NJROTC Cadets and Commands

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In my years of judging military drill competitions, I have encountered a peculiar situation with just about every Navy JROTC team. The team commander (platoon, squad, or color guard) calls the commands without the first letter of each word. Here is an example:

“‘Orward, ‘ARCH!”

I thought it might be one of those situations where one JROTC team does something different and others want to do it too because different is somehow “cool”. That’s not the case at all. Apparently Headquarters NJROTC teaches this technique as part of the summer leadership school curriculum (please correct me if I am wrong!). If this is the case, we have a big problem.

The issue with this is twofold: 1) The US Navy follows Marine Corps Order 5060.20 for drill and ceremonies and the command voice is addressed in this Order. NJROTC must take the information in the MCO and apply it uniformly across the command. 2) The sound of these commands is like listening to a monotone sea lion. It’s an abrupt, bark-like sound, devoid of the proper qualities.

The following voice characteristics are completely ignored when using the monotone-no-first-letter NJROTC technique (text in bold below is my emphasis).

MCO 5060.20 Says

f. A command must be given loud enough to be heard by all members of a unit.
(1) Good posture, proper breathing, and the correct use of throat and mouth muscles help develop a commander’s voice.
(2) Projecting the voice enables one to be heard at maximum range without undue strain. To project a command, commanders must focus their voices on the most distant individuals. Good exercises for voice projection are:
(a) Yawning to get the feel of the open mouth and throat.
(b) Counting and saying the vowel sounds “oh” and “ah” in a full, firm voice.
(c) Giving commands at a uniform cadence, prolonging each syllable.
(d) When practicing, stand erect, breathe properly, keep the mouth open wide, and relax the throat.
(3) The diaphragm is the most important muscle in breathing. It is the large horizontal muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen. It automatically controls normal breathing, but must be developed to give commands properly. Deep breathing exercises are one good method of developing the diaphragm. Another is to take a deep breath, hold it, open the mouth, relax the throat muscles, and snap out a series of fast “hats” or “huts.” Expelling short puffs of air from the lungs should make these sounds. If properly done, you can feel the stomach muscles tighten as the sounds are made.
(4) The throat, mouth, and nose act as amplifiers. They give fullness to and help project the voice. In giving commands, the throat should be relaxed. The lower jaw and lips should be loose. The mouth should be open wide and the vowel sounds (a, e, i, o, u) should be prolonged. Consonants (letters other than vowels) and word endings should be curt and sharply cut off.
(5) The position of attention is the proper position for giving commands (See figure 1-6a). A leader’s bearing will be emulated. If it is military, junior personnel will be inspired to respond to commands with snap and precision.
(6) Distinct commands inspire troops. Indistinct commands confuse them. All commands can be given correctly without loss of effect or cadence. To give distinct commands, you must emphasize enunciation; make full use of the tongue, lips, and lower jaw; practice giving commands slowly, carefully, and in cadence; and then increase the rate of delivery until the proper rhythm (112 to 120 beats per minute) is reached and each syllable is distinct. Raising the hand to the mouth to aid in projecting commands is not proper.
(7) Inflection is the rise and fall in pitch, the tone changes of the voice.
(a) Preparatory commands should be delivered with a rise and inflection in the voice. (e.g., “BaaaTALion,” “PlaaaTOON,” “FoorWARD,” “TO the REAR,” etc.) In particular those preparatory commands that cause supplemental movements should be heavily accentuated on the last syllable. (e.g., The command “Present, ARMS” the preparatory command Preee(pause)ZENT” causes those armed with swords to execute the first count of the movement and the national color to go to the carry. Another example is “Officers, Center, MARCH.” On the preparatory command of “OffiCERS” those armed with swords go to the carry, on the preparatory command of “CennnTER” the officer’s step and/or face)
(b) A command of execution is given in a sharper and higher pitch than the tone of the preparatory command’s last syllable. A good
command of execution has no inflection, but it must have snap. It should be delivered with sharp emphasis, ending like the crack of a whip. If properly given, troops will react to it with snap and precision.
(c) Combined commands such as “FALL IN” are delivered without inflection. They are given in the uniform high pitch and loudness of a command of execution.

MCO 5060.20 15 MAY 2019 Enclosure (1)

Notice how command voice qualities detailed in the MCO are the complete opposite of the technique that most NJROTC cadets seem to use. The MCO was written for a purpose, just like all other military manuals. We need to use it as it was intended.

