AFM 50-14 Cover 53 and 56

The Problems of AFPAM 34-1203

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After the USAF was created as its own uniformed service on September 18, 1947, it went from using Army Regulations to writing and using its own. When it came to drill and ceremonies, the newly created service looked at the Marine Corps and Army drill manuals and chose from what it considered the best from each (most from the MCO). One thing the USAF eventually left out (beginning in approximately the 1970s) was the manual of arms for the rifle. Why? Because the Army and Marine Corps had already accomplished that task and Airmen did not have a daily use for rifles like Soldiers and Marines. We march, have military parades, color guards, and change of command ceremonies, so the USAF creating a drill and ceremonies manual with specifics for the Element, Flight, Squadron, Group, and Wing, was logical.

Please also read AFPAM 34-1203 “Does not Promote Success”.

The History of AFPAM 34-1203

AFM 50-14

AFM 50-15 15 Jan 63

I have Air Force’s drill and ceremonies manual hard copies from

  • AFM 50-14, September 1953 (the first version!)
  • AFM 50-14, June 1956
  • AFM 50-14, 15 January 1963
  • AFM 50-14, 25 November 1963
  • AFMAN 36-2203, 3 June 1996 with Change 1, 24 September 2007

Digital copies:

  • AFR 50-14, 3 Jan 1992
  • AFMAN 36-2203, 3 June 1996 (no Change 1)
  • 20 Nov 2013
  • 19 Jun 2018
  • AFMAN 36-2203, 19 June 2018
  • AFPAM 34-1203, 13 September 2022

The versions that I am aware were published but I do not have:

  • AFM 50-14, 4 Jan 1960
  • AFR 50-14, 20 Apr 1985
AF Color Guard 1953

The copies from the 1950s have a complete manual of arms section featuring the M1 Garand using Army techniques (fingers wrapped at the small of the stock) and Marine Corps techniques (Present without going to Port and grip on the stock at Shoulder). However, both guards of a color guard were armed with sidearms because most teams were manned solely by Air Police. This is where we get the traditional pistol/web belt requirement for the guards and the colors harness without the belt for the color bearers. Look at the right arm holds the flagstaff. Notice the flag and staff size.

AF Color Guard 1956
AF Color Guard 1956

Not much changed in 1956 except that the guards don’t have their hands cupped for some reason. Still, the right arms are holding the flagstaffs at Carry.

In the picture from the 1956, spacing is a bit wide, in 1953, our color guard started to conform to Close Interval. However, there isn’t any guidance for the team’s spacing.

In the manuals from 1963, we see a much more elaborate description of how the color guard is formed and more information on the manual of the staff. Notice in the pictures below that the right arm is still holding the staff and we now have the horizontal right forearm. Even though the manual now states that the team will form at Close Interval, spacing is a bit mixed up depending on the position of the team (Carry, Order, etc.).

AF Color Guard 1963a
AF Color Guard 1963b

1996 and a New Title

The 1996 Version replaced AFR (Air Force Regulation) 50-14 of 1992. We now have the first AFMAN 36-2203. The team is now, wrongly, shoulder-to-shoulder even though the text states the team will form at Close Interval. In each picture, the right hand is still the only one authorized to hold the staff.

Notice the flag size in the pictures below. The 8′ staffs are only supposed to have 3’x4′ flags mounted on them according to AFI 34-1201. Historically, these teams so far have met the standards.

AF Color Guard 1996
AF Color Guard 1996

See the improper grip (Marine Corps Strong Grip) by the American flag bearer? This manual was the standard until it incorporated Change 1 in 2007. The version with Change 1 was then the standard until 2013.

AF Color Guard 1996 Order

Initially, the manual did not have guidance on spacing and then guidance was developed in the 1960s. In 2013, we throw in a huge discrepancy.

Welcome to 2013

Now we see, frankly, a ridiculous display. The staffs here are 8′ and the flags are 4’4″x5’6″. This isn’t authorized, see AFI 34-1201. The larger flag is mounted on the taller staff only.

Again, the team is not at Close Interval, which is mandated at the beginning of the colors chapter.

AF Color Guard 2013

Now, we come to an egregious error that has caused quite a bit of contention. Out of the clear blue sky, the color bearers, for some unknown reason, are holding the staffs with the left hand while at Carry.

