USN CG Colors

What Does “Order Arms” Really Mean For A Color Guard?

DrillMasterColor Guard, Color Guard/Color Team, Regulation Drill Leave a Comment

Order Arms for a color guard can be confusing. Let’s see how.

TC 3-21.5 – Army

While this is for the Army only, AFJROTC and SFJROTC cadet color guards are currently, more or less, forced to follow the TC. For a thought-out approach to the AF/SF regulation drill color guard, click here to read this article.

The command “Order Colors” is not in the Army Training Circular but “Order Arms” is and it doesn’t mean to bring the staffs and rifles to Order. It’s extremely frustrating. One of the bullet points of paragraph 15-23 states that on the command Order Arms, the guards return to Right Shoulder.

Always at Carry/Right Shoulder?

Yes. Army ceremonies usually have the color guard at Carry throughout the ceremony and that is why the guards are to return to Right Shoulder when Order Arms is called.

But not always. Paragraph 5-18 states that during ceremonies when the colors are not forward (e.g., in line with the the companies) and remarks are being made, the bearers and guards execute Order and Parade Rest with the rest of the parade formation.

However, what the TC does not take into account is different ceremony situations where more information is required. In steps Ceremonial Drill Standards. These standards are readily available in my book, The Honor Guard Manual.

“Order COLORS” and then “Order ARMS”?

Some JROTC color guards will use the combination of commands when at Present: “Order Colors” to go back to Carry/Right Shoulder and then “Order Arms” to bring the equipment to the true position of Order with equipment resting on the marching surface. Since there’s no such thing as “Order Colors” to return the team to Carry or Order, the command is not used.

OK, so “Order ARMS” and “Order ARMS”

That just doesn’t make sense although I know some JROTC teams use it. However, it’s understandable since there’s no clear guidance in the TC for a color guard to use a specific set of commands when it is strictly on it’s own.

Separate Commands?

Since the TC can seem vague on commands, a mix-up sometimes occurs so that the team commander gives one command for the guards and another for the bearers. That’s not necessary nor authorized for any service color guard in this context (we can get into ceremonial drill where there is a myriad of commands that take care of every possible situation but that is a subject for another day).

What about Color Salute/Carry Color?

Paragraph 15-17 is the description of Color Salute. The only situation that I can think of where the organizational bearer would dip without the whole team going to Present would have the team approached by an officer in a setting outside of a ceremony. Color Salute would then equate to a guidon bearer’s individual salute that is rendered outside of a formation but a color guard will always be in some sort of formation.

The Solution

I don’t have one that would please everyone. My ceremonial background gives me an easy answer to this but ROTC and JROTC cadets cannot use those commands. My guidance would be to use “Carry Colors” to bring the team to Carry from Order and Present and to Use “Order Arms” only to bring the team to Order. That’s the only thing that makes sense.

MCO 5060.20 – Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard

This one is easy. “Order Colors” is used interchangeably with “Order Arms”. A color guard uses “Order Colors” but in a ceremony where other armed elements are present, Order Arms would be given and the color guard would perform the same actions. “Order, COLORS/ARMS” actually means to go to Order Colors/Arms and “Carry, COLORS” actually means to go to Carry Colors in the Marine Corps Order.

AFPAM 34-1203 – Air Force and Space Force

I will keep emphasizing this

Quickly, I want to cover AF and SF formations that drill under arms. Paragraph 1.1.2. tells the reader to look at TC 3-21.5 or MCO 5060.20 for procedures for rifle manipulation. However, the guidance goes off to left field with the statement that weapon type determines the appropriate manual. The TC (2021) covers the M4-Series Carbine, M16, M14, M1903, and M1917 rifles. The MCO (2019) covers the M16, M1, and M14.

Here is what to keep in mind, however. AF/SF color guards that are not authorized to follow ceremonial drill, that is any color guard formed outside of the USAF/USSF Honor Guard or a Base Honor Guard (TIs at Lackland, AFJROTC, and SFJROTC), must follow the guidance of the text and images in the AFPAM and that means the rifle guards will be at the outside shoulder. Choose any rifle you’d like but even if the guards are armed with the M1903, they are still going to look to the MCO because that manual is the only one with procedures to synchronize the movements of the guards at opposite shoulders. AF/SF elements and flights should default to the TC, but the guards for a color guard must use the MCO. See also this article.

One more thing

The AFPAM has gone through several changes over the years, changes that are truly just ridiculous and look terrible. Ignore the color bearers at “Left Shoulder” (left hand on staff, right at the side), it’s not a position we use in the military, ever.

I bet you’d never thought you would ever read “ignore this section of the AFPAM” on this website but this article explains why I say it and write it.

Essentially what the AFPAM states is…

“Here are photos of positions and a couple of commands. Good luck with that.”

There are five photos of a color guard (shoulder-to-shoulder and at Close Interval) for different positions. The only command in the color guard section is “Color Guard, HALT”. This isn’t just bad writing, it’s writing that doesn’t exist but should. However, knowledge of the TC and MCO are going to be essential. Do not use the MCO’s “Ready Cut” command.

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