Can anyone request a colors presentation for any event? Must the event be formal and military only? Just a short time ago, I received a message through my website asking if an organization could have a color guard present the colors for their annual fundraising gala.
The Organization of location Chapter Number is a DOD Veterans Service Organization. We have had galas where a color guard posted the colors. It has been brought to our attention that we should not be presenting the colors because our fundraising gala is not a formal military event. What is the correct protocol to present the colors at our event?
Whenever I receive questions like this through my website or social media, I envision one of two situations: 1) someone sincerely came to you wondering if protocol allows a colors presentation or, 2) a know-it-all barked at and belittled you. I very much hope it was the former and truly appreciate those who want to ensure proper flag and color guard protocol is followed.
Whoever said you should not have a colors presentation is misinformed. Anyone at just about any occasion may present the colors. There is no restriction on presenting the colors for an event, marathons, car races, school board meetings, city or county council meetings, and even horse riding competitions have colors presentations, none of which are a “formal military event”.
If you wished, you could invite the Boy Scouts, a local veterans group, police or fire department honor guard or Explorers, Sea Cadets, Civil Air Patrol, Young Marines, ROTC, JROTC, or local military color guard to present the colors for your event. Your fundraising gala is just fine for a colors presentation. I suggest that you have a US and state flags already preposted before your event and then the color guard can enter to formally present, Star-Spangled Banner (played or sung), and then the team departs. Simple.
Presenting, Posting, and Retrieving
When it comes to presenting and then posting the colors (placing the staffs in stands), the event must be formal (sit-down evening meal- black tie). For retrieving/retiring the colors, the event should be even more formal (very formal- white tie). Depending on your location, posting could be limited to once a month or fewer times. Retrieving the colors would be at a yearly event. Why? Because posting the colors and retrieving the colors are supposed to be uncommon, special occasions. The more common posting the colors becomes, the danger of the ceremony becoming less special looms ever closer.
I mentioned location as a factor above and I will explain what I mean by that. The Presidential service honor guard units in and around Washington DC are presenting and posting the colors several times a day for informal, formal, and very formal events. The same goes for some National Guard teams around state capitols. The farther you go from these political centers, the less formal events become on a regular basis. It just depends.
The Show-n-Go is the most common, or at least, should be the most common presentation technique used by a color guard. This technique entails a pre-posted set of colors already displayed. The color guard then enters the room, marches up to centered on the audience, formally presents the colors, remains for the Star-Spangled Banner, and departs. No posting of the colors.
Why would not posting the colors be a preferred method? Several reasons: (1) Using another organization’s flags is inappropriate, (2) only presenting requires the least amount of training for the team when honor guards are Active Duty, National Guard, and Reserve ceremonial units are Congressionally mandated for Military Funeral Honors first with everything else taking a back seat, and (3) not every event is formal enough for posting.
Usually, the Protocol office has a complete set of flags and preposts them. The BHG then presents their set. BHG teams should have at least two sets of colors for every occasion that is usual to their particular location.
But Only One American Flag is Authorized at Ceremonies!
There is no “one American flag only” rule. It’s a myth. If this rule existed, every time the President speaks, his protocol team that sets up multiple US and presidential seal flags, is breaking the rules. Not to mention a sports stadium with a large flag on a tall pole and then a color guard on the field. I’m sure there are many more examples.
Having only one flag at an event was the personal preference of General Douglas McArthur and the knowledge of that standard being elusive and yet “somewhere” has existed ever since.
Now, the way some politicians and others alternate the US flag with another flag to make the “Media Wall Flag Display” is inappropriate because it puts the US in an inferior position.
The next two images show flags displayed properly.
In the image directly below, you can see different finials (flagstaff topper) and different length staffs. That makes three protocol issues in one display.
In this last image, a still from a video, there is one more American flag off to the left that you can barely see. The display starts off correctly, but the Second and third American flags are in the inferior position.
Politics and other Flags
US military and cadets in uniform cannot present colors at a political rally or any event that would imply endorsement of a candidate or party.
See also this article about using other organization’s flags. No one in uniform is authorized to carry unofficial flags.