Receiving and Replacing the Colors

DrillMasterDrillCenter News Leave a Comment

DrillMaster (DM)- I received an email with great color guard questions on formally receiving and replacing the colors and how that might influence the posting of the colors.

Email (Q)- Thank You and feel free to post this as a “From the Inbox” to your various media if desired. “From the Inbox”, I like that!

DM- There are two formal sequences for receiving and replacing the colors.

Q- Can you please give some insight/clarify paragraph 7.32.3 in AFI 36-2203 which states “On command of the senior flag bearer, the guards of the color guard present arms on receiving and parting with the US Flag. After parting with the US flag, the guard is brought to order arms by command of the senior remaining member, who is the right flank of the guard”. What does this mean exactly?


DM- Great question! This is a technique of receiving and subsequently replacing the colors that were historically kept in the squadron commander’s or first sergeant’s office. This was the standard that the Army developed (see TC 3-21.5 and older versions: FM 22-5) that the AF adopted upon writing the first Air Force regulation on drill and ceremonies and it remains today.

I doubt it has been used since possibly the 1970s or possibly earlier with the services going for more utilitarian options. The advent of installation honor guards and having Airmen assigned to the team required the colors and other equipment to be stored with the team. As far as I know this is more historic than useful anymore. I’ve created several diagrams to help you visualize what happens.

Keep in mind that every military installation has a parade ground (deck). The Air Force has not maintained a strong parade ground opting to have more ceremonies on the flight line or in a hangar, which makes sense.

Teams would march to the parade ground/deck or flight line or at least pile in a van after obtaining the colors.

The Retrieval Sequence

The four team members of the color guard arrive outside of the office where the colors were traditionally stored. They could form up elsewhere and march or form up right there. R = Right Rifle Guard; U = US Color Bearer; A = USAF Color Bearer; L = Left Rifle Guard

Colors Team Arrives to Take the Colors

Next, U and A march inside (column formation) and take the colors from their stands and come back out into formation. The US Color Bearer always leading. Once the team is formed, Present and Carry is given (7.32.3. On command of the senior flag bearer, the guards of the color guard present arms on receiving and parting with the US flag. 7.32.4. Having received the US flag, the senior flag bearer conducts the color guard to its proper position in the center of the color squadron.). Notice that the USAF flag is NOT dipped. It’s not dipped because the requirements for it to render a salute are not met (see AFI 34-1201 for the requirements).

Colors received and the team is back in formation

After the team has gone back to Carry (guards with the rifles on the outside shoulder only), they march to the parade ground or wherever the ceremony will take place.


I know, this brings up the question of, how is the staff held during this time? It would have to be Port/Trail Arms and even Angle Port to get through low clearance areas and doorways. Our biggest issue here is that the manuals do not cover these positions except for Trail. However, Trail doesn’t take care of every situation.

Our next question is when do the Bearers go to Carry? Immediately out of the doorway or when they get back into formation? I answer these questions in my in-person and (coming soon) online training.

The Replacing Sequence

Dismissing the Colors is the Army term for this, I chose, “Replacing”. After the ceremony is finished, the team marches back to where the colors are stored and reverse the above sequence like this:

The team arrives where the flags are stored.

The team arrives, the NCOIC gives Present for the guards only, and the color bearers march into where the flags are stored and secure them.

7.32.3. On command of the senior flag bearer, the guards of the color guard present arms on parting with the US flag. After parting with the US flag, the guard is brought to order arms by command of the senior remaining member, who is the right flank of the guard.

AFMAN 36-2203

Meaning, when the color bearers have marched into the building (out of sight), the Right Rifle Guard gives, “Order, HARMS!” and both guards wait for the bearers to return.

The color bearers march back out to the formation. The NCOIC then marches the team back to where they formed or simply dismisses the team.

What about Posting?

Q- While the colors are being posted/retrieved, should the guards be at present arms?

Answer: No. There is NO reason to do this.

Q- Directly after posting, and directly before retrieving, should the flag bearers all face and salute the US flag.

Answer- No. Everyone faces forward. No one should face the national color whether you have the entire team in front of the stands or not.

