“Cherry Picking”

DrillMasterColor Guard/Color Team, Commentary Leave a Comment

I’ve been told twice in two days that I “cherry pick” information. In one instance it was purely an insult, but it came from an adult who doesn’t like accuracy or the truth.

The second time came from a college level cadet who thought the two USAF D&C standards and who is authorized to follow them, doesn’t make sense.

Let’s break this down.


There are three drill and ceremonies manuals for regulation drill, three for ceremonial drill, protocol manuals, flag manuals, instructions and regulations from each service and the DoD that I keep up with to give out information that is as accurate as possible. Of course I’m going to be succinct in my articles and social media posts. That’s called being accurate. “Cherry picking” is using information that only supports your agenda. My agenda is to educate.

Just because you don’t like what I write or say, or the methods with which I choose to communicate, doesn’t make what I write or say picking and choosing or “cherry picking” that information. Call it whatever you want. Obviously, you do not want to listen and understand the concepts about which I’ve written (Don’t Form a Color Guard, for example). The information I provide is based on standards, some of which need a broader understanding of certain protocols. I’m willing to research that. You don’t have to read what I write, but I know you do.

The Two USAF Standards

AFPAM 34-1203 governs drill and ceremonies for all Airmen and Guardians. Its reach extends to SROTC and JROTC cadets. This is regulation drill.

AFMAN 34-515 and the AF Base Honor Guard Manual detail drill and ceremonies for the USAF Honor Guard and Base Honor Guard members. This is ceremonial drill.

All formations manned by Airmen and/or Guardians for a ceremonial nature (which is odd, because a ceremony is a ceremony right?), that is all who are assigned to the Honor Guard, perform all movements per 515/BHG manual. This includes parades/passes-in-review, color guards, etc.

All formations manned by Airmen and/or Guardians for a ceremony that is not governed by ceremonial drill is run by the AFPAM. This includes parades/passes-in-review, color guards, etc.

For example. The color guard in the photo below is made up of new 2nd Lieutenants for their graduation from USAF Officer Candidate School. Course members march a pass-in-review in flight formations with a color guard. In this case, only AFPAM 34-1203 applies and that means the team cannot march shoulder-to-shoulder and the right forearms of the bearers must be horizontal when at Carry (notice the US bearer’s arm).

What about SROTC or USAF Academy?

College cadets have taken it upon themselves to use some ceremonial standards for color guards. This seems to be an extension of AFJROTC/SFJROTC units being allowed to for a “special team” that can wear certain uniform items authorized only for Airmen and Guardians who are Ceremonial Guardsmen. While it is not necessarily authorized, many have turned an ignorant eye to cadets using these standards. That’s not a “blind eye”, as that would indicate that people are aware of both standards and who is authorized to perform them. Unfortunately, most senior AFROTC color guards perform rather poorly since most everyone relies on senior cadets to teach junior cadets with no one ever reading the appropriate manual.

Having said that, ceremonial techniques, especially for a color guard, are much more complete. In any case, rifle guards for AF/SF color guards follow the techniques for the guards MCO 5060.20 because they are on the outside shoulder and the team uses TC 3-21.5 for movement in general. See The Argument From AFPAM 34-1203 for more on this.

Proper Technique For the Platoon Commander

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Here is the situation: The regulation drill sequence for a platoon. The commander, three steps away from and centered on the platoon in Line Formation, gives the following commands:

CommandThe Commander
Left StepRight Step
Left FaceStands Fast
Right StepMarches Backward at Half Step
About FaceStands Fast
Forward MarchSteps off with a Face-In-March to the left

The team performs the commands as appropriate. Watch this performance.


No, not “buts”. The technique used in the video is correct. Here’s why.

The Left Face in the sequence above seems to be a sticking point for some. There is the thought that the commander must face to the right with the platoon (facing to the left) and then give the next command. Why would Left Face change what the commander does? It doesn’t.

Giving Right or Left Face and then Forward March requires the commander to perform a Face-in-March to that direction. So, giving a Right or Left Face and then anything other marching command is actioned from Attention facing the platoon.

Marching Commands

From Line Formation, the command Backwards March requires the commander to march forward at Half Step. Any sidestep command requires the commander to perform the opposite movement to remain centered and three steps away from the formation. Numbered steps or Forward March, from Line Formation, would require the commander to execute About Face first to be able to step off with the platoon and maintain alignment and distance. That is the key to every move.

The commander must be able to step off with the platoon and maintain alignment and distance.

*The three-step distance is due to a lack of room on the regulation drill area.

Standing Commands

Any “standing manual” command (e.g., facing movements, Hand Salute/Present, and Parade Rest) requires the commander to remain at Attention, centered on and facing the formation. The commander does not perform any of these movements because the commander is giving the commands for the platoon and not a platoon member.

What the D&C Manuals Say

3-2. When at the Halt, the commander faces the troops when giving commands. On commands that set the unit in motion (marching from one point to another), the commander moves simultaneously with the unit to maintain correct position within the formation. (See chapter 4, paragraphs 4-7 and 4-27, for more information on facing in marching.)

