I always look forward to all kinds of organizations forming color guards and seeing the results of educated, trained, and well rehearsed teams. Except…
Color Guard Information Comes From:
The Flag Code. There is basic information for carrying the American flag that fits well for many organizations/activities: scouts, marching band color guards, children’s groups, etc. It was made for civilians, however and based on Army and Navy flag guidance from around the WWI era.
Many other organizations that wear a uniform need more and you get it from:
Army Training Circular 3-21.5, Drill and Ceremonies, applies to the Army, AROTC, AJROTC, and any civil/civilian organization that chooses to follow the standards (first responders, scouting, etc.).
It states, “The Color guard consists of two (three) sergeants and two specialists or privates. It is an honor to be selected as a member of the Color guard. The senior (Color) sergeant carries the national Color and commands the Color guard. The senior (Color) sergeant gives the necessary commands for the movements and for rendering honors. Chapter 15, para 15-13.
Marine Corps Order 5060.20, Drill and Ceremonies, applies to the Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, NROTC, MCJROTC, NJROTC, Naval Sea Cadets, Young Marines, Coast Guard Auxiliary (CGA), Coast Guard Auxiliary University Program (CGAUP, ROTC-like), National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Public Health Service (PHS), Merchant Marine Academy (Merchant Mariners, MM), and any civil/civilian organization that chooses to follow the standards.
It states, “The standard Marine Corps color guard consists of four individuals of approximately equal height. Two noncommissioned officers are the color bearers and two other members, junior to the color bearers, are the color guards. The senior color bearer carries the national colors and commands the color guard. The junior color bearer carries the organizational colors, which is always on the left of the national colors.” Encl 1 Pt I, Chap 7, Para 5.
Air Force Pamphlet 34-1203, Drill and Ceremonies, applies to the Air Force, Space Force, AFROTC, AFJROTC, SFJROTC, Civil Air Patrol, AF Explorers, and Space Force Cadet Corps.
It states, “When practical, the color guard consists of two NCOs (the flagbearers) and two experienced Airmen or Guardians (the guards).” Chap 7, Sec 7E, para 7.32.
Some need more guidance and that comes in the form of ceremonial drill, which is found in my book, The Honor Guard Manual.
Do you notice a trend? Colors is an enlisted-only element. NCOs run colors guards. This does not apply to cadet programs. CAP tried to enforce cadet officers not staffing a color guard and it was a miserable failure. It doesn’t work for cadets and should not be a standard at that level. For adults, it’s a different story.
This concept does not apply to you. Police and Fire officers take part in all aspects of honor guards in all positions, including the department’s color guard and there’s no problem with that.
State Guards and Militias?
NCOs run military color guards. The military manuals apply to you as well.
Officers Need Not Apply Here
The adult volunteers (program officers, they are not commissioned) in Civil Air Patrol, Naval Sea Cadet Corps, and Coast Guard Auxiliary, and the commissioned officers of NOAA and PHS should not form color guards.
CAP. Has only cadet-manned color guards. Adults are allowed by the program to fill in a color guard as a last resort- must be in the same uniform.
Sea Cadets. Has only cadet-manned color guards.
Coast Guard Auxiliary. Forms color guards manned by adult volunteers. Needs to use their Sea Scouts or others.
NOAA. Forms color guards manned by adult volunteers. Needs to use anyone else.
Public Health. Forms color guards manned by adult volunteers. Needs to use anyone else.
Merchant Mariners. The Academy follows the standards laid out in the MCO and Mariners mind their own business and do their jobs without trying to be #ceremonialer. Thank you.
There’s a very good reason above, colors is NCO-driven and most of these organizations in this article do not have NCOs, and that should be enough. You are all officers (commissioned or not) and colors is not an officer element. That should be enough, but it isn’t, apparently. The last reason, which is going to cause some discomfort with some: none of the color guards from these organizations has ever been correct that I have seen since I began this journey in 2013 and researching as far back as possible. You seem to have no concept as to proper equipment, techniques, or procedures. You buy whatever flag set conveniently pops up in your browser and never pay attention to governing directives. Some attempt is made but not often.