DM- I hope you are sitting down, this will take a minute or so to explain. The above sequences have NOTHING to do with posting/retrieving the colors. In the next paragraph is the Army version, which is similar, but still has NOTHING to do with posting/retrieving the colors. Emphasis mine in the quoted text.

The Color guard uses the following procedures when receiving or dismissing the Colors.
a. When receiving uncased Colors on display in the commander’s office, the Color guard is positioned in a single rank facing the Colors. The Color sergeant commands Present, ARMS and Order, ARMS. On completion of Order Arms, the Color bearers (without command) secure the Colors. The Color guard files outside (guard, National Color, organizational Color, guard) and reforms in a line formation. The Color guards execute Right Shoulder Arms and the Color bearers assume the Carry Position.
b. To dismiss the Colors, the procedures are basically the same except that the Colors are placed back in their stands before executing Present Arms.

TC 3-21.5, 20 January 2012


Here’s the issue with the USAF. Historically, color guards were just that, a team of four-plus Airmen from the Air Police Squadron who were called upon to present the colors here and there and not much else. Then, slowly but surely, the ceremonial requirements increased and installations created honor guards that were not based in the police squadron. Each of the services went through a similar situation.

The AF used the Army posting technique for decades before the USAF Honor Guard took over the Base Honor Guard program in the mid 1990s. Still, if a color guard is not part of a BHG (cadets, explorers, and Airmen), they must use the procedures in TC 3-21.5. All BHG Airmen must use the ceremonial techniques explained in the BHG manual.

Army posting and retrieving sequences have been corrupted time and again by veteran service organizations (stomping on the stands to post the colors, sound familiar? Stop it!) and individual veterans in other organizations into all kinds of strange spectacles that have NOTHING to do with the original intent- and not only the intent, these spectacles go outside of the writing in TC 3-21.5. Simply reading the TC would alleviate what amounts to ridiculousness bordering on disrespect.

It comes down to sequence corruption (because people don’t read) and ignorance that the AF was supposed to have been following the TC (FM) all this time. These are the culprits for how some rifle guards are left at the position of Present for minutes at a time while the flags are being posted/retrieved and how everyone on the team executes a half or some teeny-tiny facing movement just to render a salute while facing the flag.

For the Record

Presentation of the Colors = formally presenting the colors to an audience. As long as an American flag is displayed, this can be all that the color guard does, called a Show-n-Go, and then depart.

This should be your color guard’s most-used technique. You can find more information here: All About Posting or Presenting Colors. That article can get you started, but there is even more information you (everyone) should know.

Posting the Colors = This is a formal presentation (this MUST happen) and then the color guard or just the color bearers moving to post the flags in stands all in front of the audience.

When presenting or posting the colors and not a formally trained part of a BHG (or formally trained CAP cadet), follow the Army procedure. You can alter it to meet the needs of the environment but that doesn’t mean making up something you think would be “really cool”. That’s not what the colors is about.

Remember: not every single colors presentation or posting is covered in the TC or in the Marine Corps Order, which AF teams may also use. Both are available to download from the Resources section of this website.


Formal assemblies conducted indoors begin with the presentation of the Colors, referred to as posting the Colors, and end with the retirement of the Colors. The following instructions outline the procedures for posting and retiring the Colors, with a head table and without head table. Since indoor areas vary in size, configuration, and intended purpose, these instructions do not apply to all situations. Therefore, persons planning an indoor ceremony can modify these instructions based on their specific floor plan.

(2) When a head table is not used, the Color guard enters and moves to a predesignated position centered on and facing the audience. This may require the Color guard to move in a column and use Facing movements. The movement must be planned so that the National Color is always on the right when in line and is leading when in column.

TC 3-21.5

Emphasis mine, above.

For More

To get a better understanding of the requirements for each service color guard see the following links:

The “Why” of the Military Color Guard – Regulations

The “Why” of the Military Color Guard – US Army

The “Why” of the Military Color Guard – Marine Corps, Navy, & Coast Guard

The “Why” of the Military Color Guard – Air Force

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *