The Three Flag “Codes”

DrillMaster Protocol and Flag Leave a Comment

The Beginning

In 1777, Congress described the flag of the United States and declared that it shall be 13 stripes alternating red and white, with 13 stars on a field of blue. With the passage of this law the flag was established. However, it was used was controlled largely by the War Department (later the Department of Defense), since flags were used primarily by the military.

Military Standards

Each branch developed their own regulations and protocols that addressed their unique needs.

Members of the United States Uniformed Services are required to follow the regulations for their respective branch. The regulations are not a buffet from which you can pick and choose which standards you follow. Each branch must stay within their published regulations with very few exceptions. One exception is Joint Military and Joint Armed Forces color guard formations.

Read about these standards in Army Training Circular 3-21.5, Army Regulation 840-10, Marine Corps Order, 5060.20, Marine Corps Order 4400.201 Vol 13, Air Force Pamphlet 34-2203, OPNAVINST 10520.1B, OPNAVINST 1710.7a (contains info from US Navy Regulations Chap 12), NTP 13(B), Air Force Manual 34-1201, and Air Force Pamphlet 34-1202. You can download all of them for free under Military Manuals on the Resources page.

Civilian Standards

When it came to flag use by civilians, there weren’t any clear instructions on how the flag should be displayed or carried. Civilians are NOT required to follow military regulations. An example of this would be folding the flag. Only the military requires the flag to be folded into a triangle. All civilians and even civil personnel (law enforcement, firefighters, etc.) can fold the flag into a rectangle or even roll it up.

What prompted the establishment of flag-related guidelines was the growing popularity of the flag following WWI and its increasing use in various contexts, such as public buildings, schools, and parades. As the flag’s use by civilians became more widespread, there was a need to ensure that it was treated with the proper respect and dignity.

Group portrait of female American Red Cross workers with uniformed boy scouts (possibly) with a Red Cross flag holding money, during a Red Cross parade, Birmingham, Alabama, May, 1918. US War Department photo.

One of the common problems back then was carrying a flag flat in a parade to collect donations for a cause. Money would be tossed into the flag for the organization. The Red Cross did this regularly. In the photo here you can see this. While this is a Red Cross flag, and nothing wrong with that, there is a similar photo of volunteers holding the American flag for the same purpose.

The flag is never carried flat. The Pentagon recently added that to flag guidance for the military.

If you are wondering about fringe on the flag and the cord and tassels, read this.

Similarly, the flag is not to be drawn up or festooned. as is unfortunately shown here by Utah’s Lt Governor in 2023.

In response, the National Flag Conference, held in Washington, D.C., in 1923, played a crucial role in developing a comprehensive set of guidelines for the flag’s use. Participants used the 1917 Army and Navy regulations, along with ideas/traditions from other countries, such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and other European nations. The recommendations of this conference formed the basis for the eventual United States Flag Code.

The U.S. Flag Code was officially codified in Title 4 of the United States Code, public law, in 1942. Although it needs expansion, it provides clear instructions on how the flag should be displayed, handled, and honored. The code was intended to instill a sense of reverence for the flag and to establish a common standard for its use across the nation.

International Standards

The United Nations (UN) has agreed upon standards for international flag display. And so does the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). And the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Some countries require fringe on their flag, others forbid it. All flags in countries that read left-to-right, are draped that way, but not all countries that read right-to-left display their flag that way (most do).

  • UN
    • UN members first alphabetically in English, then non UN members.
  • NATO
    • NATO is alphabetically in French.
  • IOC
    • Alphabetical order, as they appear in the host country language.

Read, Check, Understand, and Apply

When planning events it is important to know which set of rules the event falls under. If you are uncertain, contact your state protocol expert or a vexillologist.

Written with DeVaughn Simper, Resident Vexillologist at Colonial Flag

Cecilia Ignorant Comment

Severe Ignorance Concerning the Color Guard

DrillMaster Color Guard/Color Team Leave a Comment

I wrote the article, All About “Color Guard” and “Color Team” (please read it, it will help you understand this article) because of the use of the term “color team” in ceremonial drill and also because some in the military community act arrogantly toward marching band color guards. I never dreamed I would receive such a horrible, insulting comment from a marching band color guard girl in defense of what she thinks she understands.

The comment

While it’s in the photo above, a screen shot of the email I received when the comment was posted to the article, I’ll paste it here also.