The Loss of “Specialness”

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Certain things, when they become ubiquitous, can lose their special quality. Compound daily viewing with that object being everywhere and that object or moment becomes commonplace.

Flags

The American flag is one of those items. In the eyes of some, it’s just another piece of cloth. Many in the American public understand that it is not just some colored cloth, we understand that, even though the government might be running the country into the ground, the flag still stands for freedom, truth, etc. However, when Americans do not take care of their flag and hold it in high esteem, you get what we have today.

Take that idea and put the POW/MIA flag in the mix. As of 2020, this flag is now to be flown at every federal building. It’s never carried by military color guards, it is only carried for the funeral of a former POW as a personal color.

Taps

Let’s add to this idea and include the bugle call Taps. Taps is technically not “played” it is sounded and sounded only at specific times for very specific reasons. This is from Jari Villanueva, America’s Taps Bugler:

Taps serves a dual purpose: 1) To signal that the end of the day and that it’s time to go to sleep and, 2) To render honors at a military funeral or memorial service and only on a bugle or trumpet. Taps is not sounded just because the community or the nation is suffering a certain tragedy (real or perceived).

Note: When buglers are playing at a ceremony, they must be in view of the next of kin. All ceremonial elements must be in view.

And Another Thing…

The Firing Party is next on our list. A firing party is made up of a minimum of 4 members: 3 who fire and 1 to command; and the maximum number is 8 members: 7 to fire and 1 to command. The team does not shoot, it fires the Three Volley Salute. We find information about the firing party and when it executes its mission in Army Training Circular 3-21.5 and Marine Corps Order 5060.20. Both manuals have information for the team to fire during a funeral or memorial service and that’s it. A firing party does not fire a salute because it would be really cool or special. The Three Volley Salute is meant to show respect for a fallen comrade at a funeral, memorial or remembrance ceremony only. Traditionally, the firing party fires OVER THE GRAVE and we can extrapolate that to over the cremated remains or, if the remains have not been recovered, over the general area of where the next of kin.

Gun Salute at Marine Barracks Washington

A firing party does not fire the 21-gun salute. That is accomplished only by the cannons of the Army, Marine Corps, and Navy.

But, the Manuals Don’t Say We can’t…

This is selfishness. I’ve heard the arguments for all kinds of situations: “The manual doesn’t say we ‘can’t’ use metal staffs for color guard.” “The manual doesn’t say we ‘can’t’ fire a salute at the parking lot of the deceased’s favorite restaurant while his friends have wings and drinks in his honor.”

You are correct, the manuals do not have a long list of situations where the firing party (and Taps, for that matter) is not authorized. What you WILL find are the two situations where the firing of the Three Volley Salute is authorized. Look for what is there, not for what isn’t.

Unbelievable!

I was told by a social media friend that he saw a veteran service organization color guard during a parade in his town. The team marched to a certain point, stopped, the guards stepped out of formation, and fired. This kind of action needs to stop immediately. A color guard and firing party do not merge. We have manuals for a reason.

The “Bad” Honor Guard

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Usually, when I post and article, I will have a relevant photo as the main image that is above. Not for this one. This issue is too touchy. I have dozens of photos of veteran organizations with the colors backwards, wrong flag, etc., etc. I am not going to single out one team but want to post a nice calming rainbow and unicorn from dawnitabee.blogspot.com. :-)

I received a message not long ago

Good day sir, one of my local honor guards is very untrained, they are a group of older vets who don’t have the knowledge I believe nor the skill and I’m wondering how I should inform them, I don’t want to be ignorant or arrogant but rather help educate them because I think that’s what they deserve for the deceased and their families. They have a video on YouTube but is for me very hard to watch because of everything that’s wrong. Thank you for the help.

My reply

I understand exactly what you are saying and how you feel about the team. Many veteran teams barely have an idea of what they are doing, they just think they know.

The first “problem” is attitude. Not yours but theirs. It’s quite possible that they already know everything and will dismiss you as some dumb punk who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

The second “problem” is choosing what standards to follow. Army TC or Marine Corps Order? Sadly, just like many groups, veteran groups rarely read the manual, even if they choose one standard, and then train to that standard.

