AF Training

The Purpose of Military Drill and Ceremonies

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The Benefits

The purpose of drill and ceremonies is very similar to The Benefits of Military Drill and Ceremonies, and article I wrote a few years ago.

The benefits of drill and ceremonies (D&C) are numerous and I won’t restate them here but I will use a couple of them to make my point about the purpose and to see how we are generally failing to use drill and ceremonies for its intended purpose and thus unable to reap the benefits.

And now for something completely different

Before I get into the purpose of military drill and ceremonies and where we are headed, I want to address you. No, not you, YOU. The one who thinks he/she knows me. The one who might finish this article but still have disbelief as to my reasoning and conclusions. Please get out of that mode of thinking. Just because you may know or know of me doesn’t mean I haven’t grown in my studies and experience.

I know, “A prophet in his own home has no honor”. This means that if you know a person for any length of time, you are much less likely to take them seriously as they learn, grow, and progress because “I’ve known John for years!” It’s not that you don’t trust the me, you are just stuck seeing me as the same man I was back ‘then’. But you are going to miss out on some really good information.

Or maybe you already know everything. If you do, please go back to watching your TV show about the next top tapdancing chef who must survive on an island while you drink your unfiltered tap water and snack on chemical-laden chips. Obviously, you have no need to read and understand this, all you ever needed to know about D&C was taught to you in Basic/Boot Camp. Still, I encourage you to keep reading because if you don’t you are also going to miss some good information.

The Purpose

Recently I had an Army infantry Staff Sgt tell me that D&C is essentially useless and a waste of time. I’m positive he doesn’t have a clue as to the utter irony of his statement as a member of the infantry.

How did General Washington improve his Soldiers? He brought in Baron von Steuben from Prussia (where my ancestors come from). The Baron didn’t just teach battle tactics (i.e., concentrate only fighting) and hope for the best? No, he taught key NCOs to march and the manual of arms and they, in turn, taught their companies the same. They worked hard to become proficient in marching and manipulating the rifle.

“Houston, we have a regulation drill problem…”

We have regulation drill that comes from the Army’s Training Circular 3-21.5, the Marine Corps’ Order 5060.20, and the Air Force’s Pamphlet 34-1203. We also have ceremonial drill that is kept mostly in internal documents for the Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment, the Old Guard; the Barracks Order for Marine Barracks Washington, the internal manuals for the Navy’s Ceremonial Guard and Coast Guard’s Ceremonial Honor Guard, and the USAF’s published instruction for the USAF/USSF Honor Guard and Base Honor Guards worldwide.

The regulation drill manuals were written decades ago with some having multiple updates over the years. I have searched for and purchased every legacy D&C manual I have been able to find and have what seems to be every version of from each of the services. I can tell you that the US military made slight progress in explaining drill and ceremonies from von Steuben’s time into the split for manuals of the North and South during and after our Civil War and the creation of one manual for the Army and a Landing Party manual for the Marine Corps and Navy leading up to WWI.

After WWII, a fresh look was given to the service D&C manuals and newer, expanded versions were created. In the 1960s and 1970s significant progress was made in providing information for color guard, especially. However, the information has never been complete for a color guard.

The Army has given the color guard information for the military parade and a bit more but even that hasn’t been complete.

The Navy did away with it’s D&C manual and the Marine Corps picked up that job but left the Navy uniqueness out which was a very bad oversight. Honestly the MCO should be a Department of the Navy publication and include the Navy and Coast Guard color guard requirements. The MCO does somewhat better for color guard information outside a military parade but it’s also still not complete.

The Air Force/Space Force pamphlet went from a manual (holds guidance authority) to a regulation (has strict authority that will be followed), back to a manual (weakened), and is now a pamphlet (no authority whatsoever, it’s tantamount to a sticky note on the edge of your computer screen). The color guard information has always been extremely limited but the reader was told to use the other manuals based on rifle type (which NEVER made any sense at all and still doesn’t).

The difference is striking

Ceremonial drill has an explanation for every aspect of a performance and the reasoning behind it all. For instance, every colors presentation for any type of ceremony is completely mapped out. There is no guesswork, no “use your best judgement” (I’m looking at you, AF). Ceremonial drill has evolved over time to what we have now and it works so much better. I’m concentrating on colors but this applies to firing party and pallbearers, the three ceremonial elements. Standard formations (Battalion/Wing) are the same, it’s just that ceremonial techniques are used (Ceremonial at Ease instead of Parade Rest).

What does Regulation Drill need?

(Concentrating on color guard here.) Tighter, fully explained guidelines = better a performance. Because those guidelines provide a vastly better understanding of standards and the expected outcome. Similarly, loose guidelines = poorer performance because the team forced into guessing what to do at times.