TC 3-21.5

7-7. On the command Open Ranks, MARCH; Backward, MARCH; Right (Left) Step, MARCH; Forward, MARCH and on commands that cause the platoon to change interval in line, they [the commander- DM] move at the same time (with the appropriate step) so as to maintain proper position.

TC 3-21.5

b. When giving commands, commanders face their troops.

MCO 5060.20 Chap 4, para 3

3. e. Except when marching at the head of a platoon column, the platoon commander must maintain proper distance (six paces) from the platoon and remain centered on the platoon during all drill movements.

(1) If the platoon was executing a right step, the platoon commander, who is facing the platoon, would execute a left step in cadence with the platoon in order to maintain proper position. For a left step, the platoon commander would execute a right step.
(2) If the platoon were executing a back step, the platoon commander would execute a half step, in cadence with the platoon in order to maintain proper position.
(3) Movements of the platoon commander during other platoon movements are explained in the paragraph describing the movement.

MCO 5060.20 Chap 9

2.2.2. The commander faces the formation when giving commands except when the element is part of a larger drill element or when the commander is relaying or echoing commands in a ceremony. When the commander is a member of a staff or detail and is required to perform a movement at the same time as the formation, the commander will maintain the same position as the formation while giving commands and will respond to his/her command.

AFPAM 34-1203

The USAF has never gotten into the small details with explanations. Airmen and now Guardians have relied on the TC and MCO.


The cadet platoon commander in the video did an excellent job calling the commands, maintaining alignment, and using proper technique of facing the platoon. There are some other slight issues, but that’s a topic for another day.

Maestro de Ejercicios

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That is “DrillMaster” in Spanish (Master of Training/Drill/Practice). I will be writing for Spanish-only speakers since I have been asked for more articles and social media posts in Spanish over the years. Not every one of my articles here or social media posts will be translated, but what I feel as relevant to just about anyone, I will post in Spanish as well as English.

My books will be available in Spanish as well. It will take a bit of time, but this is my plan to help educate my Spanish speaking brothers and sisters.


Escribiré para hablantes exclusivos de español ya que a lo largo de los años me han pedido más artículos y publicaciones en las redes sociales en español. No todos mis artículos aquí o publicaciones en las redes sociales serán traducidos, pero lo que considero relevante para casi todos, lo publicaré tanto en español como en inglés.

Mis libros también estarán disponibles en español. Tomará un poco de tiempo, pero este es mi plan para ayudar a educar a mis hermanos y hermanas hispanohablantes.

The Bad JROTC Color Guard Routine

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JROTC does not have consistency or uniformity for the most part. While there are some adequate routines for competitions, none of them really employ all of the skills required for a colors presentation. Some of the routines out there do not make sense and others have commands that do not exist. Speaking of which.

Note- the school colors in the photo at the top have NOTHING to do with the sequence, it’s just a photo I used.

This is a photo sent to me of a colors routine for a local JROTC competition.

  1. The first command here, as we can see, is Order Arms. That command is only given from Carry or Present. It’s not a command that you begin with. You begin with Fall In, Attention, or Carry.
  2. Order Colors is not a command. It doesn’t exist for any service. Please read this for more.
  3. “flags at Parade Rest”. What does that mean? Why is this text here? The flagstaffs would be at Order only to facilitate Parade Rest.
  4. “Color Guard” as a preparatory command tells us that someone associated with the AF created this sequence.
  5. Now, the sequence begins properly.
  6. “Flags at the Carry”. Again, why is this here?
  7. Order Arms means to bring the equipment to Order and nothing else. You need to read this to understand why the Army (only) has a bit of an issue with this, but it’s easily solved.
  8. OK.
  9. Half Left/Right About is the most idiotic command created by the AF a few years ago. It never should have seen the light of day. The move is an Army Wheel and Marine Corps Turn, a 90-degree gate turn.

23. Eyes Right is NOT for the head judge. The whole sequence is specifically to have the color guard go through a series of movements to see how well the team performs. Only the reports in and out are for or to the head judge. This is because when we report to anyone a hand salute or Present Arms is required regardless of the rank of the one to whom you report. This salute for both reports is returned.

Judges, DO NOT return a salute for Eyes Right since the team is only performing it for you to asses just like the rest of the sequence. Again, this salute is NOT for the judge. The judge’s position is used as a marker for the Eyes Right process, 6 paces before and after the individual(s) to be saluted.

Suggested Sequences

Colors Marching-Post-and-Retrieve sample sequence

Army Sample Sequence

MC-N-CG Sample Sequence

AF Sample Sequence

world drill association logo

How to Judge Military Drill and Ceremonies

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I got involved in military marching and marching band in 1979 in high school and that continued through my college days at New Mexico Military Institute. After joining the USAF in 1985, I continued to march with a drum and bugle corps in England (I was stationed at RAF Upper Heyford), and began my journey into teaching and judging and began writing drill for my musical ensemble.

In 1989, I was stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ. I wrote drill for three local high school bands, taught the visual aspects of the performances, and joined my first honor guard. I wrote drill and performed with the drill team. I even created the D-M Aerospace and Arizona Days Drill Meet hosted by the Base Honor Guard on base, sponsored by the Wing Commander, with my first attempt at an adjudication system. This is where I earned my moniker, DrillMaster.