The third “problem” is confusion. If you are trained in the TC and they are using the MCO (or vice versa), you are going to have a tough time switching over to constantly make those small adjustments. Along with this is a veteran serving his/her 4 years and then having a life for 30+ years in the civilian world and coming back to serve on a local team without the ne

The last “problem” is how you approach them. By what you wrote I can tell you have a great concern for them, the vets they honor, and upholding standards so, I don’t think that’s an issue for you. There is some risk involved, but if you are respectful in how you present the situation to the team, even if they are using a different standard from what you are used to, it’s quite possible that you all could learn together.

Having said that, if a JROTC cadets approaches a group of vets out on a ceremony, the cadet may run into laughter at the audacity of attempting to correct the team. However, it’s quite possible that the JROTC cadet is better trained in colors- not so much with firing party or flag fold.

Anecdotal Evidence

When I first PCS’d (moved) to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan and eventually, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, I did not have an initial desire to join either BHG until I noticed certain issues with both teams. My approach to the NCOICs for the colors presentations I witnessed made all a difference. Having said that, the leadership, especially of the Spangdahlem BHG had NCOs who were open minded and willing to listen. I eventually joined both teams initially as a behind-the-scenes trainer and then as a performer due to a lack of personnel (a rampant problem overseas).

It’s a two-way street- respect must be in the conversation and ego needs to go away.

Teams: Be Receptive

If you are on your veteran service organization for all of the glory, you are definitely there for the wrong reason. Service with an honor guard unit is not about the individual, it’s about rendering honors without recognition. You are not “you”, you are a nameless member of a team firing the three volleys, folding and presenting the flag, or standing as a member of the color guard.

When anyone approaches you or your team, even if they are impolite, you must be polite. You don’t have to act on their words, but you represent more than yourself in that uniform and when rendering honors.

How Much Should I Practice?

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This is a great question that I receive every so often. So, here’s an example of how you can begin spinning a rifle (or any other type of practice) and progress to a level of proficiency with which you are comfortable.

You are not going to be a world champion in six months after picking up a rifle for the first time. Patience, time, effort, hard work, dedication, etc., etc. are what it takes to progress in any activity.

I must say this here: You should not put undue pressure on yourself (or your team). Do not compare yourself (your team) to others. I know that when you go to a competition, you are ranked and rated against others, but don’t let that be your only gauge. Your competition is YOU. You (your team) needs to improve with each practice- even slightly. Constant improvement should be your goal. Trophies, ribbons, and other awards should be last on the list of achievements. They are fine, but if they are the ultimate goal, you are in for a big letdown. Achievement, progress, and improvement should be at the top of the list.

Don’t expect significant improvement in a week. At the beginning improvement will be very slow. It will increase.

Learning Phases

There is a cycle to training.

  • Beginning Education – Read everything you can about what you are to learn
  • Training – The initial learning the task
  • Practice – repetition of the task or tasks
  • Training – New task
  • Practice – Repetition of new task to include previous tasks
  • Repeat Education – Refer back to your original or updated training materials
  • Continuing Education – intermediate or advanced information
  • Training or Retraining – Continue the process or correct any action discovered in the previous Education phase
  • Practice – repetition of the task or tasks
  • Training – New task
  • Practice – repetition of the task or tasks
  • Repeat

Practice

If you can only practice once a week for an hour, then you will achieve a level of proficiency that is commensurate with that amount of practice. NOTE- there is nothing wrong with this if this is all you can do, just make you training and practice as effective as possible. However, you must realize that others with whom you will compete are probably going to practice more. All performers/teams should be cheering each other on, regardless.

The same goes for practicing 10 hours each week- you will achieve a level of proficiency that is commensurate with that amount of practice. It’s similar for equipment. Your equipment can be a limitation. If you (or your unit) can only afford the lighter drill rifle for spinning, then that’s what you have and you should do your best to work with it. The effort you put forth is also going to come into play in how proficient you become. Are you willing to get up at 0400 to make it to practice at the field house or gym because 0500 is the only time the drill team can get at school? Are you willing to practice on your own?

To summarize:

The factors that affect your proficiency:

  • Time (how much time you can put into training and practice)
  • Equipment (the type of equipment you have at present)
  • Effort (how much hard work you are willing to put forth)

Rifle Spinning and More

This will be specific to learning how to spin a rifle, but can apply to anything.