I am a Highschool girl and I am in Color Guard. I spin “random colored flags”, riffles and sabers. I also dance and perform while I spin. I am not protecting anything nor do I feel associated with the military. I am In Color Guard  just not the ones you old DrillMasters know and remember.  No matter how much you guys hate us we will never stop and demote  the name of what we love to color team, since that is not what we are. We are the modern day Color Guard and we love what I do.


The Reply

I’m very disappointed in you, Cecilia ( it doesn’t matter if that is not your name). You did not grasp what I wrote and that makes me wonder if I did not write well enough for you (and others) to understand. I’m going to reread the article and see if I can make it better.

What might even be worse is that you did not bother to read my About page, or even glance at it. With just a tiny bit of effort, you would have seen that I have taught winter (indoor) guards and that I received certification as a General Effect Visual Judge from Color Guard Netherlands under the direction of Winter Guard International (WGI). I have been a visual judge for marching bands and drum corps for years. Instead, you decided that you would insult me and accuse me of hating marching band color guards.

You are defending nothing because all I did was explain that marching band color guards (MBCG, I use that longer term to help those in the military differentiate the two entities) began as military color guards, what we still have today. The great thing is that the MBCG began to expand and develop – something that a military color guard could never do.

You spin flag, rifle, and sabre (since that piece of equipment is associated with dance, the French spelling is used, not “saber”). Do you know where these weapons come from? Do you know that the flagstaff is actually also a weapon? I tried explaining the history that Drum Corps International and WGI have put out and associated it with what I do and have done for many, many years.

It is a privilege to carry on the name of “color guard member” for a marching band or drum and bugle corps. Lashing out as you did brings discredit and shame on the activity.

You should be ashamed of yourself for such a disrespectful and arrogant comment. I hope you come to your senses.

I Checked

I just read through the article that I originally posted back in 2013 and changed a couple of words and added a comma or two, but 99.99% of the words are the same as when I originally wrote it. My guess is that you didn’t bother to read anything. You assumed and reacted. Doing that is not going to serve you well at all in life. From now on, please read and even ask question to try and understand what someone else is attempting to communicate. The same goes for being face-to-face with someone- listen with the intent to understand and not try to fix or judge.

The Three “Joints”

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

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

Not that kind of joint…

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

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

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

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

First responders, read here.

Joint Military Services

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

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

Joint Armed Forces

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

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

When in congressionally declared war:

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

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

Joint Uniformed Services Order

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

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

Cadets are no Different

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

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

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

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

Joint, But Necessary?

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

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

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

Written with DeVaughn Simper, Resident Vexillologist at Colonial Flag.

Don’t Form a Color Guard

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I always look forward to all kinds of organizations forming color guards and seeing the results of educated, trained, and well rehearsed teams. Except…

Color Guard Information Comes From:

The Flag Code. There is basic information for carrying the American flag that fits well for many organizations/activities: scouts, marching band color guards, children’s groups, etc. It was made for civilians, however and based on Army and Navy flag guidance from around the WWI era.

Many other organizations that wear a uniform need more and you get it from:

Army Training Circular 3-21.5, Drill and Ceremonies, applies to the Army, AROTC, AJROTC, and any civil/civilian organization that chooses to follow the standards (first responders, scouting, etc.).

It states, “The Color guard consists of two (three) sergeants and two specialists or privates. It is an honor to be selected as a member of the Color guard. The senior (Color) sergeant carries the national Color and commands the Color guard. The senior (Color) sergeant gives the necessary commands for the movements and for rendering honors. Chapter 15, para 15-13.

Marine Corps Order 5060.20, Drill and Ceremonies, applies to the Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, NROTC, MCJROTC, NJROTC, Naval Sea Cadets, Young Marines, Coast Guard Auxiliary (CGA), Coast Guard Auxiliary University Program (CGAUP, ROTC-like), National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Public Health Service (PHS), Merchant Marine Academy (Merchant Mariners, MM), and any civil/civilian organization that chooses to follow the standards.

It states, “The standard Marine Corps color guard consists of four individuals of approximately equal height. Two noncommissioned officers are the color bearers and two other members, junior to the color bearers, are the color guards. The senior color bearer carries the national colors and commands the color guard. The junior color bearer carries the organizational colors, which is always on the left of the national colors.” Encl 1 Pt I, Chap 7, Para 5.

