Joint Service Colors

The Why of the Color Guard: Military Joint Service Order

DrillMasterColor Guard/Color Team 10 Comments

Here we have an explanation of joint service order for military and cadets. There are some differences that need to be understood. For US first responders, see the article, American First Responder Joint Service Order. See also this article, Joint Service Order of the Colors.

Full Joint Armed Forces Order*

  • Soldier – Right/Lead Rifle
  • Soldier – National Flag
  • Soldier – Army Departmental Flag (never the Army Field Flag**)
  • Marine – Marine Corps Departmental Flag
  • Sailor – Navy Departmental Flag
  • Airman – Air Force Departmental Flag
  • Guardian – Space Force Departmental Flag
  • Coast Guardsman – Coast Guard Departmental Flag
  • Marine – Left/Trail Rifle Guard

*No other flag is authorized in this formation. No other flag. Please understand this. A state flag, the POW/MIA flag, the Merchant Mariner flag, nor a command flag, no other flag is authorized to be carried in this formation.

**The Army Field flag is only authorized to be carried by an Army-only color guard and never in conjunction with other services. The Army Field Flag was developed because the Army departmental flag was initially required to be carried with battle streamers. The units that could not afford the flag and streamers were authorized to carry the Field Flag. Senior ROTC units are among those authorized to carry the Field Flag. The departmental is authorized to be carried with or without streamers.

Partial Joint Service Order

Any mix of the above colors requires the following.

  • Senior service present – Right/Lead Rifle
  • Senior service present – National Flag
  • Senior service present – Service Departmental Flag
  • Second senior service present- Service Departmental Flag
  • Third service, etc.
  • Second senior service present – Left/Trail Rifle Guard

National Guard Joint Service

While the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard can both carry their authorized flags when forming a single-service color guard, including the state, it would seem proper to include the state flag as well for joint service National Guard units since they serve the governor of that state. There is no specific guidance to add the state flag except what is referenced in this article. The regulations would indicate the state flag is not allowed, however this is a similar tier of service at the state level as the national level and inclusion of the state flag does seem proper. Here is an example.

  • Soldier – Right/Lead Rifle
  • Soldier – National Flag
  • Airman – State Flag
  • Soldier – Army National Guard Flag
  • Airman – Air National Guard Flag
  • Airman – Left/Trail Rifle Guard

Reserve, Guard, and ROTC Cadets/Midshipmen

These units follow the guidelines set forth for the Active Duty.

JROTC, Young Marines, Sea Cadets, CAP,

These organizations have their own organizational (AJROTC carries and “institutional”) colors and should not carry their parent service departmental colors as cadets are not necessarily representing the service*, but the cadet organization. *We, in the Military Drill World, understand cadets represent more than just the program, but a distinction needs to be made so that cadets are not passing themselves off as active duty service members.

Army JROTC units are not authorized to display or carry the Army departmental colors (see the last entry of AR 840-10, Table 5-1). This restricts other JROTC units when working jointly and means only the JROTC organizational can be carried.

Directives, Regulations, Orders, and Instructions

Cutting to the chase: service colors are carried by a member of that service, not anyone else. Now, to back that up, keep reading.

4-2. Precedence of Soldiers at parades and reviews, “d. In parades and in ceremonies on shore in which several Services are participating, precedence should be according to subparagraph e, below, without regard to the relative grades of the commanding officers of the detachments. A member of the senior Service present will bear the national colors, and the organizational colors of the Services represented will be carried in order of seniority from right to left as viewed from the rear.”

AR 600-25, Salutes, Honors, and Courtesies

Composition of the Color Guard, “c. A Joint Armed Forces Color Guard will consist of eight members; three Army, two Marine, one Navy, one Air Force, and one Coast Guard. The national color bearer and commander of a joint [full] color guard will be a Soldier. The respective service colors are aligned to the left of the national colors.”

MCO 5060.20, Drill and Ceremonies

2.11. Order of Precedence of Flags. “ In Joint Service Color Teams, the Army carries the United States Flag and commands the color team as the senior Service. The rifle guard nearest the United States Flag is Army and the rifle guard farthest from the United States Flag will be a Marine.”

AFI 34-1201, Protocol

E8.5.1. In public programs for which DoD support has been authorized and at which the display of the U.S. flag and the flags of the Military Services is applicable, a Joint Armed Forces Color Guard shall be employed, when available, using the following composition:
E8.5.1.1. Two Army bearers with the U.S. flag and Army flag.
E8.5.1.2. One each Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard bearer with individual Military Service flags.
E8.5.1.3. One Army and one Marine Corps rifleman, as escorts.
E8.5.2. When a Joint Armed Forces Color Guard, as specified in paragraph E8.5.1., above, cannot be formed, the senior member of the senior Military Service in the color guard shall carry the U.S. flag. The DoD Components shall be guided by DoD Directive 1005.8 (reference (t)).
E8.5.3. U.S. military personnel may carry the official national flag of foreign nations participating in official civil ceremonies, defined as a “public event,” that are funded, sponsored, and conducted by the U.S. Federal Government or a State, county, or municipal government, when an official of the nation concerned is present in an official capacity to receive such honors, and the official is one for whom honors normally are rendered. In all other public programs or ceremonies, U.S. military personnel in uniform and in an official capacity are not authorized to carry flags of foreign nations, veterans groups, or other non-military organizations.