Brunssum, Netherlands was my next duty station in 1993, where I wrote drill for an AFJROTC drill team, a local civilian drum and bugle corps, an indoor color (winter) guard, and continued judging. Holland’s drum corps and winterguard communities needed trained judges and I embarked on the first professional training session with my Dutch adjudication colleagues. It was intense weekends of long hours learning theory and practical application for musical and dance-oriented ensembles taught by Winter Guard International (WGI, George Oliviero and colleague), and I graduated the course with a certification in General Effect Visual.

In 2005, I retired from the AF, followed my wife to Travis AFB in California’s Bay Area, joined the Pacific Coaches Judges Association, and was mentored by some of the best judges I’ve worked with. I learned more with their guidance about adjudication, numbers management (a critical skill), and tabulation (collating all the judges’ scores and coming up with a final score). I created the World Drill Association with the goal of competition management, rules, and initial and continued training for judges.

The Difficult Work is Accomplished

I know this is a bold statement. I did the work for the benefit of the activity. My goal has always been the betterment of anything in which I’m involved.

From 2009 to 2011, we were stationed at Spangdahlem AB, Germany. Here, I had the opportunity to march with the BHG as a retiree and revisit my judging roots in Holland with more training and judging. It is here that I began to write and publish books on military marching. Two of my books are adaptations with permission of the WGI Adjudication Manual, The World Drill Association Adjudication Manual, and papers by George Oliviero on judging, Continuing Education for the WDA Visual Adjudicator.

Along with the books, I have a complete set of judge scoresheets that cover the requirements for regulation drill sequences, exhibition drill, and even ceremonial drill. See the Resources page and click on the JROTC drop-down menu to see the updated scoresheets that I offer free of charge. Everything is copyrighted (and not just by me), which means you cannot alter anything in the system, but you can use everything I have worked so hard to create over the years.

The adjudication system I developed works on a logical progression of simple to difficult in two areas, the What and the How. What is being performed and how is it being performed. The scale on which the score are placed is similar to a letter grade system in school and the score ranges on the sheet are based on descriptive words used to match up with the statements the judge is specifically looking for in the routine to guide the judge.

Nothing else out there comes close to this.


I know, there are scoresheets out there that have taken the concepts I have worked on and tried to implement them, but they still don’t work as well as they should. Because those who took these ideas gained from my scoresheets don’t understand the WHY behind the ideas. They never asked if I would explain and help educate them on proper adjudication. I would. Their loss.

Also, you’re supposed to be able to glance at your sheet to get an idea of where the score is going with the term references, not burry your head because your filling out number after number in a micro scoring effort. Having the team halt every few seconds is not the solution. Take in the whole performance, not just each move for all regulation and exhibition drill.

Are you with a Base Honor Guard (regardless of service)? Use this tool:

“We need a simpler system”

I’ve heard this twice and it just baffles me that thinking like this even exists. Simpler does not equal better. It equals less adequate.

Let me introduce you to a simple concept:

Your drill team or color guard has worked before and after school, initially training, practicing, marching the same sequences over and over, perfecting every little detail as best you can, and you head off to a drill meet.

You team (or solo) + months of hard work

You arrive at the drill meet (every single competition currently around the world) and you have volunteer or “voluntold” (I have NOTHING against our volunteer judges) who showed up early, were handed a clipboard and told to go to whatever drill area. That’s it.

You team (or solo) + months of hard work + untrained judges = a fair and logical system?

Judges don’t have to to work a bit to gain competence in judging an activity that cadets put months and even years to perfect? Does this add up? Of course it doesn’t.

The WDA Adjudication System, based on decades of development by others I highly respect in pageantry arts and then my own years of work to bring that work through the “military filter”, is not that difficult. It just take time to get used to like anything else that is new.

“Training!? We don’t need no stinkin’ training!”

Apparently, the only qualification one needs to judge a drill meet is to graduate Basic Training or Boot Camp. That’s it! You are now, magically, an expert and can discern not only what is going on on the drill area, but you can also see why its happening and how effective it is or isn’t and then also be able to suggest corrective action. Nothing is further from the truth! Judges need training and I’m not talking about a video presentation the day before and definitely not a briefing the morning of. See my concept above.

Who Can Be a Judge?

Those who are Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard, veterans, law enforcement, firefighters, emergency, Medical services, and SROTC cadets and Midshipmen. I’ve worked with people from all of those categories since I began my adjudication career.

This training should be recognized as a community involvement action as well as continuing education by leadership in all areas. It benefits the individual and potentially thousands of SROTC and JROTC cadets.

It Works!

I’ve been fortunate enough to have two people support my efforts and employ my system for their drill meet. It worked extremely well, even with the learning curve. Yes, some balked because it’s different. Don’t be one of those “simpler ways” people, go for the best in adjudication.

Start Your Training Here

Just like anything else in life, you need education and training to do it well. The cadets who you judge deserve your time and effort because they put in so much time and effort.

Now, download the scoresheets, the Criteria Reference sheets, and start watching the videos. I’m here to help if you have questions. Together, we can all take drill and ceremonies to new heights to the benefit of all involved.