Air Force Pamphlet 34-1203, Drill and Ceremonies, applies to the Air Force, Space Force, AFROTC, AFJROTC, SFJROTC, Civil Air Patrol, AF Explorers, and Space Force Cadet Corps.

It states, “When practical, the color guard consists of two NCOs (the flagbearers) and two experienced Airmen or Guardians (the guards).” Chap 7, Sec 7E, para 7.32.

Some need more guidance and that comes in the form of ceremonial drill, which is found in my book, The Honor Guard Manual.

Do you notice a trend? Colors is an enlisted-only element. NCOs run colors guards. This does not apply to cadet programs. CAP tried to enforce cadet officers not staffing a color guard and it was a miserable failure. It doesn’t work for cadets and should not be a standard at that level. For adults, it’s a different story.

First Responders

This concept does not apply to you. Police and Fire officers take part in all aspects of honor guards in all positions, including the department’s color guard and there’s no problem with that.

State Guards and Militias?

NCOs run military color guards. The military manuals apply to you as well.

Officers Need Not Apply Here

The adult volunteers (program officers, they are not commissioned) in Civil Air Patrol, Naval Sea Cadet Corps, and Coast Guard Auxiliary, and the commissioned officers of NOAA and PHS should not form color guards.

CAP. Has only cadet-manned color guards. Adults are allowed by the program to fill in a color guard as a last resort- must be in the same uniform.

Sea Cadets. Has only cadet-manned color guards.

Coast Guard Auxiliary. Forms color guards manned by adult volunteers. Needs to use their Sea Scouts or others.

NOAA. Forms color guards manned by adult volunteers. Needs to use anyone else.

Public Health. Forms color guards manned by adult volunteers. Needs to use anyone else.

Merchant Mariners. The Academy follows the standards laid out in the MCO and Mariners mind their own business and do their jobs without trying to be #ceremonialer. Thank you.


There’s a very good reason above, colors is NCO-driven and most of these organizations in this article do not have NCOs, and that should be enough. You are all officers (commissioned or not) and colors is not an officer element. That should be enough, but it isn’t, apparently. The last reason, which is going to cause some discomfort with some: none of the color guards from these organizations has ever been correct that I have seen since I began this journey in 2013 and researching as far back as possible. You seem to have no concept as to proper equipment, techniques, or procedures. You buy whatever flag set conveniently pops up in your browser and never pay attention to governing directives. Some attempt is made but not often.

NOAA-color-guard in the wrong
NOAA-color-guard in the wrong

In the NOAA photo above: ❌Mirror Present is not authorized (and why do you have weapons?); ❌Wrong staffs; ❌Most likely wrong finials; ❌No colors harnesses for the bearers (the harness is part of the bearer uniform whether used or not); ❌Guard inboard hands are too high; 5. Colors not carried at the same height; 6. Fringe on the national; ❌Flag at far right is Rear Admiral Upper Half personal color (PC). A PC is NEVER carried in a color guard; ❌Middle flag is NOAA and flag next to national is Department of Commerce- Why are you carrying the DoC flag and NOAA? While NOAA is part of the DoC, the department’s flag is unnecessary.

Coast Guard Aux color guard in the wrong
Coast Guard Aux color guard in the wrong

In this CGA photo at right: ❌Wrong staffs; ❌Most likely wrong finials; ❌Left hands on sockets; ❌Sling mounted wrong; ❌Rifle held too high; ❌Right hand in wrong position on rifle; ❌Second chinstrap missing; ❌Second chinstraps not worn down; ❌National staff not vertical; ❌National carried lower than org; ❌Fringe on the national; ❌Both staffs not vertical.

The CGA “Flags and Ceremonies Guide” says it’s based on MCO 5060.20 but has images and standards from the Army Training Circular and uses ceremonial technique, which is not authorized. Many, many photos show wrong techniques and procedures. Just delete it, please, and rely on cadets.


These organizations are the main issue, especially, CGA and PHS. CGA is apparently going to make color guard training official for it’s members. That might seem like a good thing, and I do appreciate the attempt, but you really should just not form a color guard at all. There’s no reason to. Do you want local public interaction? Form a gathering and walk while waving to the crowd in a parade. Have a requirement for colors at a ceremony? Post them in stands before the ceremony or have a cadet program present them.

