A DrillMaster Study of Mark Time

DrillMasterColor Guard/Color Team, Drill Team Training, Drill Teams, Honor Guard Training, JROTC, Judge Training, Regulation Drill Leave a Comment

Marching in place, marking time. Many think they know how to do it. There are three different regulation drill techniques for the US military and two techniques for ceremonial drill.

The Different Categories of Military Drill and Ceremonies

Regulation Drill is all drill and ceremonies in the the three drill and ceremonies manuals in Training Circular 3-21.5 (for the Army), Marine Corps Order 5060.20 (for Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard), and Air Force Pamphlet 34-1203 (for Air and Space Forces).

Ceremonial Drill is all drill and ceremonies executed by the 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), Marine Barracks Washington, US Navy Ceremonial Guard, The USAF Honor Guard, and the US Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard. This also extends to all US Army post honor guards and all USAF Base Honor Guard units.

Within the US military, ceremonial drill is not authorized to be performed by anyone outside of these organizations. That includes Marine Corps commands forcing their color guards to march shoulder-to-shoulder- stop it, you know better, follow the MCO.

Side note: There is another category of military drill, Exhibition Drill. This is further divided into two subcategories: Scholastic/Independent and Ceremonial.

The Requirements

Where will you find the specifics listed below? Only here. These are guidelines to help you look your most professional.

  1. Your ankle must travel up the center of your opposite leg
  2. Do not bring the ankle forward of your leg
  3. Do not bring the ankle behind your leg
  4. Do not extend your ankle and point the toe downward
  5. Do not flex your ankle to point the toe upward
One of my awesome Pathfinder trainees


Most everyone has a right angle at their ankle when viewing the lower leg and the foot. If you are trained in dance, you most likely have an extensive range of motion, especially if you are able to go on pointe (a ballet term for going up on the end of your toes- see the image below). Most of us, if we allow our foot to hang naturally, will keep that right angle, especially if wearing boots, but most likely the ankle’s angle will be a constant 90 degrees.

A ballerina “on pointe” with full extension at her ankles

If you are able to extend farther, don’t. Allow the foot to hang without any added effort.

The Proper Technique

The toe leaves the marching surface last and strikes first. Do not “whole-foot stomp”. This means that, as you bring your foot up, the bottom of the foot is parallel to the marching surface. It can lead to stomping. Don’t stomp! There is not reason to stomp. You must use your thigh a glute muscles to lift and lower your leg. “Must”? Yes, absolutely.

Lift your leg and bend the knee slightly while bending at the hip. Your head and torso will move ever so slightly side-to-side. You do not want excessive movement. That is an indication of poor technique (most often not adequately bending the legs enough at the hip).

Your feet need to be parallel, do not march with toes pointed outward/inward.


There is also no reason to speed up, although we naturally do tend to increase tempo when marching in place or at Half Step. Use a metronome (Loud Metronome on your phone hooked up to a Bluetooth speaker is great) and keep the same tempo at which you were marching. It takes practice!

High Knees! That’s how you get a color guard to slow down.” No, it’s not. Use a metronome. High Knees or Ankle-Knee Technique is widely used in marching bands and is even an exercise method where the ankle is brought up to the opposite knee or to that knee’s level.

Ankle-Knee image from bebeautiful.in

By using “high knees” you are completely disregarding the guidance explained in your service D&C manual. It’s not a technique authorized for Regulation Drill. It is, however, used in ceremonial drill (colors, pallbearers).

The Regulation Drill Styles

As I noted before, there are three different service techniques: one for the Army, one for the Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard, and one for the Air Force and Space Force.


To march in place, the command Mark Time, MARCH is given as either foot strikes the marching surface and only while marching with a 30-inch or 15-inch step forward. On the command of execution MARCH, take one more step, bring the trailing foot alongside the leading foot, and begin to march in place. Raise each foot alternately 2 inches off the marching surface; the arms swing naturally, as when marching with a 30-inch step forward.

TC 3-21.5 3 May 2021

Raise the “foot”? What part? The toe? Ball? Arch? Heel? Is the sole of the foot supposed to be parallel with the marching surface? We really need a much more accurate description here. However, when looking at the foot as it is raised, it is logical to assume the meaning here is the toe, but this is not a hard-and-fast rule.

