The Three “Joints”

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“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

Rick Blaine (played by Humphrey Bogart in the movie Casablanca, 1942)

Not that kind of joint…

There are essentially three types of joint arrangements for the uniformed organizations in the US government. While this is not officially official, it helps us all to peel back the layers of the language we use and the services in our government so that we can better understand our job. Let’s take a look.

In the United States, there are many organizations that work together both home and abroad to ensure our country stays safe. The members of these organizations all swear an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same”.

Each service dons a distinctive uniform that is steeped in honor, respect, symbolism, heritage, and tradition. Each service is represented by a distinctive flag that depicts that same honor, respect, symbolism, heritage, and tradition. When they are all on display, they are referred to a Joint Service display. They are organized by department (by their established date, oldest to newest). When subordinate branches of the departments are displayed, they also are in order of the date they (or their predecessor) were established by congress.

While its extremely rare, there are situations when the flags of these Departments and Service Branches are displayed together in a Joint Service Display.

First responders, read here.

Joint Military Services

We commonly call this “Joint Service”, but it really isn’t. This is the Department of Defense (est. 1789) only. The Joint Military Services in order:

  1. Army (est. 1775)
  2. Marine Corps (est. 1775)
  3. Navy (est. 1794, read more here)
  4. Air Force (est. 1947)
  5. Space Force (est. 2019)

Joint Armed Forces

We also commonly call this “Joint Service”, but it also really isn’t. The Joint Armed Forces in order:

  1. Army
  2. Marine Corps
  3. Navy
  4. Air Force
  5. Space Force
  6. Coast Guard (est. 1791) (Department of Homeland Security, est. 2002)

When in congressionally declared war:

  1. Army
  2. Marine Corps
  3. Navy
  4. Coast Guard
  5. Merchant Mariners (est. 1773) (Maritime Administration, Department of Transportation, est. 1967)
  6. Air Force
  7. Space Force

Read about Joint Armed Forces being separated for a ceremony here.

Joint Uniformed Services Order

This is the true “Joint Service”. The Joint Uniformed Services, in order:

  1. Army
  2. Marine Corps
  3. Navy
  4. Air Force
  5. Space Force
  6. Coast Guard
  7. Merchant Mariners
  8. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (est. 1889) (Department of Health, est. 1889)
  9. National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration (est. 1970) (Department of Commerce, est. 1903)

Cadets are no Different

Cadet organizations are in order of the service they represent because of the uniform they wear. It doesn’t matter when the program was established.

There are other cadet programs like Marine Cadets of Iowa, Star of the Sea Cadets, and even the Sea Scouts (est. 1912, became part of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, 2019), are not officially backed by the services/US government.

J/ROTC = Junior/Reserve Officer Training Corps (federally funded), NDCC = National Defense Cadet Corps (little/no federal funding)

  1. Army ROTC (roots in universities as early as 1819, est. 1916)
  2. Army JROTC/NDCC (created in 1916, expanded in 1964)
  3. Naval ROTC (est. 1926)
  4. Marine Corps JROTC/NDCC (est. 1964)
  5. Young Marines (est. 1959; chartered, 1965)
  6. Navy JROTC/NDCC (est. 1964)
  7. Naval Sea Cadet Corps (est. 1958; chartered, 1962)
  8. Air Force ROTC
  9. Air Force JROTC/NDCC (est. 1964, first unit 1966)
  10. Civil Air Patrol (conceived in 1930s, est. 1941, made USAF Auxiliary, 1948)
  11. Space Force JROTC/NDCC (first units, 2022)
  12. Space Force Cadet Corps (est. 2020)

Joint, But Necessary?

The above image is from the Public Health Service “Drill and Ceremonies Manual”. There is much wrong here and we need to pick it apart to understand what is going on. The photo is from a few years before the Space Force was created.

Flag order is appropriate. However, what is this for? Does each service represented here have an actual part in the ceremony? I doubt it. These flags should not be displayed together unless each was involved in the ceremony in some capacity. It’s just like when displaying positional (e.g., Secretary of Defense) or personal (e.g., General/Admiral) colors; just because Secretary or Admiral so-and-so is in the audience doesn’t mean his flag is in the display.

A Tricare flag? Tricare is a federal program that provides health insurance to active duty military, retirees, their families, and some in the Reserves. That isn’t an official department or service flag, it’s the flag of an internal program specific to the military and should not be in the display. It’s tantamount to a novelty flag (like a sports team).

Written with DeVaughn Simper, Resident Vexillologist at Colonial Flag.

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