A Study of Mark Time

DrillMaster Color Guard/Color Team, Drill Team Training, Drill Teams, Honor Guard Training, JROTC, Judge Training, Regulation Drill Leave a Comment

Marching in place, marking time. Many think they know how to do it. There are three different regulation drill techniques for the US military and two techniques for ceremonial drill.

The Different Categories of Military Drill and Ceremonies

Regulation Drill is all drill and ceremonies in the the three drill and ceremonies manuals in Training Circular 3-21.5 (for the Army), Marine Corps Order 5060.20 (for Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard), and Air Force Manual 36-2203 (for Air and Space Forces).

Ceremonial Drill is all drill and ceremonies executed by the 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), Marine Barracks Washington, US Navy Ceremonial Guard, The USAF Honor Guard, and the US Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard. This also extends to all US Army post honor guards and all USAF Base Honor Guard units.

Within the US military, ceremonial drill is not authorized to be performed by anyone outside of these organizations. That includes Marine Corps commands forcing their color guards to march shoulder-to-shoulder- stop it, you know better, follow the MCO.

Side note: There is another category of military drill, Exhibition Drill. This is further divided into two subcategories: Scholastic/Independent and Ceremonial.

The Requirements

Where will you find the specifics listed below? Only here. These are guidelines to help you look your most professional.

  1. Your ankle must travel up the center of your opposite leg
  2. Do not bring the ankle forward of your leg
  3. Do not bring the ankle behind your leg
  4. Do not extend your ankle and point the toe downward
  5. Do not flex your ankle to point the toe upward
One of my awesome Pathfinder trainees

Flexibility

Most everyone has a right angle at their ankle when viewing the lower leg and the foot. If you are trained in dance, you most likely have an extensive range of motion, especially if you are able to go on pointe (a ballet term for going up on the end of your toes- see the image below). Most of us, if we allow our foot to hang naturally, will keep that right angle, especially if wearing boots, but most likely the ankle’s angle will be a constant 90 degrees.

A ballerina “on pointe” with full extension at her ankles

If you are able to extend farther, don’t. Allow the foot to hang without any added effort.

The Proper Technique

The toe leaves the marching surface last and strikes first. Do not “whole-foot stomp”. This means that, as you bring your foot up, the bottom of the foot is parallel to the marching surface. It can lead to stomping. Don’t stomp! There is not reason to stomp. You must use your thigh a glute muscles to lift and lower your leg. “Must”? Yes, absolutely.

Lift your leg and bend the knee slightly while bending at the hip. Your head and torso will move ever so slightly side-to-side. You do not want excessive movement. That is an indication of poor technique (most often not adequately bending the legs enough at the hip).

Your feet need to be parallel, do not march with toes pointed outward/inward.

Tempo

There is also no reason to speed up, although we naturally do tend to increase tempo when marching in place or at Half Step. Use a metronome (Loud Metronome on your phone hooked up to a Bluetooth speaker is great) and keep the same tempo at which you were marching. It takes practice!

High Knees! That’s how you get a color guard to slow down.” No, it’s not. Use a metronome. High Knees or Ankle-Knee Technique is widely used in marching bands and is even an exercise method where the ankle is brought up to the opposite knee or to that knee’s level.

Ankle-Knee image from bebeautiful.in

By using “high knees” you are completely disregarding the guidance explained in your service D&C manual. It’s not a technique authorized for Regulation Drill. It is, however, used in ceremonial drill (colors, pallbearers).

The Regulation Drill Styles

As I noted before, there are three different service techniques: one for the Army, one for the Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard, and one for the Air Force and Space Force.

Army

To march in place, the command Mark Time, MARCH is given as either foot strikes the marching surface and only while marching with a 30-inch or 15-inch step forward. On the command of execution MARCH, take one more step, bring the trailing foot alongside the leading foot, and begin to march in place. Raise each foot alternately 2 inches off the marching surface; the arms swing naturally, as when marching with a 30-inch step forward.

TC 3-21.5 3 May 2021

Raise the “foot”? What part? The toe? Ball? Arch? Heel? Is the sole of the foot supposed to be parallel with the marching surface? We really need a much more accurate description here.

Note! The Army does not allow calling Mark Time from the halt (the bold and underlined text in the quote above). Why is this? Because there’s no reason to.

Also! Notice that the trail foot is supposed to be brought alongside the lead foot after the command of execution. This is just like the Marine Corps technique except the heels are not brought together. I’ve never seen a single Army unit ever accomplish this.

Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard

This technique has the best description except for what I put in bold.

While marching, the command will be given as the right foot strikes the deck. The command is “Mark Time, MARCH.”

When Halted

On the command “MARCH,” beginning with your left foot, then alternating, raise each foot so that the ball of the foot is approximately two inches and the heel approximately four inches from the deck at a cadence of quick time. At the same time, swing your arms naturally as in marching.

