Color Guard with POW/MIA flag outside of formation

All About POW/MIA Flag Protocol

DrillMaster Ask DrillMaster, Color Guard/Color Team, Honor Guard, Honor Guard Training, Instructional 18 Comments

Depending on where you live in the US, you can count on strong feelings as to whether the POW/MIA flag should be marched in a color guard for a parade.

Title 36 U.S. Code § 902 – National League of Families POW/MIA Flag

The information in the Flag Code is instructions for US government agency display. It has no information on a citizen, let alone the military, flying the flag.

League of Families Information

This information comes from a Veteran Service Organization, neither of which may dictate standards for the military. Link at the end of the article.

Military Service Manual Guidance

Other information that I have been able to find, with the assistance of Mike Kelley (DrillMaster002) reminded me, comes from AFI 34-1201, Protocol:

2.11.10. The POW/MIA flag will always be the last flag in any display.

What that means: In a line of flags, it will be the last flag in the stand. When flown from the same halyard as the US and a state flag, it is at the bottom, not in between the US and state. [Yes, I am aware that certain agencies have written guidance counter to this. My reasoning here comes from extensive research.]

Proper Display of the POW/MIA flag from a fixed flag pole

2.11.11. The POW/MIA flag will always be the last flag in any display, except on the six national observances for which Congress has ordered display of the POW/MIA flag. On these days it is flown immediately below or adjacent to the United States flag as second in order of precedence (however it still would be flown after other national flags). The six national observances are National POW/MIA Recognition Day (third Friday of September), Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day. The POW/MIA flag is not carried or displayed in parades or reviews, however is authorized to be carried at official military funerals.

POW/MIA flag as a personal Color at a funeral

What that means: Even though this text is for the US Air Force, ALL SERVICES are not allowed to carry any non-military flag with very few exceptions and that includes the POW/MIA flag. Only an honor guard member may carry it as a Personal Color for the funeral of a former POW. Read here.

All Services. Military personnel in uniform or civilian clothing are not authorized to carry any non-military flag AR 840-10, MCO P5050.2 and AFI 34-1201. This means all military color guards are not authorized to carry the POW/MIA flag in or outside of a color guard formation. Again, the only time the flag is carried on its own (never with guards) is during a funeral for a former POW. It is not carried in parades.

Military, including JROTC, CAP, Sea Cadets, & Young Marines: No, you are not authorized to carry the POW/MIA flag.

First responders: Follow The Honor Guard Manual. Most likely you march a POW/MIA flag within the team formation. My advice is to stop including it in your color guard. March the US, state, and department flags.

Veterans groups: Veteran color guards follow a service D&C manual, which then dictates that you should follow the manuals that affect it (flag and protocol manuals). The end result is to not march it at all, it’s not authorized. Many veteran color guards carry it as part of their standard compliment of the American flag, joint service flags, and then the POW/MIA flag, but that’s not protocol to add any other flag: no state or POW flag is authorized. March the US and state flags or, if you want to march a joint service color guard: US, Army, MC, Navy, AF, & CG, no other flag is authorized in a full or partial joint service colors formation.

Depending on your location in the US, you will hear some very strong convictions (read: yelling matches) on whether it is OK to march it in a color team or not. Strong convictions do not replace written standards and just because a national veteran’s organization has written guidance does not mean that guidance has taken service standards into account. I know this is not comfortable to read.

The POW/MIA flag history is here. The League of Families website is here.

Comments 18

  1. I have been presenting the Veterans Day program for several years in The “Winter Texan” RV park in south Texas. There are several Canadian veterans that spend the winter here. I have always included Canada in my program. When the colors are presented by the JROTC the US, Canadian, and POW/MIA are carried in the order listed. Are we doing anything wrong? I can’t find any information about how a foreign flag fits in.

    Thanks for your help.


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      Mr. Dimmitt,

      Thank you for your question. How nice that you honor our Canadian friends in the program, well done!

      POW/MIA Flag: The standards for our military services, which extend to everyone in uniform (Active Duty, Guard, Reserve, veteran groups, ROTC, JROTC, Young Marines, Sea Cadets, Civil Air Patrol), is to never carry the POW/MIA flag unless it is for the funeral of a former POW. Display of the flag is fine, but it is not an authorized flag for parading in a color guard or as a separate lone flag. The POW can be preposted in a stand for your ceremony or left out of the ceremony altogether.

      Foreign National Colors on US Soil: As far as the foreign flag is concerned, it most definitely can and should be part of the ceremony and color guard, but how it is carried depends on the service. You can read this article about the color guard here.

      Army/Air Force color guards: one foreign national color may be carried to the left of the American flag. The service’s departmental color (JROTC org) must be carried to the left of the foreign national.

      Marine Corps/Navy/Coast Guard color guards: only the National Ensign and departmental colors are authorized in the main, four-man team. the foreign national color must be carried by an additional team consisting of three members, two rifle guards and the color bearer.

      I hope this clears up everything for you.

      I edited your post to remove your email address from the body so that you do not get bombarded with spam.


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  2. DrillMaster,
    I have seen both white and gold fringes on the MIA flag. The vendor states that the majority are with a white fringe. The photos here generally show a gold fringe. Which color would be appropriate? I am assuming yellow to match the fringes on the other flags.

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      Mr. Cochran,

      I would suggest the gold colored fringe, just like you said, to match other posted flags. I want to emphasize that the POW flag is not authorized to be carried in a military color guard formation.

  3. Drill Master,

    My company is currently in the process of displaying the military branches on a wall (hanging long ways down) with the US flag hanging dead center and raised above all of the branches. My question to you is, if we are hanging a POW/MIA flag with the other branches, in which order should they go? Would it be POW/MIA, Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard or should the POW/MIA flag be displayed after the Coast Guard flag? Thanks brother.

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      Hi Eric,
      Excellent question! I suggest hanging it after the Coastie flag since that is the proper placement 359 days each year. The other six are the only days the POW flag has precedence, but since this will be a permanent display, having it last seems to be the most appropriate option.
      Thanks for the question!

      1. Ok sounds good to me. I’ve been looking for the answer to this question for months and have gotten no where. Thanks for making this page, and thanks for getting back with me so soon, we are literally hanging these flags as we speak and I was worried I wouldn’t get an answer in time. Thanks again. Currahee! God bless the grunt in the mud!

  4. How do you dispose of a POW/MIA flag? Read where you can dispose of it as you wish but with dignity. Then I read you can take to your post and they will dispose of it for you? I do not want to disrespect this flag or any other. Thanks in advance for your help.

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      Mr. Smith,

      Thank you for the great question! My thought is that we want to show respect to all of our flags. I recommend retiring any flag the way we would the American. If it is cotton, fold it into a rectangle and burn it. If it is synthetic, shredding is best. If you cannot shred it yourself, you can cut it into strips or take it to a local veteran organization to have them dispose of it.

  5. Is there a proper way to fold the POW/MIA flag for display? My thoughts are to fold it the same way as the U.S. flag barring no other protocol.

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    Mr. Price,

    Thank you for your question. There is no official “gap” between flags. An inch or two between the bottom grommet of the US and the top grommet of the second flag (state or POW) is aesthetically pleasing. Speaking of which, I encourage you to read this article: It can help you understand the various outside display setups.

    Civilians and governments usually follow the Army standards found in AR 840-10. All of the services follow the same standards for the most part, but the Air Force decided that the second flag on the pole must be low enough on the halyard so that the US does not touch it when it is at rest. It sounds fine on paper but looks ridiculous.

  7. In reference to the POW flag when flow directly (which by definition without being apart) should it be then in the bottom of the gourmet of the American flag which also would represent the POW’S are still part of our heart never to be forgotten

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      Ms. Perry,

      There is no reason to not have a Missing Man Table or even have the POW/MIA Table Hat Ceremony on Memorial Day or at some point over the weekend at a dinner. That’s what the hat table ceremony was designed for. There are so many personal thoughts on everything to do with the POW/MIA flag and both the single and multiple seat tables that individuals force (actively or passively) on others with no basis in fact. Memorial Day is about those who never made it home. Prisoners of War who may possibly still be out there (this is just a supposition) and those still Missing in Action fit that category.

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