The History of Fringe

DrillMasterColor Guard/Color Team, Instructional Leave a Comment

Theories abound about the flag, the fringe, the finial, and even the direction the flag is displayed. It’s a but ridiculous. Having said that, there may be some tiny bit of truth to admiralty law being represented by fringe, maybe. Still, knowledge of history is going to be our friend and help us understand what fantasy is and what is truth. Let’s start here.

In the Beginning…

Fringe originated as a way of preventing a cut piece of fabric from unraveling when a hemming was not used. It is believed that fringe was first used in Mesopotamia over 3000 years ago. Several strands of weft (horizontal) threads would be removed, and the remaining warp (vertical) threads would be twisted or braided together to prevent unraveling and vice-versa.

In Native American cultures fringe was used on outer wear for both decorative and practical purposes. In the rain the fringe on the clothing directed water away from the wearer. This was adopted by early American settlers and became an integral part of the “wild west”.


As textile manufacturing advanced, fringe was made separately and then attached to the fabric to create a strong, more visually appealing look. For flag makers, this helped the flags last longer. This makes sense, with these flags being sewn by hand, I would want it to last as long as possible, especially with the detailed embroidery. The added weight made the flags easier to display and maintain a more sophisticated look. It created a frame of sorts that set it apart from other textiles. Otherwise it would look like any other hanging sheet of fabric.

Besides the added and weight and the framing, another benefit was that fringe created a static charge that pulled dust, soot, and ash away from the main fabric keeping it clean and slowing damage that those things can cause.

Fringe was viewed as part of the nature of textiles and the manufacturing process. By the time the Flag Code was written, fringe wasn’t considered as an addition.


Controversy brewed when President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10834 (1959) adding stars for New Mexico and Arizona. The EO specifically stated that military and government flags should be fringed. This was a financially motivated statemen. Simply put, fringed flags last longer.

That controversy was further complicated by the rivalry between the Army and the Navy. These two have had a stereotypical sibling relationship. They each wanted to establish their own identity. So when the Army updated their regulations to require fringe on all flags, the Navy (and Marines) prohibited the use of fringe on the national flag.

“Mom! the Army won’t stop making its own standards!”

The rivalry had been so bad that they even went as far as to have separate designs for the Presidential flag, which caused its own problems until President Truman issued a Executive Order 9646 (1945) to establish a single flag to represent the office of the President.

The rivalry extends to guidon flags for the Army (and, by extension, the Air Force and Space Force), which are swallow-tail, and guidon flags for the Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard, which are rectangular. Lastly in this vein, the US color for the Army (Air Force and Space Force) is required to have gold-colored fringe and the national ensign (same thing is the US color) for the Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard is forbidden to have fringe.


Fringe is mandatory on military colors, not flags. It does not communicate anything other than decoration for the colors. Fringe is optional for all civil and civilian displays and color guards. Why most American and state flag displays have fringe is because many flag companies sell flag sets. These sets have two cheap, brown flagstaffs, two gold-colored floor stands, an American flag with fringe and any state flag with fringe. Most of the sets also come with the spread eagle finial for at least the US staff. Since it’s a cheap set and most people are trusting and don’t do any digging for information, we have these sets as the ubiquitous standard. Even for military units, which violates every military standard.

While the use of fringe today is viewed as decorative; historic accounts show that it was an important part to preserve the flag both physically and symbolically.

Now see All About the Flag and Color, and A Flag is a Flag, and Flag, Fringe, and Finial Theory.

Information gathered by my colleague, DeVaughn Simper, Vexillologist.

A DrillMaster Study on Present Arms with a Rifle

DrillMasterColor Guard/Color Team, Instructional, Regulation Drill Leave a Comment

The service rifle changes over time to whatever the Army and Marine Corps decide to use as the primary weapon for the majority of Soldiers and Marines. For many years that has been the M16 and now the M4 is making its way into each service. For this study we will look at each current platform to include the M1 Garand, M14, and M1903 tracking the history of each, if necessary.

This is a bit long and photo-intensive, and very much worth your time, especially if you are breathing (Active Duty, Reserve, National Guard, ROTC/JROTC instructors, cadets of all organizations, and judges).

TC 3-21.5, Drill and Ceremonies (Army)

The M4

M4 Present
M4 Present

5-7. To Present Arms from Order Arms (see figure 5-5), use the following procedures:

  • Present Arms is a three-count movement. The command is Present, ARMS.
  • On the command of execution ARMS, execute Port Arms in two counts.
  • On count three, twist the carbine with the right hand so that the carbine is vertical and centered on the body about 4 inches from the waist with the magazine well to the front. Lower the carbine until the left forearm is horizontal and keep the elbows tight against the sides.
TC 3-21.5 3 May 2021

The Army has traditionally wrapped the fingers of the right hand at Present. For the M4, the stock, once extended, is merely a tube that the fingers completely wrap around. The 2021 version of the Training Circular has abysmal drawings, unfortunately. That’s changing in 2024.

What does that text at the bottom of the image, “In Formation/Individual“, mean? It means that when in formation or when walking alone, this is the salute you use.