When Marching at Quick Time

Bring your heels together. Begin marking time without loss of cadence with the opposite foot.

MCO 5060.20 15 May 2019

I very much appreciate the inclusion of the heel measurement here. It makes sense and helps you understand what the whole foot is supposed to look like when lifted off the deck (marching surface). But the ball of the foot? Who looks at feet to see if the ball is four inches off the marching surface? Why not the toe? The toe is so much easier to identify from any distance (think of judging or training). Using the ball of the foot for the measurement does not make sense.

The measurements out of MCO 5060.20 mean the toe will rise to one inch off the deck. Why not just say this in the regulation?

Air Force and Space Force

When the USAF became a service on September 18th, 1947, eventually the leadership developed their own regulations for all kinds of things. Drill and ceremonies was not a high priority, rightfully so, and in 1953 the leadership was finally ready to address Air Force D&C and again in 1956. Most what we Airmen do on the parade ground comes from the Marine Corps and some with minor adjustments. It’s still the same today.

The explanation below highlighted in bold that makes zero sense.

The command is Mark Time, MARCH. When marching, the command MARCH is given as either foot strikes the ground. The Airman takes one more 24-inch step with the right (left) foot. He or she then brings the trailing foot to a position so both heels are on line. The cadence is continued by alternately raising and lowering each foot. The balls of the feet are raised 4 inches above the ground. Normal arm swing is maintained.

At a halt, on the command MARCH, the Airman raises and lowers first the left foot and then the right. Mark time is executed in quick time only. The halt executed from mark time is similar to the halt from quick time.

AFMAN 36-2203 19 June 2018

Again with the “The balls of the feet“! In the image below, I show you the required measurement and, in the brackets at the toe and heel, what the other measurements look like.

Notice for the USAF and USSF that the feet are also to be brought alongside each other before taking the first Mark Time Step. This is also just like the Marine Corps technique except the heels are not brought together. Again, I’ve not seen a single AF unit do this.

From the 1950s and into the 60s and possibly the 70s (I don’t have a 50-14 from that era and I’m not so sure the AF published one), the ball of the foot is lifted two inches. In 1985, we see the beginning of the ball being lifted four inches. There is no reason for the change. I will elaborate on that statement: there is no reason given in the old AFM 50-14, and at the same time, there is literally no reason for this change.

When I was in AFJROTC from 1979 to 1983, and then later when I went through Air Force Basic Military Training, I was never taught any of these particulars for marching in place. We have not done our job well.

To Halt

Army

The Halt from Mark Time is executed in two counts, the same as the Halt from the 30-inch step.

Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard

The MCO does not have information for halting from Mark Time. Apparently, you do not halt, you only resume marching.

Air Force and Space Force

The halt executed from mark time is similar to the halt from quick time.

AFMAN 36-2203

To Resume Marching

Army

To resume marching with a 30-inch step, the command Forward, MARCH is given as either foot strikes the marching surface. On the command of execution MARCH, take one more step in place and then step off with a 30-inch step.

TC 3-21.5

Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard

(1) On the command “MARCH,” take one more step in place.
(2) Step off with a 30-inch step.

MCO 5060.20

Air Force and Space Force

To resume marching, the command Forward, MARCH is given as the heel of the left foot strikes the ground. The Airman takes one more step in place and then steps off in a full 24-inch step with the left foot.

AFMAN 36-2203

If you give any command as the heel strikes the marching surface while the formation marches in place, you have called it to late. You call commands when the toe strikes, not the heel. Proper timing *REQUIRES* calling commands on a toe strike is only for marching in place or marching backwards because the toe strikes the marching surface first. Use a metronome for yourself and see.

The Color Guard is Not First

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Wait a minute, the colors are always first in everything, everywhere, and every time! I know that because I heard it somewhere at some time in the past and it must be true. I just know it.

So, as you encounter some cognitive dissonance while reading that the color guard is not always first in line, rest assured you are not alone.

I don’t know exactly where this thinking comes from. No, the color guard or colors, is not first.

Main image at top: Notice the colors are behind a single platoon with nothing to their rear.

In a military parade (a pass-in-review) or funeral escort, the color guard is located in the center as shown below. Notice the commander of troops (CoT), guidon bearer, band master, and drum major are highlighted in different colors.

Above, you see line and column formation. The block formation to the color guard’s right (front) is either the band or the color company/platoon (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, & Coast Guard) or squadron/flight (Air and Space Forces) with another same-size formation to the color guard’s left (rear). These standards are detailed in the Army’s Training Circular 3-21.5, Marine Corp Order 5060.20, and Air Force Manual (AFMAN) 36-2203.

CoT with guidon bearer, band, colors, and platoon (Baltimore Sun/Al Drago)

If there is a call for a larger formation, then the band precedes the lead marching formation followed by the color guard and the trailing marching formation pictured below.

