory or foreign national color (only one) and can carry up to four flags, the rest being unit colors
  • Civil teams (law enforcement, firefighters, and EMS) carry the American, state, municipal, organizational and even fraternal colors. The fraternal color can be omitted when presenting for local government functions.
  • Citizen teams (Scouts, fraternal organizations) carry the American, state, and organizational colors.
    • Tribal teams , on Tribal lands, would carry the Tribal Nation’s color, American, and state colors. Outside of Tribal lands, the American would be first and then the Tribal Nation’s color. Some Tribal teams also carry service colors.

Side note: When an Army or Air Force color team carries the following colors, this is the order. No exceptions.

  1. American flag
  2. State, territory, or foreign national flag
  3. Military service flag
  4. (Unit flag)

Carrying more than one national flag?

Let’s say you are part of an Emerald Society Pipe and Drum Corps and Honor Guard (a first responder fraternity). Many of these teams carry not only the American flag, but also the Irish flag. Why? The first law enforcement officers and firefighters were Irish. The tradition continues. Back to our situation of two national flags: All national flags are treated the same on American soil – they are not dipped in salute. Both remain upright even during both national anthems, if they are played. All other colors dip in salute.

Joint Service Order for Military Colors

This is the only order for service flags, service emblems, etc. For more information on why this is the order, click here to read Joint Service Order of the Colors. The right/lead rifle guard is a Soldier and the left/rear guard is a Marine.

  1. Army
  2. Marine Corps
  3. Navy
  4. Air Force
  5. Coast Guard

Note: While service color position remains the same, if all service personnel are not able to be present for the team, their order should go as follows as far as knowledge is concerned: regardless of service or rank, the most knowledgeable (as far as color guard experience) member should be the US color bearer and the second most knowledgeable should be the right rifle guard. Third in this sequence should be the left rifle guard with descending familiarity following from there.

Joint Service Order for First Responders

Full disclosure: I developed this. While this is not a hard-and-fast rule, I thought it necessary to create an order of precedence based on the implementation of each service. From my research, I came up with the following:

  1. Law enforcement officer (LEO)
  2. Fire
  3. EMS

Using the guidance from the military, team make up might look like this:

  1. Right/lead rifle guard: LEO armed with a rifle/shotgun, second-most experienced member
  2. American flag: LEO, most experienced member
  3. Other flag (State, etc.): Firefighter/EMS, can be least in experience
  4. Left/rear guard: Firefighter/EMS armed with a ceremonial fire axe, third in experience

Keep in mind the guidance that the most experienced member should be the US color bearer, regardless of service/profession.

LEO/Fire Working Together

I encourage and enjoy joint work, but there is an issue that must be addressed: Technique.

Does Height Matter?

Experience before aesthetics. Not if you have the luxury of each member of the team being around the same height, but for cadet and civil teams, it should come second to knowledge and experience. Yes, the team might look “off”, but it’s best to have knowledgeable members of the team in key positions rather than have aesthetics. Click here and read this article.

Flag Stuck, etc.?

Problem during the Performance? That’s why God invented the right and left guards for the team! The guards are there to fix whatever issue they can. For more, read this article here.

Hangin’ Around

Waiting for the ceremony still requires proper protocol.

  1. Arrive at the site at least one hour early
  2. Practice while in your travel uniform (this ensures no one thinks the ceremony has already begun and gives the team time to figure out their movements)
  3. Change into ceremonial/Class A uniform
  4. Hang out* with equipment ready in-hand and all team members in their proper place (American flag at right or in front of other flags- yes, even just hanging around – cameras are everywhere)
  5. Ten minutes prior to show time, line up at staging position at Stand at Ease (or Parade Rest) ready to perform

*An example of how NOT to stand around. This is a USAF Base Honor Guard team, I have pictures of other services, this is just an example.

base honor guard, color team, color guard, honor guard training

A USAF Base Honor Guard Color Team


Color Guard MC Left About

Left Wheel, Right Wheel and About Wheel. These are terms that honor guards use to describe turns accomplished by the color team most often outside. Right/Left Wheels use the center of the team as the rotation point which means half the team marches forward and the other half marches backward to rotate the team 90-degrees in an average of eight steps for teams with four to six members.

Color Guard Wheel JPEG

The team executes the About Wheel in the same direction as the Right Wheel rotating the team 180-degrees in 16 steps.


While colors can be and sometimes are posted outdoors, my experience leads me to recommend that you present and not post. The wind just never plays well with other others. We, in the military try to avoid this as much as possible with the alternative being a color team that posts near the podium for the event. The members present and then stage the team for everyone to see. Sometimes this may not be a viable solution and you will have to have the event and location dictate how the color team handles the colors. See also, How to Present the Colors at an EventWhat is Authorized when Presenting the Colors, and How to Plan and Coordinate a Color Guard Event. This article, How to Present the Colors at an Event, has great information.

Note: As a rule of thumb, colors enter at Right Shoulder (Carry) and depart at Port Arms. Entering at Port is fine if necessary.