The M1 Garand, M14, and M1903/1917

B-5 [M16]. To execute Present Arms, use the following procedures:

  • Present Arms from Order Arms is a three-count movement. The command is Present, ARMS. On the command of execution ARMS, execute Port Arms in two counts. On count three, twist the rifle with the right hand so that the magazine well is to the front, and move the rifle with to a vertical position with the carrying handle about 4 inches in front of and centered on the body. Lower the rifle until the left forearm is horizontal; keep the elbows in at the sides as seen in figure B-5 on page B-7.

C-4 [M14]. Note. When not at Order Arms, execute the movement in the same manner as previously described for the M16-series rifle in appendix B.

D-4 [M1903/M1917]. Execute Present Arms using the following procedures:

  • Present Arms from Order Arms is a three-count movement. The command is Present, ARMS. On the command of execution ARMS, execute Port Arms in two counts. On count three, twist the rifle with the right hand so that the sights are to the rear, and move the rifle to a vertical position about 4 inches in front of and centered on the body.
TC 3-21.5, 2021

We need to look at some history for the right hand because, well, look at these cartoon drawings, for goodness sakes! Below: M16, M4, M14, and M1903/M1917.

The ONLY image of Present from the side. Ah-ha! Fingers are straight! No, she wrapped her fingers, It’s just that her fingers are not as long as the males’ above. You can tell because her fingers break the front of the small of the stock.

Wrapping the fingers is a very longstanding tradition, dating back to after The Revolutionary War era.

Present, ARMS.

  1. With the left hand turn the piece, the lock to the front, seizing it with the right hand at the small.
  2. Bring up the piece with the right hand, quitting the butt with the left, and seizing the piece above the lock as high as the eyes, holding it perpendicular.
  3. Draw back the right foot six inches, sink the piece, the butt before the left knee, the fingers of the right hand extended, the ramrod to the front.

One time and two motions.

  1. (First motion.) With the right hand, bring the piece erect before the centre of the body, the rammer to the front ; at the same time seize the piece with the left hand half-way between the guide sight and lower band, the thumb extended along the barrel and against the stock, the fore-arm horizontal and resting against the body, the hand as high as the elbow.
  2. (Second motion.) Grasp the small of the stock with the right hand, below and against the guard.

Fingers of the Right Hand and the Position of the Left Thumb

There is confusion as to both the right-hand fingers and especially for the Army with the left thumb. Do we “Thumb a Ride” as I call it by sticking the left thumb up or do we wrap the thumb. Let’s find out.

In 1891 we see the left thumb pointing up. The text never describes this.

The same looks to be in the drawing from 1904, the left thumb pointing upward. Again, the text never describes this.


In 1932, the Army publishes the Tentative FM 22-5. It’s not until 2012, that the Field Manual would become a Training Circular. The left thumb pointing upward disappears.

Do you notice that Present Arms from Order is a two-count movement? Port is not the in between position.

Present 1950
Present 1950
Present 1968
Present 1968

In 1950 (far left), we see the continuation of wrapped right fingers and wrapped left thumb and that continues in 1968. This is for all platforms.

Present 1971

In 1971 we have an additional piece of information. “In Formation” appears. What this means is that rifle salutes for the individual outside of a formation were still in practice until “/Individual” is added in 1986. Interestingly, rifle salutes are explained in 1958, 1964, and 1964, but not after. Until the 1986 version, Present is restricted to formations at ceremonies and for guard duty.

As we can see, photos do not show the left thumb sticking up, but some drawings do. These drawings have been copied over the decades without proper scrutiny being applied. Don’t thumb a ride, wrap your left thumb (unless your hand is too small, then point your thumb forward).

MCO 5060.20, Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies (MC/USN/CG)

FYI: The cadet manuals for NJROTC, Sea Cadets, and Young Marines are unusable for drill and ceremonies. I do not follow them, and I do not teach from them. I teach from the service standards which is where these cadet manuals are supposed to get their information, but there are all kinds of wrong standards in them.

We need to know what it says and then turn to Appendix A Rifle Manual for the M1 Garand Service Rifle and App. B the manual for the M14.

When we look at the primary weapon section, we read and follow the images and see the only difference (a really BAD change from the earlier manual versions) is the thumb sticking out horizontally – like a sore thumb.

We know that’s the only change because we turn to Apps. A & B (similar platforms) and read and look at the images. Some Marines still use these time-honored rifles which is why you sometimes see a color guard with these rifles.

We see in all three images that the right arm has a slight, natural bend in the elbow. That bend depends on several factors:

  1. The rifle must be 4″ from your breastbone.
  2. The left hand must have the pinky just above the metal of the lower receiver.
  3. The left forearm must be horizontal.
  4. Your torso and upper arm length.
  5. The Stacking Swivel must be at your eye level (or higher if you are shorter).

Fully extending the right arm so that the elbow is hyper extended (bending inward or completely straight), what we tend to call “locked”, is unnecessary and is a break in uniformity of technique. This is quite common in people with hyper mobile joints.

The Right-hand Thumb

The M16

For the M16 (M4), the thumb is horizontal with the thumb tip resting on the rear of the charging handle. I believe that HQ NJROTC only looked at the service weapon manual of arms and didn’t read the appendices to fully understand the application of the right thumb standard.

