“Cutting the Colors”

DrillMaster Ask DrillMaster, Instructional, Protocol and Flag Leave a Comment

There is a very strange story about a line of flags and members of the military and veterans not being authorized to walk in between them. Most of this is a load of fertilizer that is quite deep.

It Goes Something like This

When you place two or more American flags in a line, you are not supposed to walk in between them. It is an actual RULE in the military. With flags AND with servicemen in line formation. You don’t ‘cut’ through lines of military or lines of flags. It’s called cutting colors. There is a poem about the space between two flags representing the graves of soldiers who died defending freedom.

It’s not exactly common knowledge with the general public, but it’s common knowledge with military members.

Let’s Begin with the Truth

“Hey, no cuts in line!” For any formation, we do not walk between squads/elements except during an inspection. We do not walk between ranks unless in a training scenario. In larger formations we do not walk between platoons or companies. Again, a training scenario would be different, but only the trainers cut through any and all lines.

For a color guard, we do not walk between the formation members whether there is one or more ranks. For a large states and territories flag formation (line or column), we do not walk between members, no matter how far apart the members are spaced.

Lastly, we do not walk in front of a formation, opting to move behind it if at all possible. All of these unwritten rules are what I call Formation Protocol.

Now for the Tall Tales

As far as “cutting the colors”, for flags that have been used for training purposes, they become stretched out considerably over time and for the first triangle fold we need to Cut the First Stripe. It has nothing to do with movement of people or even using scissors on the flag. This is the ONLY reference to any kind of cutting the colors except when retiring a huge flag. More on that here.

When you place two or more American flags in a line, you are not supposed to walk in between them. It is an actual RULE in the military.

No it’s not! This “rule” doesn’t even make sense. There is no such rule “in the military” or anywhere else for that matter.

It’s not exactly common knowledge with the general public, but it’s common knowledge with military members. 

Again, no, it’s not! It’s not common knowledge for anyone because it simply is not true at all.

There is a poem about the space between two flags representing the graves of military members who died defending freedom.

We don’t create standards from poems, just to let you know. The poem is known only to members of a certain veterans group. This group, of which I’ve been a member since just after my retiring from the USAF (’06), has created a tradition (not a rule) for the organization. To force this tradition on anyone else is inappropriate at best. This tradition is about walking between the American flag and the organization’s flag. That’s it, nothing else.

Display Your Flags!

If you are going to place flags in an area for some sort of patriotic display, do it! We veterans appreciate these displays and being able to walk through the flags. It’s a meaningful reminder to us and others that some of our brothers- and sister-in-arms never made it home or made it home be means of a casket.

Multiple American flag displays can be so beneficial. They can raise awareness, honor a day or an event, and even raise funds. For the best information on how you can host a flag display, Healing Field.

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