The Flagstaff Spade Marker

DrillMasterColor Guard, Color Guard/Color Team, Honor Guard, Honor Guard Training, Instructional 10 Comments

The Flagstaff/Guidon Staff

The guidon staff comes in three sizes for the US military:

  • 7′ – for colors to post ONLY (USAF/SF only – these staffs are NEVER carried in any other instance)
  • 8′ – for guidon flags and 3′ x 4′ colors (all services)
  • 9’6″ – for 4’4″ x 5’6″ flags

The Finial

A finial is a device or ornament at the top of a color guard flagstaff, outdoor flagpole, a lamp, and even at the ends of a drapery rod. Really. We will concentrate on the flagstaff.

The US military uses only the Army spearhead (also called the spade) on all guidon flagstaffs . With first responders being paramilitary, it makes perfect sense to follow military standards. The Navy and Coast Guard may, with local funds, purchase the battle-ax finial for use on flagstaffs. Read this article to see how to replace the spearhead.

Placing the Marker

When we stand at Order, Parade Rest (Stand at Ease), and Carry (Right Shoulder), the spade should be flat to the front. In order to do this, for many years, we (older guys) would use thumbtacks that we could feel with our fingers with the staff on the deck and/or see when carried. You can see the thumbtack on the upper half of this staff (the visual marker) on my kitchen floor.

A small-head (less noticeable) thumbtack is good, the one in the picture is a large-head. On the upper part of the staff the marker is used to align the staff when in the harness socket. You want to use something that the color bearer can feel on the lower portion of the staff and see on the upper half of the screen. However, anyone outside of the color guard formation should not be able to detect either marker.

1. h. The guidon staff should be marked with two thumbtacks. The first tack marks the position of the guidon bearer’s right thumb position at Order Guidon. The second thumbtack is placed six inches above the first tack to mark the guidon bearer’s right thumb position at Carry Guidon.

MCO 5060.20

At Carry Colors/Right Shoulder

On the upper half of the staff a good way to mark the staff is to hold it at Carry (Right Shoulder), ensure the spade is flat, and take a ballpoint pen and draw a straight line on the staff right between the bearer’s eyes so that it is about two inches long. Press into the wood a bit to ensure the mark is made and make the mark on the side of the staff so that the fringe gather is pointing to the rear (spade) or to the front (flying eagle, battle-ax) so that the fringe is in the proper position when the flag posted (read this article for a full explanation). The line should be placed where it can be seen by a taller and shorter color bearer.

A Different Method!

My Pennsylvania State Trooper Certified Ceremonial Guardsmen did this excellent work. Use a 3/16″ dowel, drill the hole to a 3/4″ depth, put wood glue in the hole, insert the dowel, clear away excess glue, bevel the exposed 1/8″ tip so gloves don’t snag, Stain to match staff color. Use the thumbtack guidance from the MCO above or the State Trooper guidance: first marker is placed about 1″ below the bottom edge of the bottom edge of bottom screw joint for Right Shoulder/Carry and about 13.5″ below bottom edge or screw joint for Order.

A slightly different take on this method is to drill a small hole and blue a BB into it. This is from an AJROTC unit in Texas. Thank you!

Comments 10

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  1. I am trying to set up our color guard with new equipment. We currently have the adjustable flag poles. So, we can alter the height to keep the US flag taller than the other flags. we wanted to change to the ash wood 8 foot. I am the commander and the shortest on the team (a foot shorter than our tallest members. Since I give the commands, I carry the American Flag. I don’t know if there is a solution to this. Do I carry a taller wooden 9’6” Flagpole? Or should I just stick with the adjustable flagpoles?

    Our harnesses are bronze colored. Does it matter if the flagpoles have a Chrome upper and lower Ferrule?

    Is it okay to use the lower (pointed) ferrule in the round cup, without an opening for the point?

    Thank you

    1. Post

      Ms. Siewert,

      The American flag is not required to be carried higher than other flags, that is a myth.

      You did not share with what color guard you march (veteran, LEO?), but here is some guidance for you. The Army and Marine Corps drill and ceremonies manuals both state that flags are carried as close as possible to the same level without the American being carried lower. All service manuals state that flagstaffs will be the same length and flags will be as close to the same dimensions as possible in the same display or when carried together.

      My preferred colors harness is this one from Glendale. The harness socket (cup_ is metal with the small hole in the bottom. That hole is made for the flagstaff’s lower ferrule’s tip to keep the staff secure in the socket. You can use whatever harness you would like as long as you are not on a military color guard (there are requirements for each service).

      Please let me know if you have any further questions.


  2. Our Cub Scouts (ages 5 to 10) will be carrying out unit flag during a Memorial Day parade. The flag is 3×5 and has grommets. Any suggestions on a flagstaff?

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  3. What size flagstaff do you recommend for first responders with 3×5 flags? We will be presenting the colors at a high-profile event coming up and I’m getting our gear back in order. Our old flagstaffs are dark finish 7’6″ with the aforementioned 3×5 flags. I would not like to buy new flags. We do generally follow Marine Corps protocol in principal. However, the guidon flag staff would require buying new bases if we have events where the colors are posted. The polished wood pole lets us use the flags for both. I really enjoy your content and appreciate all your advice. I promise to send a video for a critique!

    1. Post

      Mr. Stroope,

      Thank you for your kind words! I do appreciate it.

      Flagstaffs that are 7’6″ are not a military standard and much too short for 3’x5′ flags. I suggest using 8′ staffs, that is the Army, AF, and SF standard for flags with those dimensions. The Army (only) does allow for smaller flags to be attached to the 9’6″ staff. The rest of the services mount 4’4″x5’6″ flags on the 9’6″ staff.

      I recommend the guidon staffs (, talk with DeVaughn Simper) simply because they are the better staff. The quality is there, especially in the middle screw joint. The usual brown staffs have the very thin threads that do not hold up to continuous use. When you use guidon staffs, the bottom ferrule doesn’t allow for the staff to remain straight in the low profile floor stand. To remedy that, I suggest purchasing stand adapters ( They keep the staff vertical, look really good, and you don’t have to purchase new stands.

      Let me know if you need anything else. I look forward to a video!


  4. Since these instructions are outlined in the MCO, are spade markers authorized for AFJROTC color guards? Thanks DM

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      Cadet Mell,

      I love that you are reading so much and getting that educational basis!

      The Marine Corps Order is the only service D&C manual to mention it, but all the services do it. Is it widespread? No, but it should be. I knew about this when I was an AFJROTC cadet and the used Army flagstaffs that I sold a couple of years ago had a few markers on them.

      I highly suggest everyone use them.


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