First, don’t neglect what you have to do each day. Next, if you can put in only 15 minutes of practice each day, fine. Thirty minutes is good to start with. Sixty minutes is very good later on. Last, when you first begin, you don’t want to try to spin for an hour your first day and then end up with an injury or muscle strain. Yes, you are using muscles in a new way and they may ache, but you must build up your stamina and some people take longer than others.

Master the basics, add, master, add, master, etc. (refer to the Phases above). That means if you are going to begin rifle exhibition drill, master the manual of arms for your service and I mean MASTER those moves- know them inside and out and be able to execute them with minimal mistakes. Then, and only then, begin to explore individual exhibition moves. Work from simple to complex. You may find the simple moves too simple and want to skip over some- don’t. Learning everything you possibly can is how you are going to get more familiar with the rifle.

Familiarity with the rifle is key to communicating the quality of effortlessness when performing and that is what you want. It also gives you the ability to ad-lib (create on the fly or, what some call, monkey drill). The more familiar you are with that rifle, the better off you will be if you make a mistake during an exhibition drill performance.

Below are some beginning (and a couple advanced) videos of exhibition drill moves both for the rifle and marching.

For ANY Practice – Repetition

Whether you are working on ceremonial drill, regulation drill, or exhibition drill, you need to master a new task to become proficient and then move on to learning a new task. That takes repetition.

  • Vertical Repetition – repetition at one practice session
  • Horizontal Repetition – repetition over several practice sessions (not the same day)

Just one hour or even one day will NOT make you an expert or necessarily proficient to perform later that day (are you reading this Just-in-Time trainers?), it will take days or even a few weeks of repetition to master the task and create the necessary muscle memory.

Muscle Memory

Muscle memory: The physiological adaptation of the body to repetition of a specific physical activity resulting in increased neuromuscular control when performing that activity again.

Standing at Attention takes a certain amount of muscle memory. Really. For example, if you stand with bent, hiked elbows, looking like you are ready to attack someone ( I did when I first entered AFJROTC in 1979), you have that muscle memory, but it needs to be changed to where your arms are relaxed. The same goes for any movement.

Mnemonic: What the Marine Corps calls a “Ditty” is a technique for memorization and, in our case – drill and ceremonies, it’s also used to maintain tempo. This can be as simple as saying, “One-Two” while executing a Right Face or something more complex.

The Seven Principles of Learning

This is really good to have in the back of your mind as you train others/yourself. Courtesy of Principles of Learning.

Principle #1 – Potential. Humans are endowed with an inherent potential for increase in capacity, the establishment of habit, and the definition of being.

Principle #2 – Target. Human potential may be channeled intentionally toward a specific, predetermined target of learning, or will otherwise follow incidentally from the conditions to which a person is subjected.

Principle #3 – Change. Learning is a specific type of change, which is governed by principles of (a) repetition, (b) time, (c) step size, (d) sequence, (e) contrast, (f) significance, and (g) feedback.

Principle #4 – Practice. Principles of change are activated and aligned with learning targets through models of practice, exercise, or experience.

Principle #5 – Context. Learning is facilitated by a context of practice that is the same as, or accurately represents, the context of performance.

Principle #6 – Engagement. Learners will often engage in certain activities as a matter of habit, though they are also influenced by their current capacity to engage, as well as factors of motivation and inhibition related to the activity as a whole, part of the activity, its circumstances, or its expected results.

Principle #7 – Agency. Learners are not passive recipients of learning, but active agents with the ability to choose how they will apply their attention and effort, and to choose what learning activities they will engage in. Others may exercise their agency to promote or inhibit the agency of the learner, and may play a role in facilitating or impeding successful learning.

“Are you stupid?”

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When I was teaching at a local high school here in Florida a few years ago I asked a cadet a question in front of the rest of the team at drill practice. The question was, “Are you stupid?” Another, reactionary, cadet lit into me because she thought I was insulting him. After telling her and a couple of others to calm down, I asked him again, “Well, are you stupid?” With a sheepish look on his face, he replied, “No.” I think he knew where I was going with the question. I said, “Of course not! You are a bright young man, you do really well in school (his grades in math were outstanding) and on this team. So then, why do you screw around when it’s time to work?”

Everyone then understood my point. Discipline yourself so others don’t have to.

Praise in Public

I know, someone reading this is probably infuriated that I would “punish in public”. It’s discipline, not punishment. Since the 1990s we have been getting punishment and discipline confused.

