The Order of Colors and the Order of Troops

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Is the order of colors (flags) the same as the order of troops? One would think so. It should be for all colors, but there’s mixed info. Let’s look closely.

If you haven’t, please read these articles on Joint Armed Forces Flags.

The Order of Colors

The Order for Joint Armed Forces is Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, and Coast Guard. There are rules and laws that enter into the order during a time of war, but this is the basis here. By the way, there are two other uniformed (not armed) services in the US government. Those individuals, colors, and seals are displayed separately from the military. That goes for any other government organization.

The military manuals that tell us this order are Department of Defense (DoD) Instruction 5410.19, Vol 4; Army Regulation 840-10, Army Regulation 600-25, Marine Corps Order 5060.20, and Air Force Instruction 34-1201, and General Order 47. These manuals also tell us who mans each position.

Please note that the above-mentioned manuals explain joint order for the departmental colors. Organizational colors are never carried in a joint colors formation. Displays can have whatever flags are desired, but color guards are restricted.

The Army restricts what flags can be displayed to the right of the Army flag to just the US.

(6) Precedence.
(a) When displayed or carried with flags of Army echelons and no foreign national flags or State flags are displayed or carried, the U.S. Army flag (ceremonial or display) will be at the marching left of the U.S. flag. Other organizational flags according to echelon will be to the left of the U.S. Army flag (ceremonial or display).

AR 840-10 Chapter 4. 4-1

The Order of Troops

President Eisenhower started the ball rolling with dissolving the War Department in 1947 and creating the DoD, The branch flags were standardized between 1953-1956. Before 1977, there wasn’t a formal directive (either from the President or DoD) for deciding the order of precedence between the different branches of the U.S. military. Instead, each branch had its own rules, and traditions were followed for joint events.

  1. Each Branch’s Own Rules:
    • Army: Had its own books and manuals explaining how to do ceremonies and who should go first.
    • Navy: Followed the Navy Regulations for its ceremonies.
    • Marines: Used the Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies Manual for their order.
  2. Traditional Order: Even without one main rule, everyone mostly followed a traditional order based on when each branch was created:
    • Army (1775)
    • Marine Corps (1775)
    • Navy (1775/1792)
  3. Presidential Executive Orders: Sometimes, the President would give orders that influenced ceremonies, like how to display the flag, which also helped decide the order of precedence.
    • National Security Acts of 1947/1949/1955.
    • National Security Act Amendments of 1949, and 1969.
    • Executive Order 10860 (1960) and Executive Order 13161 (2000)
  4. Changes after World War II: In 1947, the government made big changes to how the military was organized, creating the DoD to bring all branches together under one main department. This helped set the stage for more formal rules.

In 1977, the DoD finally standardized everything with DoD Directive 1005.8 states what joint service order is for the military in formation and that includes the cadets and midshipmen of the service academies. For some reason, cadets and Midshipmen come before the Active Duty service members. The dates don’t back up the order in the Directive. The founding of the US Military Academy at West Point is 16 March 1802 and the birthday of the US Army is 14 June 1775.

For something like this (joint order), everyone would use Army dates – that is IF these dates were the reason behind the order (see École Royale Militaire below). For example, the US Air Force Academy was established on 1 April 1954, well after the birthday of my service, 18 September 1947. Yet, in the grand formation with each US military organization being represented, cadets and Mids come first.

But are troops and colors supposed to be represented in that particular order?

A message from the Army’s Institute of Heraldry

The order of precedence for military academies in the United States does have historical precedent and significance. The placement of these academies at a high level of precedence reflects their foundational roles in the development and leadership of the United States Armed Forces.

OK, that’s good to know, but the question is still there. Why, in 1977, was the DoD Directive created that put cadets before their military servicemembers? In step the French when we were just fledgling Colonies.

The fleur-de-lis

École Royale Militaire

This might be the explanation we are looking for, I’m not sure. There is still more research to be done. If you have anything to offer, please comment below. We need documentation for this.

Military Academies in the United States take their lineage from the École Royale Militaire (Royal Military School). Founded by French King Louis XV in 1750, this institution aimed to provide a formal military education to young nobles, preparing them for leadership roles in the French Army. West Point’s initial program was based on the curriculum and methods of the École Royale Militaire – most likely because they were not a British institution. This is why the fleur-de-lis appears in US military heraldry. The fleur-de-lis is a stylized lily used in many applications.

Many thanks to DeVaughn Simper for his help in researching this article.

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