Let’s logically think about this. There is not reason to use the left hand-only carry technique. Nowhere in USAF, Army, or Marine Corps history can I find any color guard that ever utilized it.

7.33.2. Positions of the Flag at the Carry. At the carry, the ferrule of the staff rests in the socket of the sling. The flag bearer grasps the staff with the right hand at the height of the shoulder, only using the left hand to steady the staff in a strong wind. The staff is inclined slightly to the front. (Emphasis mine)

AFMAN 36-2203 (2013)
AF Color Guard 2013 at Carry

The rifles on the outside shoulder require Airmen and cadets to use the guard techniques in the colors section of MCO 5060.20.

Here’s another problem to consider. Every picture shows the team shoulder-to-shoulder and then, BAM! you magically obtain spacing when the team executes Parade Rest. How? That needs to be described.

AF Color Guard 2013 Parade Rest

2018 – Fixed! Not.

AF Color Guard 2013 used again in 2018

Whew! That was a close one! Wait a minute. That mistake with using the picture of having the color bearers use the left hand at carry is less expensive to fix if you just change the wording!

7.33.2. Positions of the Flag at the Carry. At the carry, the ferrule of the staff rests in the socket of the sling. The flag bearer grasps the staff with the left hand at the height of the shoulder, only using the right hand to steady the staff in a strong wind. The staff is inclined slightly to the front. (Emphasis mine)

AFMAN 36-2203 (2018)

Let’s fix this now. For good.

The OPR (Office of Primary Responsibility) for the AFMAN is AF/A1S and it was certified by SAF/MR. Here is an easy list of errors to fix:

  • All formation pictures must have the team at Close Interval.
  • Only the right hand holds the flagstaff.
  • The 8′ staffs must only have 3’x4′ flags mounted on them.
  • While still using USAF techniques pictured in the AFMAN:
    • Explain that the MCO must be used for the guards since they have the rifles on the outside shoulder. This is not determined by the type of rifle.
  • Explain that an armed flight (probably only ROTC/JROTC) follows the Army’s TC.

Welcome to the 2022 Version

The reason for the new version: info now includes Space Force. However, it is still terribly disappointing. Colors (info above) wasn’t fixed, the Face-in Marching problem wasn’t fixed, and the following has been in the manual at least since the 1992 version.

A Problem That Has Existed Dress Left Dress. When giving the command Dress Left, DRESS or At Close Interval, Dress Left, DRESS, use the procedures for dress right dress except the flight must [can] be in inverted line formation, the right arm/hand raised, and the head turn[s]ed left. (Emphasis, strikethroughs, and additions mine)

AFPAM 36-2203 (Sept 2022)

What ACTUALLY Happens When Dressing

Dress Right, Left, and Center are all techniques used by the services. Dressing Center is more of a Ceremonial Drill thing, and Dressing Left is as well, but is still used in the services, in general, every once in a while.

In Line Formation. The formation first assumed by the members. We march in this formation for very short distances. We know that when “Dress Right, DRESS!” is called, in general, left arms are brought up and heads turn to the right (obviously, not a complete description), because, most often, we take our alignment to the right, toward the element leaders.

Dressing to the Left in Line Formation. This is a procedure used when multiple flights or squadrons are in formation (with space in between each separate formation). Using the word “must” in the above quote is restrictive. Members of the formation can dress right, left, and/or center to ensure the entire formation is aligned, not just the individual flights/squadrons.

In Column Formation. We march in this formation for any distance. We give “Cover!” and align to the front and right (base element) by sight without raising arms.

Inverted Line Formation. We march in this formation for very short distances. Changing the arm that is raised is counterintuitive to muscle memory. The left arm should still be raise for uniformity and the head turned to the left.

Inverted Column Formation. We march in this formation for very short distances and do not have a command to align.

Document Type

The manual is no more. When it was a regulation, it was enforceable as the standard. When it was a manual, it less enforceable, but still a manual to follow. It’s now a pamphlet which is just as enforceable as a Sticky Note on the side of your computer screen.


All of these changes were made over time by those who thought they knew what they were doing, but did not understand the principles of each D&C (colors, F-I-M, & dressing)section and the massively negative impact that has resulted.

As you can clearly see there are issues with the Air Force Drill and Ceremonies Manual that can be easily fixed. We do not hold the staff with the left hand and we definitely don’t just throw that out on a whim without serious repercussions.

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