So many Base Honor Guards, Civil Air Patrol, Sea Cadets, and JROTC units carry multiple service colors constantly in street parades to represent all, or most, of the services. While I understand this, it’s against color guard protocol. Here’s the information. See also this article, Joint Service Order of the Colors. For US first responders, see the article, American First Responder Joint Service Order.
FYI: any color guard associated with the Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard cannot carry any flag other than the national ensign and the service departmental/organizational except for a foreign national (usually carried in a separate three-man team, but can be included). This is fully explained here.
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, 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, Auxiliary, and Cadets/Midshipmen
These units must follow the guidelines set forth for the Active Duty.
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. “220.127.116.11. 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. COLOR GUARDSDoDI 5410.19
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:
E18.104.22.168. Two Army bearers with the U.S. flag and Army flag.
E22.214.171.124. One each Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard bearer with individual Military Service flags.
E126.96.36.199. 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.
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.
These excerpts tell us that several positions are manned specifically and not just by anyone in any position, but nothing tells us outright that an Airman must carry the USAF flag or a Sailor must carry the Navy flag. It seems that, as long as the flags are in the correct order, everything is OK. However, while understandable, that just doesn’t make complete sense. Why would only three positions be required to be manned specifically and the other positions not matter who mans them?
Knowing all this, it is incumbent on us to plan to fill each position for a color guard using the correct personnel for each position. What if we are unable to find a Space Force Guardian (for example)? Then, the SF flag should not be carried. Again, I do understand why units of one service carry all the departmental flags, but, according to the regulations, it’s not appropriate.
DeVaughn Simper, Vexillologist for Colonial Flag, www.colonialflag.com, 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.