The Why of the Color Guard: Joint Armed Forces Flags

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Terms

Joint Service. For short, the term is usually, “joint service” when talking about two or more military services forming a color guard. However, to be clear, Joint Armed Forces ensures we are talking about the military since there are also two other uniformed services (officers only), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Public Health.

Color. A color or colors is a flag. The term organizational colors and organizational flag mean the same thing.

US Army Departmental Flag

Departmental Flag (a DrillMaster term). All military flags are organizational flags. For example, the US Army flag (image at right) is an organizational flag. However, we need to ensure our terms are specific because a unit flag (shown below) to further our example, is also an Army organizational flag and would not be appropriate to carry in any joint armed forces color guard since all service personnel are supposed to be represented.

3rd Infantry Regiment, the Old Guard, organizational color

The Marine Corps has an interesting situation, all unit organizational colors look just like the departmental colors except for the wording on the bottom scroll, but unit flags, just like the Army example above, would not be authorized to be carried in a joint colors situation. Only the USMC departmental flag is authorized when carried with other service colors since the Marine carrying the flag is representing the entire service.

Battle Streamers

When one service does not have access to service battle streamers, no other service should carry their departmental with battle streamers. This should not have to be stated, but it does. battle streamers are made of silk and a full set is very expensive. Not every unit is going to have the ability to keep a set on hand.

Active Duty Joint Armed Forces

Joint active duty color guards follow guidance set forth in TC 3-21.5 or MCO 5060.20, depending on the senior service present. Guidance states that the American flag and the departmental flags are carried. Can another flag be added? No. Why not? Because we look to manuals to find out what we are authorized to do, not a list of what we cannot do, which would be endless.

DoD Directive 1005.8, Order of Precedence of US Armed Forces; TC 3-21.5, Drill and Ceremonies; MCO 5060.20, Drill and Ceremonies; and AFI 34-1201, Protocol, all state the order of the services and the latter three manuals tell us each service flag is carried by a service member from that service. The right rifle guard and American flag bearer are Soldiers and the left rifle guard is a Marine. Interestingly, DoD Instruction 5410.19 Vol 4 (2021), tells us that a single service can carry all service flags.

No Other Flag

Here is the reasoning. The US military serves the United States of America and that’s why the American flag is present. Each service that is represented, carries it’s departmental flag. The services are not “under” any other authority, they serve the nation. The Army Training Circular, Marine Corps Order, and Air Force Instruction all tell us joint armed forces color guard member order and that means only those colors are carried. Hold that thought as you read on.

For complete information on joint service order, read this article.

National Guard Joint Armed Forces

The Army and Air Force have National Guard units in all states and several US territories. These Soldiers and Airmen can form a color guard that represents both services (total force) and carry the departmental flags or, they can carry their respective National Guard organizational flags for each service and represent only the Army and Air National Guards. Logically taking this one step further, the National Guard-only color guard could carry the state flag and represent the Army and Air National Guard members from that state only. The state flag would be carried by either service. This would be appropriate when rendering honors in the state especially with the Governor present.

The tow possible National Guard color guard setups
Joint National Guard Color Guard order example

Single-service NG color guards would be the same, but without the sister service.

Reserve Joint Armed Forces

The Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard all have Reserve units. Since Reserve units are at the federal level and not state, their color guards would fall under the Active Duty guidelines above.

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