History note: the 2003 edition of the Order had the right thumb tucked just like every other rifle manual. The thumb horizontal with the thumb tip touching the charging handle is a change for the 2019 edition that doesn’t make sense since there is no difference between rifles for the distance from where the left pinky rests to where the right thumb rests when at Present, which is about 9″. The M16 and even the M4/M5 platforms are shorter in overall length from the M1, M14, and M1903, but the distance for the chamber for all rifles is the same.

The text for the right hand for the M16 (colored highlighting mine):

(2) On the second count, release the grasp of the right hand and regrasp the small of the stock. The charging handle rests on the tip of the thumb of the right hand which is fully extended horizontally. The fingers are extended and joined diagonally across the small of the stock with all four fingers touching but not extending past the stock. The right wrist and forearm remain straight. The elbow is slightly bent and held against the body. The left thumb is four inches from the body. (See figure 3-15c.)

MCO 5060.20 Encl. 1 Part I: Drill, 11. Present Arms from Order Arms (2)

I will breakdown what I highlighted in the text above. “Regrasp the small of the stock“: This statement with the word “grasp” in it sounds like the right hand is to hold into the small of the stock. That’s not the case for Present at all and there’s no argument for wrapping the thumb around the stock. The fingers are extended and joined diagonally across the small of the stock with all four fingers touching but not extending past the stock. The text here may be confusing with “across the stock”, and that’s why photos are included to ensure a good understanding of the intent. “Not extending past the stock” is very helpful and we can understand that “across the stock” means from the side (see the images below). The right wrist and forearm remain straight. This is just like a hand salute. The wrist is not bent in any direction. The elbow is slightly bent and held against the body. This slight bend is the natural bend that your elbow has. Remember, those with any degree of hyper mobile joints may not have a “natural bend” and will have to adjust to make the bend in the elbow in formation for uniformity.

The M1 and M14 (and M1903)

In the appendices, we see that the right thumb is tucked directly into the palm and placed behind the small of the stock for the M1 and M14. For both rifles, the text says, “move your right hand to the small of the stock and grasp it” and “the right hand regrasps the rifle at the small of the stock”, just like the M16 text, and both show a tucked thumb.

It takes a bit of study to understand that the right hand does not wrap around the small of the stock and that the fingers are extended and joined while pointing downward at an angle to ensure they do not extend past the stock. Logically, we can then understand that placement of both hands is going to be exactly the same for the M1903.

Fingers are extended and joined pointing forward and down and not past the front edge of the small of the stock (I suggest a 45-degree angle).


Present Landing Party 1960
Present, Landing Party 1960
  • Dipping the right shoulder is something that must be guarded against. Keep shoulders level.
  • Thumbs not tucked must be paid attention to as well.
  • The wrist cannot have extreme angles.

One last note. All of the services used to perform the same marching movements and manual of arms techniques. There has been a spiteful relationship between the Army and Navy since the late 1800s and eventually, we have ended up with all kinds of maddening variations for no apparent reason. This photo on the right is from the US Navy Landing Party Manual of 1960. Notice the Marine is wrapping his right-hand fingers around the small of the stock.

AFPAM 34-1203, Drill and Ceremonies (AF/SF)

USAF Color Guard 1953 Air Police
USAF Color Guard 1953 Air Police

FYI: The cadet manuals for AFJROTC and Civil Air Patrol are unusable for drill and ceremonies. I do not follow them, and I do not teach from them. I teach from the service standards which is where these cadet manuals are supposed to get their information, but there are all kinds of wrong standards in them.

Early On

The first Air Force Manual 50-14, Drill and Ceremonies, was published in 1953. It was a merger of the Army’s FM 22-5 and NAVMC 2691 with a bit of Air Force changes to either standard mixed in. Most of AF and now SF drill comes from the Marine Corps. The next version of AFM 50-14 was 1956. Both of these versions had a rifle and handgun manual of arms, but since only the Air Police used both manuals and not the general population of the Air Force, AFM 50-14 published in 1960 removed all weapon manuals. (The photo at right includes Mrs. DrillMaster’s thumb tip.)

History note: notice in the photo from the 1953 manual that the color guard members are not cupping their hands? No one did until the mid 1960s and then it was only “curl your fingers”. The cupped hand came about years later for all services.

Now What?

Air Police performed a majority of color guards throughout the AF just like MPs did for the Army and Marine Corps. That means the 1960, 1963, and 1966 editions of AFM 50-14; the 1985 and 1992 editions of (now a regulation) AFR 50-14; and the 1996 edition of AFMAN 36-2203 (back to a manual with a different abbreviation and a new number) all had the guards with a sidearm in a holster.

USAF Color Guard 1992
USAF Color Guard 1992

In the 2013 edition of AFMAN 36-2203 the guards were armed with rifles for the first time. Now, with the advent of the rifle and seeing that the guards were at the outside shoulder, that meant the USAF was to go to MCO 5060.20, regardless of rifle type (I can’t stress that enough), since the Marine guards were at what they call the outboard shoulder (same thing).

