The Argument From AFPAM 34-1203

DrillMasterColor Guard/Color Team, Commentary, Instructional, Judge Training, Regulation Drill 2 Comments

What argument would this be? It’s about using the other two service manuals. It gets a bit complicated, but bear with me as we go through why the AFPAM has so little information and what to do about it.

We need to understand that all three drill and ceremonies manuals are lacking in certain aspects and using ones best judgment is recommended. Let’s look at the attempt to guide the reader of AFPAM 34-1203 (formerly AFMAN 36-2203, AFM 50-14, & AFR 50-14), Drill and Ceremonies, to the other manuals.

1.1. Scope.
1.1.1. This manual includes most Air Force needs in drill and ceremonies, but it does not cover every situation that may arise. For unusual situations, using good judgment and taking into account the purpose of the movement or procedure can often provide the solution. (emphasis mine)
1.1.2. Units or organizations required to drill under arms will use the procedures in US Army Field Manual 22-5, Drill and Ceremonies, SECNAV 5060.22 or Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies Manual. The type of weapon used will determine the appropriate manual.

AFMAN 36-2203 June 2018

Let’s rewind and look at that last sentence “The type of weapon used will determine the appropriate manual.” No, it doesn’t. While it may have at one time*, just like the mention of FM 22-5 and SECNAV 5060.22 these statements were true.

*In my research, I have not seen that rifle types were all that different between the the Army and Marine Corps. Both have used the M1, M14, and M1903 (our rifles for ceremonial applications now) and both had the manuals for each rifle at one time or another in each D&C manual.

A Little History

Paragraph 1.1.2 in the quote above didn’t come about until the early 1990s and initially also contained a reference to the USAFA regulation but that was removed, and we currently have the above two paragraphs in the quote. Unfortunately, the idea behind this guidance was never spelled out completely and also not updated.

  • FM 22-5 has been TC 3-21.5 for years.
  • SECNAV 5060.22 was actually SECNAVINST 5060.22 and has been MCO 5060.20 for years.
  • The then Army Field Manual had the manual of arms for the M1/M14 (the M1 was removed from the M14 manual section in the 1986 edition) and M1903 (Springfield)/M1917 (Enfield) in the appendix section and still does as of this writing.
  • NAVMC 2691 (1980s) only had the manual for the M16 and then used the M14 for firing party without explaining the manual for that rifle. It’s very possible that SECNAVINST 5060.22 for the 1990s had the same thing. This is an educated guess since manuals from the 1990s are extremely difficult to obtain. However, the certain photos used in the NAVMC and first MCO are identical and that leads me to the conclusion that the SECNAVINST was a retitling/renumbering of the NVMC.
  • The first MCO for drill and ceremonies came out in 2003, P5060.20, and included the manual of arms for the M1 Garand and M14 in the appendix section.

That History Equals:

Rifle type really never mattered, it was the application of the rifle that required one or the other manual. That leaves the question of how do we apply the Army Training Circular and the Marine Corps Order to Air Force and now Space Force drill and ceremonies?

Before we get to the answer for that question, this has to be stated: Ceremonial Drill, the positions and movements that come from the USAF Honor Guard and used by Base Honor Guard units around the world, do not mix with Regulation Drill. Regulation Drill, the positions and movements that come from the TC, MCO, and AFMAN, is its own separate species.

Ceremonial Drill has its basis in Regulation Drill both historic and modern but goes well beyond the scope out of necessity. That necessity comes from, among other things, the requirement to stand for extraordinarily long periods of time, navigate physical structures both inside and out, and maintain the strictest standards of protocol.

Air Force and Space Force JROTC and Civil Air Patrol cadets have a great tendency to mix these two very distinct styles with reckless abandon while not understanding the separation and the reasoning behind it.

The Armed Flight

An armed flight (the AF version of a platoon) of Jr/Sr ROTC cadets uses TC 3-21.5 as the source for the weapon movement (transitions) while still using AF standards for Attention, Parade Rest, and Right/Left Shoulder because those positions are pictured in the AFMAN. Why use the TC? Because the AF came from the Army and all legacy AF D&C manuals, beginning with the first edition in 1953 have duplicated the Army standards until the manual of arms sections were removed. Plus, the Army is the senior service. We go to the senior service first and then the second service.

Note: Enlisted Airmen and Guardians qualify on firing the current service rifle in Basic Training and then on a recurring basis, but there is no requirement for armed Airmen to stand or march in an armed element, flight, or squadron formation. The vast majority of Airmen and now Guardians do not have anything to do with fighting on the ground. We have no need for knowledge of the manual of arms in general. Other than Base Honor Guard personnel, there are very few Air Force Specialties that do stand in formation while armed. An example would be 3PO, Security Forces, armed and in flight formation for shift change and they use the Army’s TC for the manual of arms and inspection of the weapon.

The Color Guard

The guards for an AF/SF color guard go to the outside shoulder ONLY when the team is at Carry*. This technique of the guards at the outside shoulder is only found in the MCO where it is called the outboard shoulder. This means we look to the colors section of the MCO and find the method for synchronizing movement to and from the outside/outboard shoulder.

Note: The office of primary responsibility for AFMAN 36-2203 made a very big mistake years ago with the grip on the flagstaff and has since doubled-down on keeping the mistake, unfortunately. Read AFMAN 36-2203 Problems? for a breakdown of the issue. But don’t let that kill your reliance on the photos since the rifle and hand positions have not changed for decades.

Yes, we do use the photos and text to create the complete picture of the requirements. If we weren’t supposed to use the photos, drawings, or graphics, why would they be there in the first place? See also, The AFMAN Right Face-in-Marching is Wrong.