Band, platoon, colors, and platoon

In the diagrams above, the formation labeled “Band” does not have to be a full size band, it can be any arrangement of a musical ensemble as shown in the following images.

A single drummer in front of the colors with flight trailing
Minimal band in front of the colors with platoon trailing

Guidon Bearer?

Maybe you were thinking of the guidon bearer. In the diagrams I created above, I made the formation CoT a light blue and the guidon bearer green (well, those are the colors I think they are- partially color blind) with a little guidon flag next to him. The formation commander and the guidon bearer will always be out in front.

The same positioning setup is also for a street parade (think of the column formations above). Any group even remotely associated with the military follows these guidelines. Where does this come from, besides the current military drill and ceremonies manuals? Our history.

History

Note- for the image here, I happened to find it on Pinterest without any information associated with it. If you happen to know anything about the painting, please send me a message through the contact section of the home page and I’ll update this.

If you search the internet, you can find incredible stories of color bearers from many conflicts in the USA’s past, some of which were awarded the Medal of Honor. Those color bearers were integral parts of the formation. Without them, the men would scatter. As long as the the members of the formation could see their flag, which was located at the center, they knew to keep fighting and moving forward. It was and still is a high honor to carry our nation’s colors.

Did you catch that? The American flag bearer was at the center of the formation. Flags back then were sometimes massive banners as you can see from a couple of photos I found.

Nowhere in any text, military or civilian, is there any information that is contrary to what I have written above. Vexillologist DeVaughn Simper of Colonial Flag adds, “The only thing even remotely close is in the Flag Code where it states that you need only to stand for the 1st US flag that is in the parade.”

If anything, reenactors stive to be as accurate as possible.

Civil War reenactors with the flag in the center of the formation

In the image below you can see that flags were in several formations in this depiction of a brigade.

The Why of the Military Color Guard – JROTC and the State Flag

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I didn’t have the initial intention of expanding my Why of Color Guard series, but it is a natural progression. This article looks at the question of why a JROTC color guard carries the state flag, but needs to get out of the ubiquitous habit.

It is very common to see JROTC color guards carrying their state flag instead of the departmental or organizational flag. The reason behind teams carrying the state flag is that military flags have very specific requirements to be dipped, state flags don’t. I’ll share a quote from TC 3-21.5 regarding the standards for dipping in salute.

15-12. The organizational color salutes (dips) in all military ceremonies while the national anthem, “To the Color,” or a foreign national anthem is being played, and when rendering honors to the organizational commander or an individual of higher grade including foreign dignitaries of higher grade, but in no other case. The U.S. Army flag is considered to be an organizational Color and, as such, is also dipped while the national anthem, “To the Color,” or a foreign national anthem is being played, and when rendering honors to the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, their direct representative, or an individual of equivalent or higher grade, but in no other case.

TC 3-21.5 15-3 03 May 2021

To elaborate on the above quote

A flag is called a color. The departmental color (US Army, Marine Corps, Navy, etc. flags) for each service is treated the same as what is written above. This means the departmental colors only dip for the Star-Spangled Banner, the bugle call To the Color, a foreign anthem, during the bugle call Taps, the service Chief of Staff, Commandant, or Secretary, their equivalent or those ranked higher, which includes foreign dignitaries.

Organizational flags are treated the same! I’ll explain. Below is the US Marine Corps Departmental flag. It’s also called the USMC Standard and USMC Battle Color. This flag is only dipped, just like the other departmental flags, only in the above circumstances. Just because the commander of the color guard gives the command, “Present, ARMS!” does not mean the departmental dips.

USMC Departmental

The following image is of a USMC Organizational Color. For the Marine Corps, all of the organizational flags look exactly like the departmental except for the wording on the scroll. The reason for this is that most Marine Corps color guards are restricted from carrying the departmental and must carry their own organizational.

Organizational flags have the same requirements as above for dipping in salute with an expanded requirement. The expansion is to the unit commander, everyone of equal rank/position, and those higher. So, let’s look at a JROTC, Sea Cadets, and Civil Air Patrol flag.

Cadet Unit Organizational Flags

Unit flags are organizational flags. Organizational flags dip in salute to the unit/organization commander and everyone above. In the case of the JROTC organizational, that flag dips to the commander of NJROTC (for the above pictured flag) and in every case required that is detailed above.

Replacement Ideology

For a JROTC color guard in competition the idea behind carrying the state flag in place of the departmental or even the JROTC organizational is to not break military flag protocol and that’s understandable. However, this idea has backfired so that just about every JROTC color guard believes that carrying the state flag as a substitute for the military flag is perfectly acceptable for every colors presentation. The idea has even spilled over into some Active Duty, Guard, and Reserve units.