The latest edition of the AF drill and ceremonies manual is Air Force Pamphlet- tantamount to a sticky note on the screen of your computer, is AFPAM 34-1203.

USAF Color Guard 2013 and 2022
USAF Color Guard 2013 and 2022

In all the previous versions the manual/regulation/pamphlet has undergone some changes and none of them for the good. The thinking for these changes was not realistic, creating wrong standards. I explain that here. Please see The Argument from AFPAM 34-1203 for the reasoning for this and The Why of the Color Guard – USAF/USSF may also be helpful.


If you follow Army techniques: wrap all fingers and don’t thumb a ride.

If you follow Marine Corps techniques: wrap the left-hand fingers, flare the right, and tuck that right thumb.

If you follow Air Force techniques: see the Army for an armed flight and the Marine Corps for the guards on a color guard.

A Flag is a Flag is a Flag

DrillMasterProtocol and Flag Leave a Comment

With apologies to Gertrude Stein, a flag is not a flag, which is also not a flag, necessarily. Let’s wade through what flags are and are not.

What is a Flag?

In general, we usually call any colored material that is attached to a staff or on a pole via a halyard (the rope) a “flag”. But we can get more accurate and better define what we are talking about.

  • Flagpole – A pole longer than 10 feet.
  • Flagstaff – A staff 10 feet long or shorter.

These two definitions are based off the descriptions of ancient “Pole Arms”, weapons used as spears or other implements in battle.

b. The national and organizational (regimental/battalion) flags carried by dismounted organizations are called the “national color” and the “organizational color”. The singular word “color” implies the national color, while the plural word “colors” implies the national color and organizational color.
c. The national and organizational flags carried by mounted or motorized units are called the “national standard” and the “regimental/battalion standard”. The singular word “standard” implies the national standard, and the plural word “standards” implies both the national and organizational standards.
d. The words “flags”, “ensign”, “color”, and “standard” preceded by the word “national” are used interchangeably and all mean the emblem to represent the national government.

102. DEFINITIONS, NTP 13(B) Naval Telecommunications Procedures Flags, Pennants, & Customs, 1986

A Flag

The US Army, very early on, said a flag is raised from buildings or flagpoles*. These flags have a header band at the header end of the flag. In that band are two or more brass grommets.

The military formation that forms to hoist or lower the flag is called a Flag Detail (see the service drill and ceremonies manuals for specific information on both procedures).

US Flag with Header and Grommets

A Color

As well as defining a flag, the US Army that same year also said a Color or Colors is carried*. In military terms, “colors” refer to the national flag (like the U.S. flag) and the flag of a specific military unit. These are ceremonial flags and are often carried alongside each other in parades and during official ceremonies.

The only flag authorized to be mounted on a flagstaff for the US military is one with a staff sleeve. That sleeve is commonly called a Pole Hem, but, since a pole arm is longer than 10 feet, we need to be more accurate in our description. These flags do not have grommets.

The military formation that forms to carry this type of flag is called a Color Guard. Those who carry the colors are called Color Bearers.

*Infantry Drill Regulations (1924)

US with White Staff Sleeve (notice the fringe does not wrap around the staff sleeve)

US with Red, White, & Blue Staff Sleeve (notice the fringe does wrap around the staff sleeve)

A Standard

Historically, a standard was a type of flag carried into battle. The dimensions were roughly 1:1 creating a very large square. In modern times, it often refers to a flag that denotes the presence of a high-ranking officer, like a general or admiral, or a specific headquarters.

28th Virginia Infantry Battle Standard

Flag of a U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral (more commonly called a Personal Color, see below for more)

An Ensign

This is the national flag flown on a vessel to denote its nationality. In the U.S. Navy, the ensign is the U.S. flag, and it is flown from the stern (rear) of the ship when in port and from the mainmast when underway. It’s also flown from an installation or facility of the United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, United States Coast Guard, or the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration ashore.

First US Naval Ensign (1776–1777)

A Jack

A naval jack is a flag flown at the bow (front) of a ship while anchored or moored. The design often differs from the national ensign and can have specific historic or symbolic significance. The US Navy Jack is the canton portion (often called the Union, since it represents the union of the USA) of the US flag. A blue field with 50 white stars. It is flown from the Jack Staff on a mast.

The First US Navy Jack

Current US Navy Jack

Naval Jack of Mexico

A Pennant

A pennant is a narrow, tapering flag commonly used by naval vessels. Different types of pennants can indicate various things, like a ship’s commission, the absence of a commanding officer, or a specific action like an attempt to set a speed record.

US Navy Commissioning Pennant

US Coast Guard Commissioning Pennant

US Navy Unit Commendation Pennant

From flagsandemblems.com

Example of a Chapel Service Pennant

When we think of pennants, the two flag types above are what usually come to mind. However, the state of Ohio’s flag is also a pennant.

State of Ohio Pennant with Staff Sleeve and Fringe

A Burgee

A burgee is a distinguishing flag, regardless of its shape, of a recreational boating organization. In most cases, they have the shape of a pennant.

Burgee of the Adelaide University Sailing Club

A Guidon

In the U.S. military, a guidon is a small flag or streamer carried by units. It is typically used by companies, batteries, troops, and similar-sized units for identification and as a rallying point.