Expanded and Precise Guidelines

Dr. Spock destroyed child rearing with his of advice (from 1946 to petering out in the early 1980s) to raise with praise only and not setting strict guidance. He did this on purpose (that’s a deep rabbit hole), following the guidelines for training a dog. A dog doesn’t understand punitive measures but reacts much better to positive reinforcement. Not so the child. In order to not figuratively wander, a child needs strict parameters and as much information as possible as he/she grows in order to make the best decisions possible.

Active Duty, National Guard, and Reserve color guards constantly flounder due to a lack of information and strict guidelines. Now bring in ROTC, JROTC, and cadets in other programs and we have a weak application of necessary and yet vague requirements across the board. I’m still focusing on the color guard.

Authority to Enforce

The Decline and Fall of Roman Empire, a book by Edward Gibbon, details how Rome fell. In a brief nutshell that doesn’t do the book any justice, Rome fell due to standards dropping like a stone.


The Army created Field Manual 22-5, Infantry Drill Regulations, in 1939. I was a mix of D&C and combat information. In 1958, 22-5 was retitled to Drill and Ceremonies and expanded to include all kinds of information to include the first brief description for the color guard. FM 22-5 went through many changes, became FM3-21.5 and then lost all of it’s authority by becoming a Training Circular. What does “training circular” even mean?

Marine Corps, Navy, & Coast Guard

The Navy’s Landing-Force Manual (I have the 1921 edition) had a small section for individual armed drill. Renamed, The Landing Party Manual by at least 1950 had D&C removed. The Bluejacket’s Manual had some individual armed drill (I have the 1943 edition). NAVMC 2691, Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies, was created as far as I can tell in 1980. Why it was titled just for the Marine Corps and did not include the Navy and Coast Guard leaves me scratching my head. It seems obvious to at least mention the other two services that rely solely on the manual. However, US Navy Regulations (1990) states that 2691 is followed for funerals. The concentration was on combat applicability with ceremonies briefly mentioned.

The Navy scrapped 2691 and published it in a new category and number, MCO P5060.20 (2003), and later dropped the “P” in 2019. It’s an Order, it is followed. However, one of the statements at the beginning of the manual is that it doesn’t apply to Marine Barracks Washington, quite understandable since they perform purely ceremonial drill, nor does it apply to either Recruit Depot or Officer Candidate School. So, who does it apply to? Apparently no one until they get to the Fleet which is a bit late. Standards begin in initial training and should be the same for your whole career.

Air Force and Space Force

The AF is my service and this paragraph is the most disappointing to me. When the USAF became a service in 1947 drill and ceremonies was still guided by the Army’s FM. In 1953, the AF wrote the first D&C manual , AFM 50-14. In 1985, it was reclassified as a regulation, but in 1996 it was redesignated a manual and in 2022, with all of its massive problems that I wrote about here, here, and here, It was redesignated again and demoted to a mere pamphlet creating guidance that has no authority behind it whatsoever, not even a paper tiger but a lace doily tiger. In spite of the issues with the now AFPAM, it is salvageable with some applied logic although AFJROTC has abandoned it and CAP went off the rails creating it’s own D&C and even honor guard manuals that are not fit to be followed. We are broken.

We Are Utterly Failing!

AF Academy

How do AF Academy cadet form a color guard with the colors reversed right behind a supposed “expert” in D&C? Is it negligence or apathy? I think it’s a combination that comes from a lack of emphasis that D&C is vital to the military as it teaches foundational principles. We’ve lost sight of that completely because of “the mission”. It’s systemic. The thought process is forgetting the stupid little stuff (like marching) and concentrating on the bigger stuff. For the USAF, we need to “Fly, Fight, and Win!” How do we do that? By “Flying, Fighting, and Winning!” That’s just over-the-top rhetoric that means nothing.

Stop, take a breath, and now look at the accession process:

  • Training – Commission – Training – Work – Training – etc.
  • Training – – Training – Work – Training – etc.

We have time and we need to take and even MAKE the time to ensure EVERY facet of training is taken care of and that includes the proper training and application of D&C.

Culture Change

We have service leadership who cyclically consider doing away with drill and ceremonies, cutting the military music programs, and even doing away with service drill teams with asinine thinking because the military trains to fight and win wars. We don’t fight without adequate training, and this is news to some, our training must include D&C. I’m not looking for perfection, just levels of excellence.

One Last Anecdote

I’ve taught many JROTC units across the country both in-person and through video. At one high school, there was a cadet who was determined to improve himself. He marched poorly but knew that if he applied himself by joining the drill team and constantly marching regulation and exhibition sequences, he would improve enough to be able to handle the basic requirements of Army ROTC in college and being an Army officer. He did it and he is a successful Army officer today. He doesn’t march every day and he’s not going to volunteer for the Old Guard in DC, but he knew the value of D&C. You should too.

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