Information should have been provided from the start to let instructors and cadets know that outside of the competition environment, the substitution cannot happen.

Having said this, the Army, Air Force, and Space Force can all add the state flag to the formation (in the second position). These service color guards can also add a foreign national, territory, county, and/or city flag. Since TC 3-21.5 has information for Colors Reverse for a team of six, we can then understand that up to four flags may be carried by these three services.

The Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard are strictly limited to carrying ONLY the national ensign and the service departmental/organizational. Just those two flags with two rifle guards.

The Why of the Military Color Guard – Precedence and Command

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There are times when you have read manual after manual, read them for multiple years, and a certain issue that you are trying to understand just doesn’t seem clear. A “forest for the trees” situation, if you will.

That has been my dilemma for a while: I know the precedence of the military, I know who is supposed to command in multi- or joint-service situations, and I understand what technique takes precedence in those situations, but how can I explain this and point to where it’s written?

Well, thank you to an Army NCO friend of mine who is currently an Army ROTC instructor. I truly appreciate my readers who are also focused on standards. Our community is small, but we have a large impact!

Precedence

The precedence of the US military is found in DoD Directive 1005.8, Order of Precedence of US Armed Forces, 1977 (yes, it’s been current ever since, a new one will come out with Space Force in there one day).

This information is repeated in MCO 5060.20 and AFI 34-1201. However, the 2020 version of 34-1201 is wrong in precedence with the addition of the Space Force after the Coast Guard. The Coasties are part of the Department of Homeland Security and will therefore come last in order. When Congress officially* declares war (that has not happened in a very, very long time), the Coast Guard then moves to the Department of the Navy and thus service order then changes.

*The last time the United States Congress met its constitutional mandate to officially declare war by voting, for the record, to engage members of the US military in conflict was in 1942.

Multi vs. Joint Service

Our six military services in order (non-wartime): Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, and Coast Guard.

Our six military services in order (officially declared wartime): Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, and Space Force.

Technically, Multi-Service is two to five services represented. Joint-Service is all six. Sometimes we say partial or full joint service.

Who commands?

The senior service officer or, in the case of the color guard, the senior service non-commissioned officer who is the national color bearer.

What techniques are used?

Regulation Drill. This is drill and ceremonies that comes out of TC 3-21.5, MCO 5060.20, and AFMAN 36-2203. The US military has three drill and ceremonies manuals. We used to have one drill standard that Baron von Steuben created for the Continental Army that the Marines used as well.

That served our nation well for many years until before, during, and after the Civil War era when certain officers (COLs William J. Hardee, 1820; and Silas Casey, 1862) began to experiment and come up with variations to von Steuben’s original writings. From there, we began to write separate drill and fighting techniques, including the Navy’s Landing Party Manual.

Ceremonial Drill. This is drill and ceremonies that comes out of manuals that are not used outside of a ceremonial setting. For example, only Air Force and Space Force Base Honor Guards are authorized to train using Air Force Honor Guard-developed Standards contained in AFMAN 34-515.

The same goes for US Army Active Duty, National Guard, and Reserve honor guards that follow the 3rd Infantry, Old Guard, standards. The Marine Corps uses MCO 5060.20 only while Marine Barracks Washington has it’s own Barracks Order that details their ceremonial standards. The Navy and Coast Guard are the same, following the MCO while the ceremonial teams in and around DC have their own written standards.

When the honor guards get together, the senior service standards apply, whether ceremonial or regulation. As an example here, when on the plaza of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or full joint service ceremony anywhere else, US Army ceremonial standards are followed.

This is great to know, but where is it written that the senior service standards are used?

Here (bold emphasis mine):

E8.5. COLOR GUARDS

E8.5.1. In public programs for which DoD support has been authorized and at which the display of the U.S. flag and the flags of the Military Services is applicable, a Joint Armed Forces Color Guard shall be employed, when available, using the following composition:

E8.5.1.1. Two Army bearers with the U.S. flag and Army flag.

E8.5.1.2. One each Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, [Space Force will go here -DM] and Coast Guard bearer with individual Military Service flags.

E8.5.1.3. One Army and one Marine Corps rifleman, as escorts.

E8.5.2. When a Joint Armed Forces Color Guard, as specified in paragraph E8.5.1., above, cannot be formed, the senior member of the senior Military Service in the color guard shall carry the U.S. flag. The DoD Components shall be guided by DoD Directive 1005.8 (reference (t)).

E8.5.3. U.S. military personnel may carry the official national flag of foreign nations participating in official civil ceremonies, defined as a “public event,” that are funded, sponsored, and conducted by the U.S. Federal Government or a State, county, or municipal government, when an official of the nation concerned is present in an official capacity to receive such honors, and the official is one for whom honors normally are rendered. In all other public programs or ceremonies, U.S. military personnel in uniform and in an official capacity are not authorized to carry flags of foreign nations, veterans groups, or other non-military organizations.