Public Health

Please get rid of your drill and ceremonies manual. You state it’s based off of MCO 5060.20, Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies, but when you begin reading it, you can see it was OBVIOUSLY created by those who saw ceremonial manual movements and positions and thought they would be cool to use. Some of the positions are even wrong.

Why do you have a sword manual, which shows the wrong positions, and your guards for a color guard using them? Guards for colors are only authorized swords in very specific instances for the military. PHS does not rate swords for colors, Public Health isn’t a military service, and doesn’t use weapons, or, like the Department of Education and its millions of rounds of ammunition purchased a few years ago, are you gearing up for something? If you absolutely must form an internal color guard (i.e., for a graduation ceremony), unarmed guards are appropriate. Your D&C guide should be minimal and have information for two color bearers and unarmed guards for internal ceremony colors requirements.

I’m softening a tiny bit on internal-only color guards. I do suggest that, if you have a formal colors presentation requirement, reach out to any of the armed services, local law enforcement, fire department, ROTC, JROTC, CAP, any other cadet or scouting program. You have the potential to work with some great people and open up communication to help out each other in the future.

In this Public Health photo at right: ❌The caption says, “Position of Attention”. No, it’s not! This is the position of Carry. ❌Team is shoulder-to-shoulder. ❌Wrong staffs. ❌Wrong finials. ❌Left hands on sockets or higher. ❌Guards are armed. ❌Swords not authorized for color guards (unless mounted or historic). ❌Heels and toes together. ❌National staff not vertical. ❌Right hands not high enough on staffs. ❌Fringe on the national. ❌National on shorter staff than org.

The photo is just one from the PHS “Drill and Ceremonies Manual” that is unnecessary. The rest of the photos in the manual, except for maybe six total, show wrong procedures and technique.


You might be fuming with anger by now and it might just get worse. I’m pointing out standards and nothing more.

“Show me the federal law where it says…”

That’s a quote from someone who is angry with my stance. You don’t need federal law because federal law does not set the requirements for a color guard, you need the logic that I just laid out in this article. Getting upset with my logical, backed-up opinion shows you don’t have a leg to stand on. You don’t get to pick and choose your standards- but you have done so and no one seems to care that you’ve completely ignored established standards.

I seem to be the only one bringing up issues like this. It’s possible others have recognized it, maybe, but now that I am shining a light in this area, let’s do something about it.

Hand Salute Technique Smaller Image

The Officers You Salute and the Ones You Don’t

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The US military has customs and courtesies. Wearing the service’s uniform is an example of a custom. Rendering a hand salute is a courtesy, albeit a required one.

The Six Armed Services

All Warrant and Commissioned Officers receive a hand salute by all enlisted at various times. Senior officers receive a hand salute by junior Warrant and/or Commissioned Officers. That is clear and backed up in each service drill and ceremonies manual in the description for the Hand Salute.

The Two Services with an Officer Corps

The others in uniform. Did you know that the US government has two other organizations with an officer corps in each? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Public Health Service (PHS) have a commissioned officer corps. When military personnel and officers if NOAA and PHS meet, salutes are initiated by whoever is junior in rank.

These officers do not carry a weapon, not even in a ceremonial aspect.

One More

The Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (Merchant Mariners) fall under the same category as NOAA and PHS. They are commissioned officers. If you ever encounter a uniformed Merchant Mariner officer, a salute is warranted either way (whoever is senior).

These officers as well do not carry a weapon, not even in a ceremonial aspect.

The Officers Military Are Not Required to Salute

The Coast Guard Auxiliary is an all-volunteer all-officer organization. These officers are saluted by others within the program but are not commissioned officers and therefore not saluted by military personnel.

Senior (adult) members of the cadet programs Civil Air Patrol and US Naval Sea Cadet Corps are saluted by others within the program but are not commissioned officers and therefore not saluted by military personnel. Both CAP and USNSCC have very strict uniform wear policies.

There’s nothing wrong with saluting members of these programs. You can render a hand salute, but it’s not mandatory since the officers in each program are volunteers and not commissioned.

“When in Doubt, Salute”

USAF SSgt Jim Woods, a very good friend of mine many years ago (1990-1993) used to say this in so many conversations we had because it fit so well. Don’t be caught in a bad situation, saluting is not a bad thing, even if you salute someone who does not warrant one. Err on the side of positivity.