Army Adjutant General Corps Guidon (AR 840-10)

Army Armored Corps Guidon

Marine Corps Guidon (MCO 4400.201 Vol 13, Chap 10)

Navy Guidon (NTP 13B)

US Air Force Guidon (AFI 34-1201)

US Space Force Guidon

US Coast Guard Guidon (AUP stands for the Auxiliary University Program, the “ROTC” of the Coast Guard)

A Personal Color

Indicates an officer’s rank. These officers are known as “flag officers” because the flag comes with the rank. All PCs must have fringe (PCs flown from a mast aboard a ship, do not have fringe).

Flag of a US Space Force General

Flag of a US Marine Corps Major General

Flag of a US Army Brigadier General

A Positional Color

This flag denotes an individual’s position within the US government as a civilian or member of the military. The flags do not necessarily signify rank, but the flag can include the individual’s military rank since some positions require a certain rank. All PCs must have fringe (PCs flown from a mast aboard a ship, do not have fringe).

Flag of the Chief of Space Operations (officer)

Flag of the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the JCS (enlisted)

Flag of the Secretary of the Navy (civilian)

Departmental Colors

The term “Departmental” is widely used, but it separates the service colors from organizational colors, even though the departmental colors are considered organizational colors.

The First Flag of the US Navy

Organizational Colors

Any military flag representing a command within the service and also joint commands.

Flag of the United States Army 1st Armored Division

For the Marine Corps, every unit that is authorized a flag carries a variation of the Marine Corps departmental color. That variation is the unit’s lettering on the scroll at the bottom of the flag.

Below are images of the US Navy Unit Color based on the original US Navy Flag, pictured above. It is the Infantry Battalion Flag and carried by only a very few commands in the Navy. These photos are from the US Navy Ceremonial Guard in Washington DC.

Written with DeVaughn Simper, Vexillologist at Colonial Flag

The Redundancy of State Orders for Half-Staff Flags: A Clarification for Governors

DrillMasterInstructional, Protocol and Flag Leave a Comment


When the President of the United States orders the American flag to be flown at half-staff, it serves as a directive for federal buildings and grounds across the nation. This article aims to clarify for state governors the redundancy of issuing separate orders for the same purpose.

Federal Authority and Nationwide Impact

The President’s authority to order the flag to half-staff is encompassing and is recognized across the United States of America. This directive automatically extends to all federal buildings, military facilities, and U.S. embassies worldwide, setting a precedent for national mourning or respect.


The authority for the President of the United States to order the American flag to half-staff comes from the Title 4 (what we commonly call the Flag Code), Chapter 1 of the United States Code covers the use and display of the flag and provides the President with the discretion to order the flag to be flown at half-staff as a mark of respect to the memory of certain deceased officials and individuals, as well as during certain national observances.

Understanding the Role of State Governors

The Governor’s role in flag protocols is crucial within their respective state. However, when the President issues a half-staff order, it universally applies and is inherently inclusive of all states and territories. Issuing a separate state directive under these circumstances becomes redundant.

Key Considerations for Governors

  • Avoiding Redundancy: Once the President has ordered flags to half-staff, it is understood that this includes all states and territories.
    • This is addressed in the US Flag Code that flags shall not fly higher than or to the right of the US Flag. Therefore, issuing a state-level order is unnecessary and may even cause confusion about the protocol. For more on flag display protocol, see also this article.
  • Unified National Response: Following the President’s directive without additional state orders promotes a unified national response.
  • Effective Communication: Rather than issuing a redundant order, focus on communicating the federal directive to your constituents. This ensures everyone is informed and understands the reason behind the flag being at half-staff.
  • Respect for Protocol: Respecting the established protocol underlines the solemnity and significance of the gesture of flying the flag at half-staff. It maintains the dignity and uniformity of this national symbol.
  • Efficient Governance: Streamlining the process by not duplicating orders frees up resources and time for other critical governance matters, especially during times of crisis or national mourning.


Governors have the authority to order the US and state flags to half-staff within their respective states and that is derived from a few areas.

Their role as the commander-in-chief for their State and National Guards, Title 4 USC, Public Law 110-41, and lastly, their respective state laws or gubernatorial proclamations. Each state has its own set of protocols and guidelines regarding the lowering of the flag to half-staff, often in line with federal guidelines but also with specific provisions for state-level officials, dignitaries, or events.

The Standards

  1. Ensure the American flag is quickly raised to full truck (the top) and then slowly brough down to half-staff (half-mast is a maritime term only).
  2. While a flag lower than full truck is considered half-staff, the vertical center of the pole and flag should match.
  3. No other flag should be beneath the American. It looks awkward, can create undue stress on the halyard, clasps, and pully, and the flag beneath could possibly brush up against a lower object.


For state governors, recognizing the comprehensive nature of the President’s directive to fly the flag at half-staff is crucial. Issuing a separate state order under these circumstances is not only redundant and a waste of resources, but can also detract from the unified national sentiment intended by the gesture. In such times, it is more effective to support and relay the federal directive, ensuring a cohesive and respectful national response.

Written by DeVaughn Simper, Resident Vexillologist for Colonial Flag