DODI 5410.19, Nov. 13, 2001

b. Color guards carrying the Navy and Marine Corps service colors will consist of five members, three Marines and two Navy members. The national color bearer and commander of the color guard will be a Marine.

c. A Joint Armed Forces Color Guard will consist of eight members; three Army, two Marine, one Navy, one Air Force, [Space Force will go here -DM] and one Coast Guard. The national color bearer and commander of a joint color guard will be a Soldier. The respective service colors are aligned to the left of the national colors as depicted in figure 7-4c. For color guards involving service academies, reserve or National Guard colors, refer to enclosure 2, chapter 3, for the proper precedence.

MCO 5060.20, May 15, 2019

2.11.7.20. In Joint Service Color Teams, the Army carries the United States Flag and commands the color team as the senior Service. The rifle guard nearest the United States Flag is Army and the rifle guard furthest from the United States Flag will be a Marine.

AFI 34-1201, August 18, 2020

Now that you have read all of that, I have a question for you. Why would the commander have to learn another standard? The answer is, they don’t. That would not make sense.

We have to know what the manuals say and what they don’t.

Can Any Event Have a Colors Presentation?

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Can anyone request a colors presentation for any event? Must the event be formal and military only? Just a short time ago, I received a message through my website asking if an organization could have a color guard present the colors for their annual fundraising gala.

The Message

The Organization of location Chapter Number is a DOD Veterans Service Organization. We have had galas where a color guard posted the colors. It has been brought to our attention that we should not be presenting the colors because our fundraising gala is not a formal military event. What is the correct protocol to present the colors at our event?

My Response

Whenever I receive questions like this through my website or social media, I envision one of two situations: 1) someone sincerely came to you wondering if protocol allows a colors presentation or, 2) a know-it-all barked at and belittled you. I very much hope it was the former and truly appreciate those who want to ensure proper flag and color guard protocol is followed.

Whoever said you should not have a colors presentation is misinformed. Anyone at just about any occasion may present the colors. There is no restriction on presenting the colors for an event, marathons, car races, school board meetings, city or county council meetings, and even horse riding competitions have colors presentations, none of which are a “formal military event”.

Colors Presentation at Golf Tournament – how much less of a “formal event” can we get?

If you wished, you could invite the Boy Scouts, a local veterans group, police or fire department honor guard or Explorers, Sea Cadets, Civil Air Patrol, Young Marines, ROTC, JROTC, or local military color guard to present the colors for your event. Your fundraising gala is just fine for a colors presentation. I suggest that you have a US and state flags already preposted before your event and then the color guard can enter to formally present, Star-Spangled Banner (played or sung), and then the team departs. Simple.

Presenting, Posting, and Retrieving

When it comes to presenting and then posting the colors (placing the staffs in stands), the event must be formal (sit-down evening meal- black tie). For retrieving/retiring the colors, the event should be even more formal (very formal- white tie). Depending on your location, posting could be limited to once a month or fewer times. Retrieving the colors would be at a yearly event. Why? Because posting the colors and retrieving the colors are supposed to be uncommon, special occasions. The more common posting the colors becomes, the danger of the ceremony becoming less special looms ever closer.

I mentioned location as a factor above and I will explain what I mean by that. The Presidential service honor guard units in and around Washington DC are presenting and posting the colors several times a day for informal, formal, and very formal events. The same goes for some National Guard teams around state capitols. The farther you go from these political centers, the less formal events become on a regular basis. It just depends.

The Show-N-Go

The Show-n-Go is the most common, or at least, should be the most common presentation technique used by a color guard. This technique entails a pre-posted set of colors already displayed. The color guard then enters the room, marches up to centered on the audience, formally presents the colors, remains for the Star-Spangled Banner, and departs. No posting of the colors.

Why would not posting the colors be a preferred method? Several reasons: (1) Using another organization’s flags is inappropriate, (2) only presenting requires the least amount of training for the team when honor guards are Active Duty, National Guard, and Reserve ceremonial units are Congressionally mandated for Military Funeral Honors first with everything else taking a back seat, and (3) not every event is formal enough for posting.

Usually, the Protocol office has a complete set of flags and preposts them. The BHG then presents their set. BHG teams should have at least two sets of colors for every occasion that is usual to their particular location.

But Only One American Flag is Authorized at Ceremonies!

There is no “one American flag only” rule. It’s a myth. If this rule existed, every time the President speaks, his protocol team that sets up multiple US and presidential seal flags, is breaking the rules. Not to mention a sports stadium with a large flag on a tall pole and then a color guard on the field. I’m sure there are many more examples.

Having only one flag at an event was the personal preference of General Douglas McArthur and the knowledge of that standard being elusive and yet “somewhere” has existed ever since.