A Hand Salute Story

Tim McDonough and I went through USAF Basic Training (1985) at the same time, but different flights. We then went through the same Reprographics Technical School for our AFSC (AF version of the MOS) at Ft. Belvoir and were both sent to our first duty station, RAF Upper Heyford in the UK. One winter evening shortly after we arrived, a Lieutenant (or maybe Captain) walked by us in his blue uniform as we, in the old green fatigue uniform, were heading back to the dorms. We failed to salute because it was dark and we had no idea what uniform he was wearing, or that he was even an officer. Back then, Law Enforcement Airmen wore a big, puffy blue jacket. He asked if we didn’t salute officers, we exchanged salutes and went our way still not knowing who we saluted or what his uniform was. Eventually we saw other Law Enforcement Airmen on base in the same uniform and understood. When in doubt, salute.

Another Hand Salute Story

In 2012, I was invited to judge the Joint Service Drill Competition at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. I wore my DrillMaster Ceremonial Uniform because I was there as The DrillMaster and the event called for a formal uniform. I saluted the Captain I met from the Old Guard who briefed me on what was required and as I walked to gather my things, two Navy Chiefs saluted me as I approached them. I did not return the salute, that would not be appropriate, but I thanked them and gave them a brief explanation since I would be walking around the area. We all smiled and they told me that the reasoning behind the salute was my gold-colored chin strap at the front of my cap. That’s an indicator of an officer. Afterall, they are stationed in DC and NOAA, PHS, Merchant Mariner, and international military officers are out and about at various times. When in doubt, salute.

There’s More

There are other cadet programs across the country where adults have created a rank structure within the program and have uniform wear that is very similar to or exactly like a branch of the US military. There are two independent programs that I have worked with:

  • Marine Cadets of Iowa (MCI). Adults do not wear a uniform (hence, no rank), but cadets do. Run similar to a Sea Cadets unit. The concentration is solely on the cadets training in a realistic and very positive environment. They work with Marines in the local community.
  • Extreme Military Challenge (XMC, AL). Adults do wear a uniform (their own from their service in most cases, along with their own rank. Some adults have program-specific rank on the Army uniform.) in a very realistic Army-based military environment. This is a summer program that offers as realistic as possible training opportunities for teens. All adults brought in are extensively vetted.

See this article about other cadet programs in the US (not an exhaustive list).

The Reverse is True

Any cadets in JROTC, CAP, Sea Cadets, Young Marines, MCI, XMC, and all other independent organizations, are required to render a hand salute to all US military, NOAA, PHS, Merchant Mariner, and internal/external program officers. For example, JROTC or CAP/Sea Cadets cadets would salute adults in uniform from Sea Cadets/CAP. It’s about instilling a behavior/expectation. Would this be a regular situation? Probably not. It would be rare for programs to cross over (which is a really good idea for summer training opportunities, hint-hint). Remember, when in doubt, salute.


NOAA and PHS officers wear Navy (service dress) and Coast Guard (blue utility) uniforms (there is no need at all for wearing a sword or even forming a color guard). Notice that both programs don’t wear a combat-oriented utility uniform because they are not involved in combat.

I’m not a fan of the great similarities of cadet uniforms with the service’s uniforms and definitely dislike that cadets and adult program members wear combat-oriented utility uniforms. Not exactly the best choice. The blue utility uniform would be perfect for all cadet programs.

CAP and Sea Cadets wear their service dress uniform with a small variation here and there. These variations can be so slight, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference. We need better differences.

Thanks to Professor Flag, DeVaughn Simper, for his input.

By the Way…

The image at the top of the page is the original USAF salute. We were never meant to practically throw the right hand over to the left side. We were always supposed to trace the center line with the fingertips. Todays hand salute is an insult to the USAF’s history.

drill meet judge

The Drill Meet Judge

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It’s a difficult situation and I’ve been there a couple times. You are a judge at a drill meet and the next team steps up to take the field for competition and as soon as the team steps off, you notice something is wrong. The report-in isn’t the best but you continue observing and the performance just gets worse and worse. How on earth did we get to this point?

It Begins With the Instructor

JROTC instructors don’t have extensive experience in marching or teaching it. Some don’t have any interest in drill and ceremonies, some don’t want anyone to know they haven’t marched in over ten years (or more) because if we did know, we’d be shocked or some other negative reaction, because there is a certain unrealistic expectation (either perceived or real) about those of us in uniform. There’s several other reasons for this, but this is just an overview. Please read this article about the JROTC Instructor for more. See also the Reading Plan for JROTC Instructors and Cadets.