Discipline

  • Control gained by enforcing obedience or order
  • Orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior
  • SELF-CONTROL
  • Punishment*

Of course disciplining someone can be a form of punishment, we need to understand that, but that’s not part of my job. Instilling discipline in others is part of my job. It’s a fine line.

Punish in Private

The last part of the phrase in the previous subtitle.

Punishment

  • Suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution

What I have described here does not come close to punishment.

But, why in public?

Regarding the original story, because the action was in public and others need to see that it is unacceptable. Is it embarrassing for the individual? Of course, that’s part of the process. However, I leave it behind, it’s over with. I forget about it as it has already been dealt with and I involve the individual in the training again. My dwelling on it or my allowing anyone else to dwell on it will degrade the session and result in fruitless and wasted time.

Public discipline is a great way to teach many at once using a negative situation. When we just ignore bad behavior or treat it privately and only publicly reward good behavior, we are missing a valuable opportunity.

Teaching

We all do stupid things, especially when a teenager. Teenagers are awful and wonderful all at the same time. I’ve been teaching them since 1986 and it’s been a maddening, frustrating, stressful, challenging, exciting, educational, fun, creative, thrilling experience!

A note on the featured image at the top of the page: The two female cadets and I staged the photo. I was trying to look as if I was being stern, but they kept laughing.

The Presidential Return Salute

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President Reagan is the man who began the Presidential Return Salute.

General of the Army
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Civilians do not return a salute, they aren’t military. Even a President who served in any branch of the US military, serves as the civilian head of the Armed Forces as Commander-in-Chief. As an example, President Eisenhower never returned a salute while he was in office even though he was a General of the Army (5-star).

While the President is the only civilian who receives a direct salute (one-on-one), all civilians may receive an indirect salute (like in a cordon).

5-19-1987 President Reagan returns direct salutes descending the steps of Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base

President Reagan, wanted to show his respect to those on Marine One, Air Force One, and at the White House. It wasn’t enough for him to just receive, he wanted to do something in return.

Each President since has continued the tradition to varying degrees (I do not think this is the place to get into the terrible salutes of each subsequent US head of state). I understand why President Reagan did it and that if any President after him would have discontinued the tradition, he would have been vilified, but I wish they’d stop.

The Wrong Flag at the Wrong Time in the Wrong Place

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The main picture of this article, above, is of Hamilton County (OH) Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) personnel raising a Thin Blue Line flag (a novelty flag, more here) after rioters took down the American flag.

I understand that these are trying times for us all and that law enforcement officers (LEOs) are under even greater pressure than usual. Adding to that pressure is not what any of us should do, even unwittingly.

This article is for educational purposes and is meant to communicate respectfully to our nation’s law enforcement community and anyone else it can help. I have respect for all first responders and have been training LEO, Fire, and EMS honor guards since 2013. I’m aware of the selfless sacrifice of first responders to their communities. I’m also aware of the hatred for LEOs and the single act an officer can do to tarnish the whole Blue Family. For those reading this who do not understand why respect is always given, please read this.

The Wrong Flag

Gadsden Flag

Replacing an American flag due to damage (fading, tears, or theft, etc.) is accomplished with another American flag or, at the very least, a state flag, temporarily.

Raising one of our historic flags, the Gadsden Flag, for example, would have been perfect. The deputies in this photo could have even strung up a rioter’s underwear- better yet, a rioter in his underwear.

These thin line flags do not represent the country, we already have a flag for that. They are only for specific communities: the military and first responders. Although I do understand the reasoning behind them, I’m not a huge fan of the Thin Line flags, but the black and white thin line flag with a colored stripe is not against the Flag Code. I just don’t appreciate a flag that looks like a corrupted American flag/National Ensign.

What? “A takeover”?

That’s crazy talk! There is no way that was intended! I’ve already received the private messages through my social media accounts assuring me that this instance was benign. I honestly think raising that flag was the result of good intentions. It was just a really bad choice.

The Wrong Time

In the middle of protests and riots, we do not need to communicate an inflammatory message. Most likely, the HCSO deputies in the picture had every intention of honoring and did not realize the implications of tyranny. There is not “good” time

The Wrong Place

Raising the Thin Blue Line flag here is absolutely 100% inappropriate. The flag was raised in front of the Hamilton County Justice Center, a government building. If it was a private home and flagpole, no problem. raising a non-governmental flag in place of the American is tantamount to signaling a takeover. The action in the photo unofficially communicated that the US government in the area had been toppled and that the police had taken over. I truly hope that is not what is intended here.