Now, the way some politicians and others alternate the US flag with another flag to make the “Media Wall Flag Display” is inappropriate because it puts the US in an inferior position.

The next two images show flags displayed properly.

Example of correct protocol for flag display
Example of correct protocol for flag display

In the image directly below, you can see different finials (flagstaff topper) and different length staffs. That makes three protocol issues in one display.

Inappropriate flag display

In this last image, a still from a video, there is one more American flag off to the left that you can barely see. The display starts off correctly, but the Second and third American flags are in the inferior position.

Inappropriate flag display

Politics and other Flags

US military and cadets in uniform cannot present colors at a political rally or any event that would imply endorsement of a candidate or party.

See also this article about using other organization’s flags. No one in uniform is authorized to carry unofficial flags.

Official and Unofficial USAF Flags

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As much as it may cause discomfort for some readers, facts outweigh feelings. I updated the #NotTheUSAFFlag tag on Instagram to include a couple more posts of mine. I do not mind being respectfully challenged, sometimes it’s the only way we get to learn. But the research I accomplished this morning has only solidified my stance.

I Chinese Communist Party Plot?

Within about an hour’s worth of research and I noticed a couple more of my Instagram posts of color guards that I didn’t recognize as carrying the Chinese knockoff novelty flag.

USAF Seal flag

Above is the official US Air Force seal on a flag, which is not an authorized flag. This is what is called a novelty flag. A novelty flag would be one for your favorite sports team, a corporation, or even a school.

Even the Thin Line series of flags that have the image of the American flag in black and white with a colored line or lines to identify military, law enforcement and more, looks like they are inappropriately using the stars and stripes (I’ll agree with that). However, technically, since there are no red stripes and no blue canton, it’s not infringing on the Flag Code and is just another novelty flag.

USAF Emblem flag

Novelty flags are everywhere and sometimes it’s difficult to tell what is official and what is not. The flag above uses the US Air Force Emblem and is approved by USAF Public Affairs for use when use of the USAF Seal is not authorized. Only the Emblem may be used for public/commercial use and requires an official license agreement.

Covering All Bases

Let’s make sure we identify everything necessary here. You may see flags with the following images, they also are novelty flags and not authorized for color guards to carry.

The USAF Symbol
The USAF Signature

Before we Finish…

I wanted to just briefly touch on our newest service, the US Space Force.

Below, is the official US Space Force departmental flag when it was presented to then President Trump. This is the only authorized Space Force flag and must have silver-colored fringe. Note: going into 2022, there is a shortage of silver fringe and some USSF flags will have white fringe. No other flag is authorized to be carried in military color guards.

This is the US Space Force logo:

US Space Force logo

For more information, contact:

Air & Space Forces Intellectual Property Management Office
Air Force Public Affairs Agency
555 E Street East
Bldg T-581
JBSA-Randolph, TX 78150

Governing directives for the information in this article: 10 U.S.C. § 2260, 15 U.S.C. § 167; 1114-1125, DODI 5535.12 and DAFI 35-114, Air Force Branding and Trademark Licensing Program, and DOD Guidelines about the use of DOD Seals, Logos, Insignia, and Service Medals. All of these links are available here.

Presenting the Colors at a Sporting Event

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In 2017 I was talking with one of the JROTC instructors at one of the local high schools where I have taught in the afternoons and he was relaying the story of their color guard presenting the colors for a professional ball club and how the training I gave the team really helped since it provided the cadets and the instructors with a repertoire of moves from which they could choose to make their colors presentation look as professional as possible. “Education is key”! Let’s get into presenting the colors at a sporting event. First, information for the announcer.

For the Announcer

Here is a great article on what to announce for the different situations announcers may encounter. Read the article from sportsannouncing.com. Here is a snippet from the article, All About Presenting the Colors. Please read it for a full understanding of presentation methods and techniques.

While there may be other anthems representing certain people groups, they are not afforded the same protocol as a national anthem. The public is not required to stand or place their hand over their heart. Let’s take the Black Anthem as an example.

While I am in no way suggesting disrespect should be shown to a piece of music that may have meaning to a number of people, it is not at the same level as a national anthem and is not accorded the protocol of standing and placing the right hand over the heart, a military hand salute, or even the color guard going to Present Arms with the rifle guards at the position of Present and the non-national flag dipped forward. If this other music is played, the color guard should only stand at the position of Attention if on the court/field and after that music has finished, the commander of the team gives “Present, ARMS!” and the Star-Spangled Banner is then played or sung.

The announcer can say, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Black Anthem.” After it is finished the announcer should say, “Ladies and gentlemen, please rise, (men remove your hats, and place your right hand over your heart) for the Star-Spangled Banner.” Here is where the color guard would go to Present Arms and the anthem would then begin.

