I received a great question the other day. Why are the color guards at the Pentagon and sometimes at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier carrying the American and a foreign national flag with guards and what dictates the order of the manning for both teams?
A full joint service arrival ceremony for a foreign dignitary at the Pentagon River Entrance (pictured above) includes a cordon up the steps and two three-man color guards. The team to the viewer’s left of the entrance carries the American flag with two guards and the team on the right carries the foreign national flag with two more guards.
The team on the left is made up of a Soldier as right rifle guard, a Soldier bearing the US, and a Sailor as the left rifle guard. The team on the right is made up of an Airman as right rifle guard, a Marine bearing the foreign national, and a Coast Guardsman as the left rifle guard.
This is correct joint service order based on the foundation document DoD Dir 1005.8, Order of Precedence of US Armed Forces, which is also listed in service documentation. But how does this actually work out to be correct?
*Currently, the USAF Honor Guard fills this position.
The Joint Service Color Guard is arranged like this: a Soldier as right rifle guard, a Soldier bearing the US, a Soldier bearing the Army departmental, a Marine on the USMC departmental, a Sailor on the USN departmental, an Airman on the USAF departmental, an Airman (eventually to be a Guardian) on the USSF departmental, and a coast Guardsman on the USCG departmental.
The order is based on the date of inception for each service. The Navy was taken out of service by the Continental Congress and then reinstated which is why it comes after the Marine Corps. The Coast Guard will be last in every lineup because they are not DoD. Only when Congress officially declares war does the CG come under the Department of the Navy and moves to the right of the AF.
Based on this information and what we find in each service drill and ceremonies manual, we find that the position of color bearer holds more importance than a guard. That is not to say a guard is necessarily less important, not at all, we need all members to form the team. Yet, the color bearer is going to be senior, with experience, and ability to lead and command.
This brings us to the main photo at the top Why are the two color guards manned this way? Is there a logical sequencing? Yes, there is. Let’s take a look.
Essentially, all you have to do is count through the numbers for seniority and see that the color bearers rank first, and then the guards.
**This has been a Coast Guard position for decades. With the creation of the Space Force, the Coast Guard moved down one position. This means that either the Coast Guard will not be represented in the colors element (although represented in the cordon and if protocol dictates an honor guard formation, in the platoon lineup) or the arrangement of the guards might change slightly. For example, the teams could look like this below.