In any case, it is the instructor’s responsibility to ensure his/her cadets are able to accomplish the mission and that mission is to know and be able to adequately perform the service D&C and related manuals. How well the team performs is something for another discussion/article. Right now, we need to ensure our cadets at least know what they are doing even before you head over to the competition site. If they don’t, you are failing to do your job as a JROTC instructor. I do understand that some instructors, if not all, are pulled in 50 different directions each day. Instructor duty is a tough and very rewarding job.

Today’s Drill Meets Miss the Mark

There is very little education going on at drill competitions and I’m not talking about in-depth-it-takes-hours-to-teach education. What I mean is educational feedback. There isn’t any. Yes, scoresheets have been altered to include certain aspects of what I created many years ago, but it still doesn’t work.

Over the years I get messages from cadets, some of whom I have taught, telling me they came in second place with a score of 10,847 points at one drill meet and then went across town to another drill meet the next weekend and won with 489 points. Points do not matter at all because the numbers do not relate to a written standard.

What Can Be

The World Drill Association that I created years ago can be the answer to several issues in the Military Drill World. It needs to be run for the benefit of all involved and concentrate on the cadets.

The WDA Adjudication System is just waiting to be used. As a matter of fact, it has been used and teams walk away with a much better understanding of how their performance matched up to the written standard. Please don’t give me that “We need something easy to use”. “Easy” means “Lazy” and, in this case, it means you’ve never been exposed to proper adjudication with a purpose-built system and trained judges. I have been dealing with both since 1979 when I entered high school band and went to competitions.

Cadets around the world spend hours each day perfecting routines for months and that requires trained judges. Do you honestly expect to appropriately evaluate a relatively complex marching routine by a group of people in uniform whose only qualification is that they graduated Basic Training/Boot Camp? Drill Sergeants, Drill Instructors, Training Instructors, and even Honor Guard members are still not equipped to assign a number value to a visual performance. Make time to get the training, it’s not that long or difficult, it just takes effort and some hours out of your week.

With the system I created, points matter and even point spreads (the number of points between placements and even sub-caption spreads) matter.

Why Do We Need Training to Adjudicate?

Because we need to learn how to mostly evaluate and not just react. Reaction is natural, we do that every day. We like or dislike something based on our prejudice and bias and there’s nothing wrong with that, in essence. What we need to do is learn to recognize both, how to put them aside, and then work on evuating and reacting based on a written standard.

Untrained Judges

One Way To Handle a Situation

The video below is 40 seconds of about the third minute of an NJROTC color guard performance. This short segment shows the team getting kicked off the drill deck due to the judge’s frustration with the team. This is an option for a judge. I just don’t recommend using the option. When you do use this option (please don’t), at least explain why. Don’t get angry and yell.

The cadets here had no idea what was wrong or why they were forced of the drill deck. That’s inexcusable. Being yelled at by the other judge to get off the deck quicker was just ridiculous. This is not Boot Camp, this is supposed to be a professional-level drill and ceremonies competition. Any form of punishment is unacceptable in this situation.

A Better Way

I want to restate and expand on what is in the video. The judge has a tool that he/she is to use at a competition, the scoresheet. You are to assign a score and you can fill up the blank spaces with comments.

The team in this video should have been allowed to finish and then told they were disqualified and the reasoning behind the disqualification. That reason would be very simple “disrespect to the American flag (national ensign)”, which is in just about every drill meet SOP in the nation, or at least it should be. The national in the video is being carried lower than the organizational and that’s unacceptable.

The logical outcome is to give a score, write feedback, and disqualify the team, but at least they would be able to learn what the problem is.

Having said that, the judges should have caught the national being carried lower just by seeing where the harness sockets rested during the inspection. They should have then told the team to adjust the harnesses even before the competition started- actually, this should have been part of training months beforehand.

This team contacted me through private message asking me to explain what the reason might be for their dismissal. I was happy to assist and help educate, but why didn’t the judges do it? Why were the cadets dismissed and disregarded? Because the judges are not trained to be and react like judges, they reacted like Drill Instructors, through no fault of their own. Our current “system” is broken.