Now, we will cover which direction the team should face. This is all about communication to the audience.

Which way does the team face?

A cadet contacted me on Instagram asking about the proper direction to face for presenting the colors. That is an excellent question! Below, the images concentrate mainly on professional events where the team must hit a certain mark for the TV cameras. However, there are high school and college games that come into play, although many college games, if not all, are probably on the same level of a professional event with TV cameras.

High School Games

I appreciate why a team would stand at the 20 yard line (or the top of the key, for instance) face the opposite end zone instead of the home team stands and fully support that thinking, this is exactly what my color guard used to do while I was drum major of my high school band. Doing it is very appropriate and here is why: it’s a game, not a war. Yes, I understand that some may build a sport up to the level of “doing battle on the field”, but it’s not even close and this is not about the three types of respect or sportsmanship. The other team is not made up of enemies. The other side of the field or court is full of spectators; parents and grandparents who are out to see their student play his or her heart out. Everyone is there to support their team and enjoy the sport. Facing only one side does not create a sense of mutual respect.

In General

There are different ways to enter, position, and exit a sports field. Some, provide a unique “problem” on how to accomplish the ceremony while keeping the flag in the primary spot (to the marching right or in front). Once you read this, you will not encounter any more “problems”, you will have the tools necessary to navigate those issues.

Below I have used images to illustrate the different ways to enter and exit the different fields you may come across. If it is a professional or even college sport, your team may have to hit certain spot at a certain time while facing a certain direction for the TV camera all coordinated with the timing for the broadcast.

For this, I suggest moving to your position at Port (flags and rifles/axes), post at your spot, and then go to Right Shoulder/Carry and then Present as the announcer asks the audience to stand.

If you will stage in the tunnel (off field), go to Right Shoulder/Carry, and enter and post with the camera on the team the whole time, you will have to coordinate halting, facing, and going to Present as smoothly and quickly as possible.

Basketball Court/Football Field/Soccer Pitch

For this setup, the team forms up in column formation and waits. At the cue, the team marches forward, rounding their corners (no flanks!), and moving into position.

Moving to center court/field: The team may wait at the sideline and again wait for another cue, or continue marching forward once in line formation and hit their mark for the presentation. An alternate to this is rounding the corner at the key and executing Every Left On at center court. The same principles apply for football and baseball. Below are examples.

Basketball Court
Football Field
Soccer Pitch

Baseball

Entrance from the viewer’s right. For this setup, the team marches out to in front of the pitcher’s mound, or in front of/behind second base in column formation, picks up Mark Time at a predetermined spot, and executes a Colors Turn-On or halts and executes Left Face. The exit would then be either a Colors Turn-Off to exit to the viewer’s left, or Every Left Off to retrace the path of entry.

Baseball Diamond Colors Presentation

Ice Hockey Rink

The first setup involves entering, traveling down the carpet and presenting to the right. You cannot start with the American flag last in line and then face to the right. The American flag leads in column formation and the team executes Every Left On. To exit from here, the team execute a Colors Turn-Off or a Right Face.

Ice Hockey Colors Presentation to the Right
Ice Hockey Colors Presentation to the Right

The second setup involves traveling down the carpet and presenting to the left. This involves Colors Turn-On or Left Face. To exit from here, the team must have the lead/right rifle/axe guard step off first and then every team member steps off in sequence with Every Left Off.

Ice Hockey Colors Presentation to the Left
Ice Hockey Colors Presentation to the Left

Coordination

Once the team is in position, giving Present Arms right away would be a good idea instead of waiting for the first note. That way, the Anthem can begin on the visual signal of the color team going to Present.

If you are a trained and certified Ceremonial Guardsman, remember, you are the ceremonial expert everywhere you go, you are the one to tell the hosting organization what you do, how you do it, and when. You must have a knowledge of flag protocol.

Departing

I also suggest that, when leaving, you give the command, “Port, Arms”, which brings the colors down to your side (you have finished your job and are no longer the focus) and depart.

Posting the Colors Outside

DrillMaster Color Guard/Color Team 4 Comments

Let’s get this out of the way, when asked to formally post the colors in stands outside, don’t. Just don’t do it. Let’s look closely.

Most every colors presentation should not be a posting. Posting the colors is for a formal situation and an outside ceremony either should have the color guard itself post (standing off to the side) or just enter, formally present for the anthem, and then depart without posting the flags. This type of presentation is called a Show-n-Go and should be the most common sequence for the color guard. See All About Posting and Presenting the Colors.

Outside? Pre-Post.

Every public event should have an American flag displayed somewhere. Since the ceremony is outside, is there a flagpole nearby? If so, that requirement is covered. If not, you may want to pre-post an American flag with some heavy weight around the stand. Having a color guard come in to formally present and then leave is perfectly acceptable.