Note! The Army does not allow calling Mark Time from the halt (the bold and underlined text in the quote above). Why is this? Because there’s no reason to.

Also! Notice that the trail foot is supposed to be brought alongside the lead foot after the command of execution. This is just like the Marine Corps technique except the heels are not brought together. I’ve never seen a single Army unit ever accomplish this.

Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard

This technique has the best description except for what I put in bold.

While marching, the command will be given as the right foot strikes the deck. The command is “Mark Time, MARCH.”

When Halted

On the command “MARCH,” beginning with your left foot, then alternating, raise each foot so that the ball of the foot is approximately two inches and the heel approximately four inches from the deck at a cadence of quick time. At the same time, swing your arms naturally as in marching.

When Marching at Quick Time

Bring your heels together. Begin marking time without loss of cadence with the opposite foot.

MCO 5060.20 15 May 2019

I very much appreciate the inclusion of the heel measurement here. It makes sense and helps you understand what the whole foot is supposed to look like when lifted off the deck (marching surface). But the ball of the foot? Who looks at feet to see if the ball is four inches off the marching surface? Why not the toe? The toe is so much easier to identify from any distance (think of judging or training). Using the ball of the foot for the measurement does not make sense.

The measurements out of MCO 5060.20 mean the toe will rise to one inch off the deck. Why not just say this in the regulation?

Air Force and Space Force

When the USAF became a service on September 18th, 1947, eventually the leadership developed their own regulations for all kinds of things. Drill and ceremonies was not a high priority, rightfully so, and in 1953 the leadership was finally ready to address Air Force D&C and again in 1956. Most what we Airmen do on the parade ground comes from the Marine Corps and some with minor adjustments. It’s still the same today.

The explanation below highlighted in bold that makes zero sense.

The command is Mark Time, MARCH. When marching, the command MARCH is given as either foot strikes the ground. The Airman takes one more 24-inch step with the right (left) foot. He or she then brings the trailing foot to a position so both heels are on line. The cadence is continued by alternately raising and lowering each foot. The balls of the feet are raised 4 inches above the ground. Normal arm swing is maintained.

At a halt, on the command MARCH, the Airman raises and lowers first the left foot and then the right. Mark time is executed in quick time only. The halt executed from mark time is similar to the halt from quick time.

AFPAM 34-1203 18 September 2022

Again with the “The balls of the feet“! In the image below, I show you the required measurement and, in the brackets at the toe and heel, what the other measurements look like.

Notice for the USAF and USSF that the feet are also to be brought alongside each other before taking the first Mark Time Step. This is also just like the Marine Corps technique except the heels are not brought together. Again, I’ve not seen a single AF unit do this.

From the 1950s and into the 60s and possibly the 70s (I don’t have a 50-14 from that era and I’m not so sure the AF published one), the ball of the foot is lifted two inches. In 1985, we see the beginning of the ball being lifted four inches. There is no reason for the change. I will elaborate on that statement: there is no reason given in the old AFM 50-14, and at the same time, there is literally no reason for this change.

When I was in AFJROTC from 1979 to 1983, and then later when I went through Air Force Basic Military Training, I was never taught any of these particulars for marching in place. We have not done our job well.

To Halt


The Halt from Mark Time is executed in two counts, the same as the Halt from the 30-inch step.

Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard

The MCO does not have information for halting from Mark Time. Apparently, you do not halt, you only resume marching.

Air Force and Space Force

The halt executed from mark time is similar to the halt from quick time.

AFPAM 34-1203

To Resume Marching


To resume marching with a 30-inch step, the command Forward, MARCH is given as either foot strikes the marching surface. On the command of execution MARCH, take one more step in place and then step off with a 30-inch step.

TC 3-21.5

Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard

(1) On the command “MARCH,” take one more step in place.
(2) Step off with a 30-inch step.

MCO 5060.20

Air Force and Space Force

To resume marching, the command Forward, MARCH is given as the heel of the left foot strikes the ground. The Airman takes one more step in place and then steps off in a full 24-inch step with the left foot.

AFPAM 34-1203

If you give any command as the heel strikes the marching surface while the formation marches in place, you have called it to late. You call commands when the toe strikes, not the heel. Proper timing *REQUIRES* calling commands on a toe strike is only for marching in place or marching backwards because the toe strikes the marching surface first. Use a metronome for yourself and see.

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