May our Lord and Savior bring peace to our land.

Do we Salute Foreign National Flags and Anthems?

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Yes. Foreign nations of a friendly status.

Saluting Foreign Flags

Army

2-5. b. Foreign national flags. (Normally, these are displayed in alphabetical order using the English alphabet).

Chapter 4 (7) Dipping the flag. The U.S. Army Ceremonial flag is an organizational color and is therefore dipped while the U.S. National Anthem, “To the Color,“ or a foreign national anthem is played.

AR 840-10 (15 June 2017)

15-3. Salutes

a. 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.

TC 3-21.5 (20 January 2012)

Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard

The MCO is not slear as to salutes to foreign national flags and anthems, I can assure you that the all three of these services do render honors to foreign national flags and anthems. I researching more.

Chapter 4, 1. Miscellaneous Flags, 4. …the flag of the foreign nation will be carried by a separate color guard (normally three Marines). This color guard will be preceded by a Marine Corps color guard during the ceremony.

MCO 10520.3 (15 May 2019)

Air Force and Space Force

7.35. Salutes by Flags.
7.35.1. The Air Force departmental flag is an organizational flag and is dipped while the National Anthem, “To the Color,” musical honors for CSAF or higher or a foreign national anthem is played.

AFMAN 36-2203 (19 June 2018)

2.11. Order or Precedence of Flags
2.11.2. Foreign national flags. Normally, these are displayed in alphabetical order using the English alphabet. When in NATO countries, NATO member country flags are displayed in French alphabetical order.

2.12. At no time will a foreign national flag be dipped.

2.22.8. The Air Force departmental flag is an organizational flag and is dipped while the national anthem, “To The Color,” musical honors for CSAF or higher, or a foreign national anthem is played.

AFI 24-1201 (9 June 2017)

Which Anthem is Played First?

Chapter 2 Flag Background
2.4.4. The performance of the national anthem of any foreign country will be followed, without pause, by playing the national anthem of the United States. When two or more foreign national anthems are played, the United States national anthem is performed last.

[DrillMaster edit] This information is for all locations and all services. When overseas and on base/American soil (Military Cemetery) the US anthem is last. When on foreign soil, the local national anthem is last unless predetermined otherwise.

AFPAM 34-1202 (10 January 2013)

Half Staff

I thought I would throw this in the mix as well. This information is also available here. This is for all bases overseas, no matter what service.

2.13.4. All flags displayed with the United States Flag should be flown at half-staff when the United States Flag is flown at half-staff with the exception of foreign national flags.

[DrillMaster edit] It depends on the Status of Forces Agreement with the country. Usually, the foreign national flag is never lowered to half staff/mast if the President has directed the American flag to half or its a standard American observance.

AFI 34-1201 (9 June 2017)

“Happy” Memorial Day

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I understand why you might think of or even say that phrase. But please, allow me to tell you why we who have served our country in the uniform of one or more of her armed forces, do not wish to ever hear that. It’s not necessarily a “happy” time.

And please, oh please, do not thank any of us for our service during this time.

The Sorrow

Many of America’s men and women deployed to different conflicts in foreign lands. Some came home in a flag-draped transfer case laden with their remains and dozens of pounds of ice. The memory of these men and women are what Memorial Day is all about.

June 18, 2016: The Memorial Wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC at dawn.

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department, a statement by the adjutant General of Massachusetts, that you are the mother of 5 sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine that would attempt to beguile you of the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from rendering to you the consolation that may be found, in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have ever laid so costly a sacrifice upon the alter of freedom.

Yours very sincerely and respectfully,

Abraham Lincoln

The Joy

Maybe some still cannot fathom how anyone could have joy at a time that recalls so much sacrifice. But, there is a certain joy. A joy of thankfulness that someone would stand up to tyranny. Someone who runs toward the danger. Someone who sticks their neck out for others and risks everything.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

John 5:13

The Negative

I am aware of the arguments that condemn the actions of combat. That condemnation belongs to those “elite” who make and profit from war, not the average Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman, or Coast Guardsman. Their heart is in the right place when that individual raises their right hand and takes the Oath of Enlistment or the Oath of (Office) Commissioning. I am also aware that Pres. Lincoln was a fascist and not everything we learn in history is, shall we say, accurate.