Low-neck flag stand

High-neck flag stand

Back yard umbrella stand

The trouble with the low-neck stand is that it does not adapt well to being outside, even if heavily weighted, since there is little support for the staff. This can be remedied by adding a tube (see Color Guard Flag Stand Problems Resolved). The high-neck stand has a bit better stability, but still cannot handle wind gusts. What may be best is a backyard umbrella stand that can be filled with quite a bit of sand.

The photo at the top is the weight and stand system used in and around Washington DC. This particular photo is of President Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery where the flags are posted for the day to commemorate his birthday.

For the preposted flag… No fringe. Fringe frays easily. Fringe attached to the American flag goes against the Flag Code anyway (see Flag Fringe and Finial Theory). An embroidered rayon banner material will be destroyed in windy conditions. Use nylon, 2-ply poly or Supratex. Also no streamers, for the same reason: once they get frayed a bit by the wind, they turn into a ball of thread. And they bleed if it rains.

DeVaughn Simper, Vexillologist (Professor Flag), contributed significantly to this article.

Flag Orientation on the Casket

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See also, All About the Flag on the Casket.

There is a proper way to place the flag on the casket and we will look at purely the orientation and not how to place it or the procedures for changing it. Having said that, changing the orientation can be as simple as bunching up the flag and reorienting it in the proper direction, but that is if it is caught before the ceremony.

If the flag is oriented incorrectly and the honor guard is now standing in front of the next-of-kin (NOK), it’s time for Stars-Over-Stripes if it is upside down or backwards. No need to change anything if it is upside down and backwards.

Always place the flag with the canton over the left shoulder of the deceased. This display maintains the standards set forth in the Flag Code where the canton is always in the upper left. With the NOK seated in their proper palce, you can see how that looks.

In the above illustration, we see the standard set up of the flag-draped casket and the placement of the NOK. If at all possible, the NOK should not be located anywhere else.

Correct and incorrect flag orientation and the terminology

Above, we have the four possibilities of draping the flag on the casket.

Note- the flag is ONLY draped on a casket (four sides), coffin (six sides, rarely used in the USA), and the transfer case. It is not draped on anything else, especially not the casket shipping container for commercial flights.

“Cutting the Colors”

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There is a very strange story about a line of flags and members of the military and veterans not being authorized to walk in between them. Most of this is a load of fertilizer that is quite deep.

It Goes Something like This

When you place two or more American flags in a line, you are not supposed to walk in between them. It is an actual RULE in the military. With flags AND with servicemen in line formation. You don’t ‘cut’ through lines of military or lines of flags. It’s called cutting colors. There is a poem about the space between two flags representing the graves of soldiers who died defending freedom.

It’s not exactly common knowledge with the general public, but it’s common knowledge with military members.

Let’s Begin with the Truth

“Hey, no cuts in line!” For any formation, we do not walk between squads/elements except during an inspection. We do not walk between ranks unless in a training scenario. In larger formations we do not walk between platoons or companies. Again, a training scenario would be different, but only the trainers cut through any and all lines.

For a color guard, we do not walk between the formation members whether there is one or more ranks. For a large states and territories flag formation (line or column), we do not walk between members, no matter how far apart the members are spaced.

Lastly, we do not walk in front of a formation, opting to move behind it if at all possible. All of these unwritten rules are what I call Formation Protocol.

Now for the Tall Tales

As far as “cutting the colors”, for flags that have been used for training purposes, they become stretched out considerably over time and for the first triangle fold we need to Cut the First Stripe. It has nothing to do with movement of people or even using scissors on the flag. This is the ONLY reference to any kind of cutting the colors except when retiring a huge flag. More on that here.

When you place two or more American flags in a line, you are not supposed to walk in between them. It is an actual RULE in the military.

No it’s not! This “rule” doesn’t even make sense. There is no such rule “in the military” or anywhere else for that matter.

It’s not exactly common knowledge with the general public, but it’s common knowledge with military members. 

Again, no, it’s not! It’s not common knowledge for anyone because it simply is not true at all.

There is a poem about the space between two flags representing the graves of military members who died defending freedom.

We don’t create standards from poems, just to let you know. The poem is known only to members of a certain veterans group. This group, of which I’ve been a member since just after my retiring from the USAF (’06), has created a tradition (not a rule) for the organization. To force this tradition on anyone else is inappropriate at best. This tradition is about walking between the American flag and the organization’s flag. That’s it, nothing else.

Display Your Flags!

If you are going to place flags in an area for some sort of patriotic display, do it! We veterans appreciate these displays and being able to walk through the flags. It’s a meaningful reminder to us and others that some of our brothers- and sister-in-arms never made it home or made it home be means of a casket.

Multiple American flag displays can be so beneficial. They can raise awareness, honor a day or an event, and even raise funds. For the best information on how you can host a flag display, Healing Field.