The Why of the Military Color Guard – JROTC and State Colors

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This article looks at the question of why a JROTC color guard carries the state flag, and needs to stop this ubiquitous habit. Read All About the Flag and a Color.

For a JROTC color guard in competition the idea behind carrying the state color in place of the departmental or even the JROTC organizational/institutional is to not break military flag protocol and that’s understandable. However, this idea has backfired so that just about every JROTC color guard believes that carrying the state color as a substitute for the military color is perfectly acceptable for every colors presentation. The idea has even spilled over into some Active Duty, Guard, and Reserve units.

Information should have been provided from the start to let instructors and cadets know that outside of the competition environment, the substitution cannot happen and really should not happen at all.

Flag Dipping Protocol

The reason behind teams carrying the state color is that military colors have very specific requirements to be dipped, state flags don’t. I’ll share a quote from TC 3-21.5 regarding the standards for dipping in salute that applies to all military services.

15-12. The organizational color salutes (dips) in all military ceremonies while the national anthem, “To the Color,” or a foreign national anthem is being played, and when rendering honors to the organizational commander or an individual of higher grade including foreign dignitaries of higher grade, but in no other case. The U.S. Army flag is considered to be an organizational Color and, as such, is also dipped while the national anthem, “To the Color,” or a foreign national anthem is being played, and when rendering honors to the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, their direct representative, or an individual of equivalent or higher grade, but in no other case.

TC 3-21.5 15-3 03 May 2021

Departmental Colors

Departmental colors only dip for the Star-Spangled Banner, the bugle call To the Color, a foreign anthem, during the bugle call Taps, the service Chief of Staff, Commandant, Secretary, their equivalent, or those ranked higher, which includes foreign dignitaries. This means these departmental colors are not dipped just because “Present Arms” is given. The specific requirements listed above must be met.

Organizational and Institutional Colors

Organizational colors (MCJROTC, NJROTC, AFJROTC, SFJROTC, CGJROTC, Young Marines, USNSCC, and CAP) and institutional colors (AJROTC) have the same requirements as above for dipping in salute as the departmental with an expansion. The expansion is to the unit commander, everyone of equal position, and those higher are authorized to have that Org/Inst colors dipped in salute. This means these cadet colors are also not dipped just because “Present Arms” is given. The specific requirements listed above also must be met.

Here is an example of cadet organization colors. The USMC flag is there for reference, in the scroll, “MCROTC” would be spelled out.

You can see above that manufacturers are not aware of standard military sizing. These colors should only be available in 3’x4′ or 4’4″x5’6″. Colors that are 3’x5′ are not authorized.

Cadets Must Carry the Cadet Program Colors

For Army JROTC, the AJROTC is mandatory to be displayed and carried. AJROTC units are not authorized to display or carry the Army departmental or field flag. See AR 840-10, Chapter 5.

For all other cadet programs, you should be carrying your organizational because you represent your program.

Replacement Ideology

There isn’t a means of replacement, so don’t do it. Note: some school principles are quite insistent on the team carrying the state flag for in-school colors presentations. Keeping school officials happy might be part of your consideration. That said:

The Army, Air Force, and Space Force can all add the state or territory color to the formation (in the second position). These service color guards can also add a foreign national, county, and/or city flag. Since TC 3-21.5 has information for Colors Reverse for a team of six, we can then understand that up to four flags may be carried by these three services. See also The Why for the Army and The Why for the AF/SF.

The Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard are strictly limited to carrying ONLY the national ensign and the service departmental/organizational. State and territory colors are not authorized. A foreign national color is authorized next to the national ensign or in a separate, three-man team. See also The Why for the MC/N/CG.

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