DoDI 5410.19

The order of precedence in a parade of military and naval forces is:

  • Cadets, United States Military Academy
  • Midshipmen, United States Naval Academy
  • Cadets, United States Coast Guard
  • Regular Army
  • United States Marines
  • United States Navy
  • United States Coast Guard
  • National Guard organizations that have been federally recognized
  • Marine Corps Reserve
  • Naval Reserve
  • Other organizations of the Organized Reserves, National Guard, Naval Militia, Reserve Officers Training Corps, and other training units in the order prescribed by the grand marshal of the parade
    Veterans and patriotic organizations in the order prescribed by the grand marshal of the parade

A joint-service color guard also reflects this order of precedence.

Although the Navy’s birthday is 13 October 1775, a loss of appropriations in 1785 temporarily ended the service’s existence until it was reestablished with the Naval Act of 1794. Because of this timeline lapse, the U.S. Marine Corps’ birthday on 10 November 1775 gives the Marines precedence in parades and joint-service color guards.

General Order 47

Why are Cadets and Midshipmen First?

Because General Order 47 says so. Other than that, I do not know and cannot find any more information on it. All I know is that this order of precedence applies to formations of military men and women and and flags that are carried and displayed.

Single-Service Carrying all Service Flags

A single service is authorized to carry other service flags. This comes from DoDI 5410.19 Volume 4. Not all service flags must be carried. It’s a good idea, but not mandatory.


DeVaughn Simper, Vexillologist for Colonial Flag,, was a great help in providing guidance for this article.

DoD Dir 1005.8, Order of Precedence of US Armed Forces (1977) [due to the creation of Space Force this will need to be updated very soon, should have been already]; Memorandum to DoD Dir 1005.8 (15 July 2016); DoDI 5410.19 Public Affairs Community Relations Policy (2001); AFI 34-1201, Protocol (2020) [the writers got the arrangement of the Space Force wrong in this edition, SF is immediately to the left of AF], and finally, General Order No. 47 established the Precedence of Forces in Parades on 13 May 1935.

Comments 10

  1. Good afternoon! I’ve been reviewing relevant articles and manuals on Joint Service Honor Guard protocols, and have not yet located anything that specifies which standard is used when performing.

    I seem to recall that all members defer to the Army standards, but wanted to make sure I was remembering correctly. Additionally, do Joint details revert to regulation drill, or still use ceremonial drill guidelines?

    And if the Army is not involved in the Joint detail, does the group simply defer to the regulations of the most senior service that is present, or do they still use the Army regulations that they would for a full Joint detail?

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  2. Aloha DrillMaster,

    I have the honor to lead the US Indo-Pacific Command Joint Service Color Guard.
    Question: My color guard is a volunteer force even at a 4-Star command. I have Army Soldiers that have the Pinks & Greens but not the Army Green Service Uniform (AGSU) Dress Cap that can’t be found on Island (Back order). Can I have them wear ASU service caps for a ceremony if they are all wearing them?

    I think know the answer (find SM’s that have a complete uniform)

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      Hello Top,

      Your right rifle guard, national bearer, and Army departmental bearer are the three Soldier positions that you need to be concerned with. I hope you can hunt down your required uniform items.

      I steer clear of uniforms since each service has such a wide range of standards.


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      I don’t have anyone in NJ. The DrillMaster is just me. I train and certify others in drill and ceremonies for ceremonial, regulation, and exhibition drill including Active Duty, Guard, and Reserve.

      I don’t have a membership per se, but I have quite a few Certified US Ceremonial Guardsmen who are in law enforcement, firefighting, and EMS.


  3. As an incoming color guard team staff member in my AFJROTC unit, I was toying with the idea of a joint-JROTC brigade color guard with other units in my district. Would this be authorized? Additionally, our district doesn’t have CGJROTC or SFJROTC. Would you recommend experienced cadets to bear the Coast Guard and Space Force colors if we had access to them, or for an NJROTC cadet to bear the Coast Guard colors and an AFJROTC cadet to bear the Space Force colors, or just to not carry them at all?

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      Good question, sir! The answer is, it depends. Only an Army color guard has the guards carry both rifles at Right Shoulder. All other services carry at the outside/outboard shoulder.


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