In Summary

We have problems that need to be addressed and fixed:

  1. JROTC instructors who lack the necessary requirements for ensuring cadets have the appropriate skills for D&C.
    • An Association can be created for instructors to tackle the educational issues for instructors.
  2. Drill meets that do not focus on the betterment of competitors.
    • Part of the Association’s oversight which I’ve already accomplished.
  3. Adjudication scoresheets that are not based on a written standard.
    • Part of the Association’s oversight which I’ve already accomplished.
  4. Judges must be trained.
    • Part of the Association’s oversight which I’ve already accomplished.

It’s not an easy fix, I understand that. However, we do need to start down this road ASAP.

Missouri Military Academy Logo

A Message From The President of Missouri Military Academy

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DrillMaster note: I just had to share this. I feel compelled to share it. Missouri Military Academy (MMA) is a school enforcing and expecting standards. That’s exactly what every other school, military-oriented or not, should be doing. My thanks to BGEN Geraci, the staff, and instructors at MMA.

Dear MMA alumni and friends,

As the 135th MMA Corps of Cadets completes the first days of training for the year and begins academic classes on Monday, I want to share a message that will soon be sent out in our Eagle magazine. I want to remind you, our alumni and friends, of the strength of our conviction and belief in the education we provide for our cadets. As always, thank you for your support of the Academy and our young men. Together, we make a difference in their lives!

The value of a military school education today is undeniable.

That value is the driving force behind everything we do for our cadets and their families. It’s why we promote and protect the MMA legacy.

The proof is in our results.

We are a military academy and stay true to our traditions, core curriculum and core values that define us as such. We challenge young men like they have never been challenged before. We ask them to do more, not less, in a world where too many take the easy way out.

We understand our military educational model — based on structure, self-discipline, personal responsibility and accountability — is not for everyone, but we also see the incredible benefits for those who embrace the process and find the strength and character within themselves that they before didn’t know existed. As educators, administrators and coaches, this is a mission we wholeheartedly believe in.

We teach personal responsibility to our cadets in today’s world where differing opinions often leave young people adrift and lost in relativism. We teach them that right and wrong do exist and the impact that their decisions have on others.

We teach them how to solve problems, handle challenges and deal with adversity. We teach them how to fully employ their personal strengths and talents as part of a team with respect for others. Just as important, we teach them how to follow a healthy lifestyle and to avoid high-risk behavior.

The Academy’s standards and structured daily routine requires cadets to manage their time efficiently, demonstrate self-discipline, establish goals for themselves and expect to be held accountable. Through leadership roles, rigorous physical training and high academic expectations, cadets learn to take command of their lives, recognizing that their decisions and actions have consequences.

The value of a military educational model is not confined to the walls of the Academy — it extends into the lives of our graduates, empowering them to lead and persevere with integrity. We teach our cadets to set and work toward goals, with MMA graduation among the most important. It sets a course for them to compete and succeed in life.

In a world where leaders of character are needed more than ever, the unique blend of military traditions, high expectations and academic rigor at Missouri Military Academy creates an environment where young men flourish. We will remain steadfast, true to our course and fulfill our mission for our cadets and their families.


Richard V. Geraci
Brigadier General, USA (Ret)

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Alameda Pallbearers

Do Honor Guards Have the Same Rules?

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Are all honor guards bound by the same rules? Does a military honor guard have the same as rules as law enforcement and firefighter honor guard or are they all totally different?

Honor guard units do have the same rules. They are made up of different ceremonial elements.

Color Guard Ceremonial Element

The Flag Code is the civilian/civil initial standard (that came from and expanded on Army and Navy flag information from the WWI era) but there’s no other information that is specific for a color guard except from the Army or Marine Corps manuals. That’s where the rest of the standards come from.

So, yes, civilian/civil and military have the same standards.

Firing Party Ceremonial Element

The military created this element, dating back to the Revolutionary War, that was adopted by law enforcement and LEOs take all standards from the military.

So, yes, civilian/civil and military have the same standards.

Pallbearers Ceremonial Element

There aren’t any published standards other than what the military developed over the last 100 years. All Americans may have a flag draped over their casket. Who folds it is the issue. There are restrictions and guidelines for carrying a flag-draped casket and all come from historic, military protocol.

So, yes, civilian/civil and military have the same standards.

Bell Ceremony and Last Call

The firefighter bell ceremony and last call are first responder-specific that certain elements of the military even adopted.