In the NOAA photo above: ❌Mirror Present is not authorized (and why do you have weapons?); ❌Wrong staffs; ❌Most likely wrong finials; ❌No colors harnesses for the bearers (the harness is part of the bearer uniform whether used or not); ❌Guard inboard hands are too high; 5. Colors not carried at the same height; 6. Fringe on the national; ❌Flag at far right is Rear Admiral Upper Half personal color (PC). A PC is NEVER carried in a color guard; ❌Middle flag is NOAA and flag next to national is Department of Commerce- Why are you carrying the DoC flag and NOAA? While NOAA is part of the DoC, the department’s flag is unnecessary.
In this CGA photo at right: ❌Wrong staffs; ❌Most likely wrong finials; ❌Left hands on sockets; ❌Sling mounted wrong; ❌Rifle held too high; ❌Right hand in wrong position on rifle; ❌Second chinstrap missing; ❌Second chinstraps not worn down; ❌National staff not vertical; ❌National carried lower than org; ❌Fringe on the national; ❌Both staffs not vertical.
The CGA “Flags and Ceremonies Guide” says it’s based on MCO 5060.20 but has images and standards from the Army Training Circular and uses ceremonial technique, which is not authorized. Many, many photos show wrong techniques and procedures. Just delete it, please, and rely on cadets.
NOAA, CGA, and PHS
These organizations are the main issue, especially, CGA and PHS. CGA is apparently going to make color guard training official for it’s members. That might seem like a good thing, and I do appreciate the attempt, but you really should just not form a color guard at all. There’s no reason to. Do you want local public interaction? Form a gathering and walk while waving to the crowd in a parade. Have a requirement for colors at a ceremony? Post them in stands before the ceremony or have a cadet program present them.
Please get rid of your drill and ceremonies manual. You state it’s based off of MCO 5060.20, Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies, but when you begin reading it, you can see it was OBVIOUSLY created by those who saw ceremonial manual movements and positions and thought they would be cool to use. Some of the positions are even wrong.
Why do you have a sword manual, which shows the wrong positions, and your guards for a color guard using them? Guards for colors are only authorized swords in very specific instances for the military. PHS does not rate swords for colors, Public Health isn’t a military service, and doesn’t use weapons, or, like the Department of Education and its millions of rounds of ammunition purchased a few years ago, are you gearing up for something? If you absolutely must form an internal color guard (i.e., for a graduation ceremony), unarmed guards are appropriate. Your D&C guide should be minimal and have information for two color bearers and unarmed guards for internal ceremony colors requirements.
I’m softening a tiny bit on internal-only color guards. I do suggest that, if you have a formal colors presentation requirement, reach out to any of the armed services, local law enforcement, fire department, ROTC, JROTC, CAP, any other cadet or scouting program. You have the potential to work with some great people and open up communication to help out each other in the future.
In this Public Health photo at right: ❌The caption says, “Position of Attention”. No, it’s not! This is the position of Carry. ❌Team is shoulder-to-shoulder. ❌Wrong staffs. ❌Wrong finials. ❌Left hands on sockets or higher. ❌Guards are armed. ❌Swords not authorized for color guards (unless mounted or historic). ❌Heels and toes together. ❌National staff not vertical. ❌Right hands not high enough on staffs. ❌Fringe on the national. ❌National on shorter staff than org.
The photo is just one from the PHS “Drill and Ceremonies Manual” that is unnecessary. The rest of the photos in the manual, except for maybe six total, show wrong procedures and technique.
You might be fuming with anger by now and it might just get worse. I’m pointing out standards and nothing more.
“Show me the federal law where it says…”
That’s a quote from someone who is angry with my stance. You don’t need federal law because federal law does not set the requirements for a color guard, you need the logic that I just laid out in this article. Getting upset with my logical, backed-up opinion shows you don’t have a leg to stand on. You don’t get to pick and choose your standards- but you have done so and no one seems to care that you’ve completely ignored established standards.
I seem to be the only one bringing up issues like this. It’s possible others have recognized it, maybe, but now that I am shining a light in this area, let’s do something about it.