  1. Enter
  2. Halt in front of and facing audience
  3. Present Arms for National Anthem or Pledge (never both)
  4. Port Arms
  5. (Color bearers move to post colors and rejoin guards)
  6. Depart

Standard entrance and departure.

Colors Posting Process

To Present or Post, that is the Question!

Posting the colors is for special occasions. How special? That is up to the organization. Graduations are a special time, that would call for posting the colors. Weekly events would probably warrant pre-posted colors at the least or presenting the colors only.

The Show-n-Go. This is the honor guard term for presenting the colors for an informal/semi-formal event. The colors are pre-posted on the stage/front of the room and the color team enters, presents (Anthem), and then departs. No posting.

With the Show-n-Go, the colors do not matter. As long as the American flag pre-posted, the color team can present whatever they carry as their standard colors (American, State, etc.).

How to Enter

The standard entrance is to enter from the viewer’s right, present to the audience (then post) and depart. See the image above.

To enter from the viewer’s left, use Every Left On. Also, read this article.

Every Left On

How to Exit

The standard exit is to the viewer’s left. See the standard entrance/departure image above.

To exit to the viewer’s right, use Every Left Off. The commander calls, “Step!” and the left rifle guard steps across, as close as possible to the team member on their left. Step any further away and the departure for the team looks terrible.

Color Guard Left Exit

Presenting with the Pledge

The color team moves into position as normal, but the team does not execute Present Arms. The audience recites the Pledge at the prompting of the master of ceremonies. A member of the color guard does not being or recite the Pledge. You are at Attention and that requires silence except for commands.

NOTE: The Pledge and National Anthem DO NOT go together. It’s one or the other. DO not use both. If you do not have the ability to sing or play the Star Spangled Banner, then reciting the pledge is appropriate (except for military organizations- military in uniform do not recite the Pledge, they remain at Attention).

Entering and Departing to Music

Music is not mandatory. If you are going to have music, it is best that it be live. If not, a recording can sound quite unprofessional. The standard entrance and exit music for presenting/posting the colors is the Trio section of the National Emblem march by Edwin Eugene Bagley. Here is the YouTube video of the USAF Heritage Band playing the march. The link begins the video at the Trio section. This tempo is about 120 SPM (steps per minute). For the colors, you want a tempo of about 90 SPM.

When to Retire/Retrieve the Colors

Retrieving the colors is reserved for the extra, extra formal occasions. Do not retire the colors for weekly or even monthly meetings. Retirement is for very formal galas or balls. Use the posting sequence in reverse.

  1. Enter
  2. Halt in front of and facing audience
  3. Color bearers retrieve colors and rejoin guards
  4. Present Arms for a few seconds (flags do not dip)
  5. Port Arms
  6. Depart

Comments 33

  1. Pingback: Presenting the Colors by The DrillMaster |

  2. color members with weapons, is there any requirement to have them on opposite shoulders when marching? one member is at right-shoulder arms, the other is left shoulder arms.

    1. Post

      It depends on which service manual you follow. Army has both guards at Right Shoulder. All other services and United States Certified Ceremonial Guardsmen place rifles or axes on the outside/outboard shoulder.

  3. Is it appropriate to have a ceremonial rifle as part of the honor guard in a church? I think weapons are not appropriate in churches.

    1. Post
  4. My JROTC Color Guard has been requested to present/post the Colors at an affair. The host wants us to post the Puerto Rican Flag as well. I’ve never seen this done before. How do we go about it?

    1. Post

      If your JROTC is Army or Air Force, the PR flag is included in the formation and posted with the other colors.
      If your JROTC is Marine Corps, Navy, or Coast Guard, you firm another three-man color guard for the PR flag with two guards.
      Don’t forget your departmental/JROTC flag as well.
      My recommendation is, if it is an informal occasion, have a full set of colors preposted and come in to formally present the colors and depart. If you cannot do that, post what you have.

  5. Hello and thank you for this informative article. Question: is it appropriate to post the colors while wearing a bowtie? Uniform for upcoming ROTC ball requires the bowtie but I have seen elsewhere that only the straight tie would be appropriate for the posting/retiring of colors. Thanks for your help.

    1. Post

      Great question! Simple answer: No. The color guard is deceased in the service dress/Class A or a ceremonial-type of uniform. What you are describing is a mess dress uniform and that is not authorized to be worn for presenting the colors.

  6. Preface: I am not military or Law Enforcement. Just looking for some advice so we do the right thing in parades and ceremonies.
    I belong to a Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (an Irish/Catholic benevolent Order). When we march, we can carry up to six flags and to pikes. We always put the American flag in the proper place of honor, on its own right. However, there always seems to be confusion on where to place the remaining flags. They are as follows: Current Irish flag (tri-color), Old Irish flag (green field with gold harp), Catholic flag, NY State flag, and the Irish provincial flag (represents the four ancient provinces of Ireland). I know the pikes go on the outsides to “guard” the flags. In what order, starting from the American flag, should the rest be placed?