So, yes, civilian and military have similar standards here.

Presenting the Colors in a Chapel

DrillMaster DrillCenter News 1 Comment

The Situation

I received a question not to long ago from a Marine who is the Colors Sgt (CS) for his base. He wanted to make sure he and his team were correct in the recent choices they made for a unique situation. Here is the conversation.

CS– Performed a color guard for a retirement ceremony inside a chapel, we omitted covers and rifles. Were we wrong for that?

DM– Not necessarily wrong. Base chapels are multipurpose buildings just like the base theater. Both can be used for briefings and other gatherings even though the main purpose of the chapel is to serve as a the on-base location for religious services. Just because a ceremony takes place in a chapel doesn’t mean covers are removed and rifles not used, it depends. It comes down to if the chapel was used as a chapel or if it was used purely as a place with seats and a stage/speaker’s platform.

I’ve been to at least one chapel that has a main curtain and behind that curtain is another, smaller curtain that, when opened gives the chaplain’s assistants access to a cross, crucifix, and possibly other items for different religious services. When the cross is showing, you know that the chapel is being used for a Christian service (a colors presentation would require no covers and no rifles). When the curtains are drawn, the chapel is just like any other building on base, essentially (a colors presentation would have the standard requirements). It’s always best to check with a chaplain.

CS– Thank you, I’m the Color Sgt of my unit and we just retired a chaplain of 41 years.

DM– That’s great. Most likely you were in the right to leave out covers and rifles since he was a chaplain. Appropriate place to hold the ceremony for him.

The Standards

The following applies to the Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard.

“When participating in a ceremony inside a chapel, the color guard will be unarmed and uncovered.”

MCO 5060.20, Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies, Enclosure 1, Part I, Chapter 7, paragraph 5. i.

The Army, Air Force, and Space Force do not have this requirement, but please check with a chaplain for guidance.

Marine at MBW Evening Colors Gathering Laundry

Your Bias and the Marine “Gathering Laundry”

DrillMaster Judge Training, Judging Leave a Comment


We all have certain knowledge and experiences that define how we view circumstances around us. That’s called our bias. A bias isn’t necessarily bad but if you only rely on your knowledge and experiences and are closed off to learning something new, that is the bad part.

As a judge viewing regulation, exhibition, or a ceremonial drill routine, you must leave your bias out of your comments, reactions, and scoring. Judges rely on training, experience, and study to score a performance but adjudication is about the educational process and not meeting the expectations of a random judge.

“Gathering Laundry”

A few years ago, I trained three CAP unit competitive teams in color guard and flight drill and Flag Detail procedures. Depending on the size of the flag for the Flag Detail, it is either handed of to several flag handlers or it is gathered into the arms of the Catcher who then facilitates folding with the other team members. One judge for the Flag Detail portion of the competition made the statement that gathering the flag into the Catcher’s arms is inappropriate and tantamount to “gathering laundry” into your arms. That’s an extraordinarily ignorant comment coming from one who is supposed to have complete knowledge of all procedures for the Flag Detail.

The Marine in the Photos is the Catcher

Although you can barely see him, this Marine, from Marine Barracks Washington, is the Catcher for the Evening Colors ceremony at the Barracks. The focus is on the flag but you can just see the Marine’s white cover (hat) in the images here. Below is the link to the video where I grabbed the screenshot. The link begins at the start of Evening Colors so that you can see the Catcher gather the flag into his arms.

The required number of halyard bearers, flag handlers, and folders varies to lower the flag. Just because the flag may be relatively “large” doesn’t mean the Catcher hands of the lower corner to a handler and the same goes for a smaller flag. Either can be gathered into the Catcher’s arms and the smaller sizes are almost always gathered.

American flag sizes for flying from a flagpole

  • 3’x5′
  • 4’x6′
  • 5’x8′
  • 6’x10′
  • 8’x12′
  • 9.5’x5′
  • 10’x15′
  • 10’x19′
  • 12’x18′
  • 20’x38′
  • 30’x50′


You need to know as much as you possibly can about whatever you are going to judge. Just having experience is NOT enough. Training on how to judge the What and the How of a visual performance should be a priority for you as well.

Lastly, I visit the Barracks relatively often, I’ll let the Drill Master and Assistant Drill Master know about this “laundry” problem.