However, now is not the time to protest wars or stand on the flag. You have the right to free speech and to be ungrateful, disrespectful, and communicate in a most idiotic fashion, but maybe just not this weekend. Families are in mourning.

The Positive

Many honor guard members render honors every day. It’s what we do and, for many, what we love. It’s not as though anyone is filled with glee at the announcement of a funeral. We seek and relish the opportunities to render honors to our brothers and sisters who have gone before us. It is a truly fulfilling experience every single time.

I retired from the US Air Force in 2005 after serving for 20 years. During my time, my specialties did not necessarily deploy except on very rare occasions. That has changed since my time in the service. I served overseas and stateside, but I never went into a battle zone, by the grace of our Lord and Savior. I was given the opportunity to render honors to my fallen brothers and sisters as an Air Force Ceremonial Guardsman at several locations around the world.

I have given folded flags to the next of kin, and stood for hours on end as a member of a color guard for wreath laying ceremonies and commemoration ceremonies at many American Cemeteries where tens of thousands of our men and women are buried: St. Mihiel Cemetery, France; Luxemburg Cemetery, Luxemburg; Ardennes, France; Flanders Field Cemetery, Belgium, Henri-Chapelle Cemetery, Belgium; Netherlands (Margraten) Cemetery, Netherlands; Brittany Cemetery, France; Normandy Cemetery, France; Somme Cemetery, France; and Oise-Aisne Cemetery, France; and countless ceremonies at various sites throughout Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg, France, and even Germany.

To stand and stare at a sea of white crosses and stars was and still is humbling and the very least I could do to honor their memory.

All I’ve wanted to do is stand tall for them.

While the clip from the movie, Saving Private Ryan, is supposed to be emotional, the character saying to his wife, “Tell me I’ve led a good life, tell me I’ve been a good man” echoes a great deal of truth.

Have a wonderful weekend, enjoy the time with family and friends, and, if you would, even for just a moment, thank the fallen for their ultimate sacrifice. They believed they were protecting their friends and families and the future of our great nation and the free world.

The main picture is courtesy of my friend, former US Navy Ceremonial Guardsman Alec White who was a Casket Bearer with the Navy Ceremonial Guard in Washington, DC.

To the Rear March Official and Unofficial Techniques

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I’ve had a few questions about this over the years and I even put together a presentation on it that will be part of the online training offered here eventually.

The focus of this article is to explain exactly how the Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard are supposed to execute this from the commander’s point of view.

Test from MCO 5060.20: p 1-11,

  1. When giving commands, commanders face their troops.
    a. For company formations or larger, when commanding marching troops from the head of a column or massed formations, commanders march backward while giving commands.

That’s it. There is no other information for the commander when executing To the Rear March or other commands. However, some Marine Drill Instructors teach the following method:

The Unofficial Technique

This section title could also be: The Unauthorized Technique. Many Marines will tell you they’ve never heard of this and others will tell you that this is the only way to do it. Keep reading, please.

We will start with the formation commander (officer/NCO) facing the platoon in Line Formation.

The platoon is formed in Line Formation and the commander gives, “Right, FACE!”

Sea Cadets, Sea Scouts, MCJROTC, NJROTC, CGJROTC, and Young Marines team commanders take a position of and maintain a three-step distance at all times.

The commander then gives, “Forward MARCH!” while facing the formation and steps off with a Left Face-in-March
The team is marching in Column Formation with Squad Leaders leading
Marching in Column Formation, the commander gives, “To the Rear, MARCH!” and everyone executes the move in the manner described in the MCO
The commander gives, “To the Rear, MARCH!” and as the team begins the movement, the commander executes the first of two facing movements to the left

The technique for the commander here will be “MARCH!” on the right foot, bring the next left foot to the right to halt, Left Face, Left Face, step off.

As the team continues to execute the pivot, the commander executes his second Left Face and everyone steps off

The Official Technique

The MCO for drill and ceremonies does not have the two facing movements to the left. Replace them with a standard 180-degree pivot to the rear and everything else is the same.

So why is the above taught and not in the current MCO? Apparently, it was an oversight.

What to do in Competition?

The facing movement technique is not in the MCO, that technique should not be used. Will you be crucified by Marine, Navy, or Coast Guard judges because you did not execute them? Maybe, but not everyone knows of the two left facing movement technique. However, you have the MCO on your side and can challenge the judge’s decision.