    Thank you

    1. Post

      Hello Patrick,

      What a great question! Here’s my take on the order (and the reason why):

      1. Right guard
      2. American (on American soil)
      3. Current Irish (foreign national)
      4. NY state (states come after national)
      5. Catholic (organizational flag)
      6. Old Irish (previous foreign national not officially used)
      7. Irish Provincial (ancient foreign national not officially used)
      8. Left guard

      I hope this helps.

      1. Thank you very much. That is most helpful! Ignore the email I sent you. It was just incase this was not the appropriate place for this question.

  7. For US Army ceremonies (Relief in Place/Transfer of Authority) should a pre-posted National Color be displayed if the ceremony has a Color Guard “posting” another set of colors?

    1. Post

      Hello sir,

      The color guard can enter and formally present the colors and then depart while a set of colors is pre-posted for the ceremony. If the team is actually going to post the colors, no other flags should be in the stands. I hope that helps. If not, I’ll email you or we can talk on the phone.

  8. Current situation,

    Have a scout group carrying a folded national standard for hoisting at the beginning of a Memorial Day service…

    Service flags in procession to follow for posting in stands around fixed pole.

    Was considering the following order of events

    BS Unit hoists Colors
    GS Unit leads pledge
    National Anthem (now contraindicated by your page information)

    Would it be appropriate to have BS hoist while playing “To the Colors” then GS lead pledge?

    1. Post
  9. our flag should always have guards alongside even not armed but with axes and or just personnell alongside her

    1. Post

      Mr. Farrington,

      It all depends on the unit. Military color guards are required to be armed with rifles except in a chapel, then they are uncovered and unarmed. Church-based color guards do not have armed guards. Firefighters use the ceremonial fire axe or a rifle, depending on their location/tradition. I’ll be writing an article soon about this.

  10. What is your experience when it comes to presenting colors for an event and one of the members is a no-show or is dropped last second due to an injury. What would you do if there is no backup and it is go time? I would think go with no secondary flag and present colors with the national flag bearer and two guards??? Or would it be a situation you just do not perform and inform the event coordinator we can’t perform the event?

    1. Post

      Hi Carlos,
      If you have two guards and an American flag bearer, you are good to go. It’s not usual, but three is the minimum and quite appropriate for military, first responders, explorers, and cadet organization color guards.

  11. Drill master,
    I just posted colors for an event there was four of us we had two rifles the American flag bearer and the Washington State flag bearer. When we posted flags into their stands I was under the understanding that when they seated the flags then dress them that they took one step back and the person with the American flag was the only one to render a salute and then they both marched off what is the procedure for this and?

    1. Post
  12. Good Morning, we are having a July 4th parade are want to make sure we are doing things right. The Navy Color Guard will be front of the parade. When they arrive at the grand stand the national anthem will be sung by a young girl. When is the apporiate time to start singing?

    1. Post

      Hi Paul,
      At the appointed time of the parade start, the MC could say, Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the National Anthem.” At that point the commander of the color guard, the National Ensign bearer, should give a loud,” Present, ARMS!” and then the singing can begin.
      At the end of the music, the color guard commander can give “Order, ARMS!” and then “Forward, MARCH!” At that, the festivities begin!

  13. I recently attended a funeral – the PGR provided honors…during the ceremony, the PGR Flag Line held the American Flag in the left hand and when “Present Arm’s” command was given, each and every flag holder followed the command and rendered the hand salute via their right hand. Is this a proper, rendering a hand salute while bearing the flag?

    1. Post

      Mr. Rudell,

      Saluting while holding the flag is not proper. Even though the people holding the flags are not part of a color guard complete with rifle guards, they are still color bearers and considered “armed” (the flagstaff is a modern modification of the ancient spear). When your hand is occupied with a flag, you do not salute. Most likely the majority of PGR members are former military and should know better.

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  15. RE: The Pledge and National Anthem DO NOT go together. It’s one or the other. DO not use both.
    Can you elaborate? What reference establishes this protocol or instruction to which, or all, Services?

    I’ve seen many ceremonies with the color guard presenting arms for the anthem, then port arms and wait for the pledge before retiring with the colors.

    1. Post

      I’ve seen several ceremonies where both happen as well, doesn’t make it right.

      Each set of service manuals (drill and ceremonies, protocol, and flag) explains when to dip the American flag, ceremonies are explained with reference to the Star Spangled Banner sung or played. We do not add to or take away from the protocols for these ceremonies and that includes recitation of the Pledge. We, in the military, do not have the Pledge as a part of any ceremony due to our oath.
      Too many people, wholly ignorant of service standards and traditional want to make things “specialer” or “ceremonialer” by adding their own selfish personal touch, making the ceremony about them.
      You won’t find the negative of what I have stated in a service manual, my statement is mix of the intent of several manuals.

  16. In a parade, does a national veterans service organization colorguard, such as the VFW, have a higher precedence (order of unit line up) than a non-veteran color guard such as the Shriners?

    1. Post

      Great question. I would say yes, but a parade lineup doesn’t necessarily have precedence, although it can. The organizers can and do place entrants however they wish.

  17. I was wondering I see the USAF Honor Guard shouldering their rifles on their outside shoulders. Where is that exactly written?

    1. Post

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