A marching color guard, as opposed to presenting or posting the colors, can follow the AFMAN guidance with help from the MCO with ease. The procedures for military parades are fully explained and street parades are fairly straight forward.

The AF and SF JROTC Color Guard

In competition, the AFMAN must be strictly adhered to. This means, no tucking colors, no Strong Grip, no “Ready, Cut”, etc. By using your best judgment and logic, techniques can be easily developed while maintaining the ideas in the AFMAN and not venturing into the evils of “exhibition color guard”.

Exhibition color guard is a heinous, vulgar offshoot of color guard procedures by those with a lack of understanding of the nature of a color guard and why respect and honor are so necessary. Any “wild” idea outside of published standards (Flag Code and applicable manuals) is inappropriate. If one of your teammates says something like, “Hey, what if we did this…” that’s a sign of trouble.

Presenting and Posting the Colors

Here is where the AF/SF have nothing to reference in the AFMAN. But first…

A Little History, Part 2

Around the time the USAF became an independent branch of the US military, military police in each service were charged with the additional duties of flag detail and color guard. This is why the pistol was an optional weapon for the guards. MPs were relied upon to take care of these duties, especially for the Army and AF. Eventually, base honor guards were formed out of volunteers from each squadron on base beginning in the 1960s/70s and base law enforcement took a lesser role.

I joined the USAF in 1985 and in 1990 I joined my first ceremonial unit, the then 836th Air Division Honor Guard at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ. When honor guard units were formed, the requirement for a color guard for all base functions now fell on the base’s team and was essentially removed from the duties of the unit First Sergeant, although the First Sergeant sent squadron personnel to the honor guard.

Every base team used a version of presenting and posting of the colors described in FM 22-5 and every base added a certain “flare”. This resulted in no two base honor guards being able to work together without extensive work to come to some agreement as to what to finally do. We also used the funeral standards in 22-5 with an “adjustment” here or there.

Why the adjustments and flare? For one reason, people like to stand out in a crowd and be the “best of the best (of the best)”. They get an idea of how to jazz up something that might send recognition their way. Another reason is we didn’t have complete information and we were making things up as we went to fill in those gaps.

Let’s face it, all three service manuals do not cover absolutely every single circumstance you may encounter (this is where Ceremonial Drill completely outshines Regulation Drill). Although, when it comes to color guard, the MCO has done the best job of the three (including Trail colors and the description of what we call Angle Port to get through doorways) and yet still lacks complete guidance.

With the advent of base honor guards, there was no longer a need to store the flags in the commanders office and formally acquire them as described in the AFMAN. That process virtually disappeared by the late 1970s. Just call the BHG to coordinate your ceremony and we are there.

In the mid-90s the then Chief of the USAF Honor Guard, CMSgt Timmothy Dickens, developed the concept of the Base Honor Guard (BHG) program and we now have, more or less, a cohesive ceremonial program world-wide that covers all requirements of each ceremonial element. An incredible feat, to say the least. In steps Ceremonial Drill to the mainstream without anyone realizing it.

What does all of this mean? Because Regulation Drill has limitations, especially where colors is concerned, and the fact that ceremonial procedures and techniques are easily accessible, hybridized methods have become the norm for cadets but shouldn’t be.

Back to Presenting and Posting the Colors

When in competition and you must present, post, and/or retrieve the colors using AFMAN 36-2203, you are limited, so where do we turn? Again, we look to the other two manuals and borrow procedures from each as necessary. Need to enter a low clearance room? Use Trail Arms from the MCO. Need to go through a doorway? Use Angle Port, again, from the MCO (it’s not called Angle Port, but that is the description). Have a head table with the stands behind? Use the procedures in the TC.

We in the AF and now the SF use the beginning and ending positions for the flag bearers and rifle guards required in the AFMAN. We then search out the best procedures for our specific situation all the while not using ceremonial positions of which Port (the staff at the right side and the left hand flared horizontally across the torso, pictured at right) is widely used. Also used is the T-L-Step to turn around.

Using ceremonial procedures in a Regulation Drill setting is just an easy panacea so that we don’t have to do any research and discover what is supposed to take place.

Why is this hybrid not appropriate? Here are the reasons.

  1. Because you are not trained. Air Force Honor Guard and Base Honor Guard members go through training before they can begin using the techniques in a formal setting. Civil Air Patrol has a cadet ceremonial training program that must be attended before cadets can use the techniques. Both are a process of certification.
  2. Ceremonial drill is only accomplished in the ceremonial uniform.
  3. Because the requirements of the competition come from AFMAN 36-2203 and associated regulations (AFI 34-1201, Protocol and AFPAM 34-1202, Protocol Handbook).

The competition is a measure of knowledge (the “What”) and performance (the “How”). Running to ceremonial standards shows a lack of awareness of the standards required. This is a systemic lack of awareness, not just an individual unit level, of the true requirements of the competition.


AFMAN 36-2203 needs better guidelines, and we need a better drill and ceremonies training that takes into account that cadets will be using it for competitions and Competitive Regulation Drill requires paying attention to the finest of details, just like Ceremonial Drill.

We have lost our history. When each school year begins, we teach anew and dismiss the previous years as not pertaining to what is happening now. The reverse is true. history grounds us and helps us maintain a direction.

Comments 2

  1. So would you recommend a cadet color guard to not execute movements such as “Every Left On/Off?” Or would those still be authorized so as regulation techniques are still followed? Thanks for all you do, this is all very helpful!

    1. Post

      I still recommend Every Left Off/On, Center Aisle Snake, etc., for colors presentations because certain situations are unique enough to require those techniques for entering and exiting. The three service D&C manuals do not cover every aspect of a presentation, only minimal information. I do wish more info was added to these manuals so that teams could perform in any situation without dishonoring the flag simply because they are unaware of the techniques I’ve written about for many years.


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