Joint Service Colors

The Why of the Color Guard: Military Joint Service Order

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So many Base Honor Guards, Civil Air Patrol, Sea Cadets, and JROTC units carry multiple service colors constantly in street parades to represent all, or most, of the services. While I understand this, it’s against color guard protocol. Here’s the information. See also this article, Joint Service Order of the Colors. For US first responders, see the article, American First Responder Joint Service Order.

FYI: any color guard associated with the Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard CANNOT carry any flag other than the national ensign and the service departmental/organizational. This is fully explained here.

Full Joint Service Order*

  • Soldier – Right/Lead Rifle
  • Soldier – National Flag
  • Soldier – Army Departmental Flag (never the Army Field Flag**)
  • Marine – Marine Corps Departmental Flag
  • Sailor – Navy Departmental Flag
  • Airman – Air Force Departmental Flag
  • Guardian – Space Force Departmental Flag
  • Coast Guardsman – Coast Guard Departmental Flag
  • Marine – Left/Trail Rifle Guard

*No other flag is authorized in this formation. No other flag. Please understand this. A state flag, the POW/MIA flag, the Merchant Mariner flag, no other flag is authorized to be carried in this formation.

**The Army Field flag is only authorized to be carried by an Army-only color guard and never in conjunction with other services. The Army Field Flag was developed because the Army departmental flag was initially required to be carried with battle streamers. The units that could not afford the flag and streamers were authorized to carry the Field Flag. Senior ROTC units are among those authorized to carry the Field Flag. The departmental is authorized to be carried with or without streamers.

Partial Joint Service Order

Any mix of the above colors requires the following.

  • Senior service present – Right/Lead Rifle
  • Senior service present – National Flag
  • Senior service present – Service Departmental Flag
  • Second senior service present- Service Departmental Flag
  • Third service, etc.
  • Second senior service present – Left/Trail Rifle Guard

National Guard Joint Service

While the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard can both carry their authorized flags when forming a single-service color guard, including the state, it would seem proper to include the state flag as well for joint service National Guard units since they serve the governor of that state. There is no specific guidance to add the state flag except what is referenced in this article. The regulations would indicate the state flag is not allowed, however this is a similar tier of service at the state level as the national level and inclusion of the state flag does seem proper. Here is an example.

  • Soldier – Right/Lead Rifle
  • Soldier – National Flag
  • Airman – State Flag
  • Soldier – Army National Guard Flag
  • Airman – Air National Guard Flag
  • Airman – Left/Trail Rifle Guard

Reserve, Auxiliary, and Cadets

These units must follow the guidelines set forth for the Active Duty.

Directives, Regulations, Orders, and Instructions

Cutting to the chase: service colors are carried by a member of that service, not anyone else. Now, to back that up, keep reading.

4-2. Precedence of Soldiers at parades and reviews, “d. In parades and in ceremonies on shore in which several Services are participating, precedence should be according to subparagraph e, below, without regard to the relative grades of the commanding officers of the detachments. A member of the senior Service present will bear the national colors, and the organizational colors of the Services represented will be carried in order of seniority from right to left as viewed from the rear.”

AR 600-25, Salutes, Honors, and Courtesies

Composition of the Color Guard, “c. A Joint Armed Forces Color Guard will consist of eight members; three Army, two Marine, one Navy, one Air Force, and one Coast Guard. The national color bearer and commander of a joint [full] color guard will be a Soldier. The respective service colors are aligned to the left of the national colors.”

MCO 5060.20, Drill and Ceremonies

2.11. Order of Precedence of Flags. “ In Joint Service Color Teams, the Army carries the United States Flag and commands the color team as the senior Service. The rifle guard nearest the United States Flag is Army and the rifle guard farthest from the United States Flag will be a Marine.”

AFI 34-1201, Protocol

E8.5.1. In public programs for which DoD support has been authorized and at which the display of the U.S. flag and the flags of the Military Services is applicable, a Joint Armed Forces Color Guard shall be employed, when available, using the following composition:
E8.5.1.1. Two Army bearers with the U.S. flag and Army flag.
E8.5.1.2. One each Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard bearer with individual Military Service flags.
E8.5.1.3. One Army and one Marine Corps rifleman, as escorts.
E8.5.2. When a Joint Armed Forces Color Guard, as specified in paragraph E8.5.1., above, cannot be formed, the senior member of the senior Military Service in the color guard shall carry the U.S. flag. The DoD Components shall be guided by DoD Directive 1005.8 (reference (t)).
E8.5.3. U.S. military personnel may carry the official national flag of foreign nations participating in official civil ceremonies, defined as a “public event,” that are funded, sponsored, and conducted by the U.S. Federal Government or a State, county, or municipal government, when an official of the nation concerned is present in an official capacity to receive such honors, and the official is one for whom honors normally are rendered. In all other public programs or ceremonies, U.S. military personnel in uniform and in an official capacity are not authorized to carry flags of foreign nations, veterans groups, or other non-military organizations.

DoDI 5410.19

The order of precedence in a parade of military and naval forces is:

  • Cadets, United States Military Academy
  • Midshipmen, United States Naval Academy
  • Cadets, United States Coast Guard
  • Regular Army
  • United States Marines
  • United States Navy
  • United States Coast Guard
  • National Guard organizations that have been federally recognized
  • Marine Corps Reserve
  • Naval Reserve
  • Other organizations of the Organized Reserves, National Guard, Naval Militia, Reserve Officers Training Corps, and other training units in the order prescribed by the grand marshal of the parade
    Veterans and patriotic organizations in the order prescribed by the grand marshal of the parade

A joint-service color guard also reflects this order of precedence.

Although the Navy’s birthday is 13 October 1775, a loss of appropriations in 1785 temporarily ended the service’s existence until it was reestablished with the Naval Act of 1794. Because of this timeline lapse, the U.S. Marine Corps’ birthday on 10 November 1775 gives the Marines precedence in parades and joint-service color guards.

General Order 47

Why are Cadet and Midshipmen First?

Because General Order 47 says so. Other than that, I do not know and cannot find any more information on it. All I know is that this order of precedence applies to formations of military men and women and and flags that are carried and displayed.


These excerpts tell us that several positions are manned specifically and not just by anyone in any position, but nothing tells us outright that an Airman must carry the USAF flag or a Sailor must carry the Navy flag. It seems that, as long as the flags are in the correct order, everything is OK. However, while understandable, that just doesn’t make complete sense. Why would only three positions be required to be manned specifically and the other positions not matter who mans them?

Knowing all this, it is incumbent on us to plan to fill each position for a color guard using the correct personnel for each position. What if we are unable to find a Space Force Guardian (for example)? Then, the SF flag should not be carried. Again, I do understand why units of one service carry all the departmental flags, but, according to the regulations, it’s not appropriate.


DeVaughn Simper, Vexillologist for Colonial Flag,, was a great help in providing guidance for this article.

DoD Dir 1005.8, Order of Precedence of US Armed Forces (1977) [due to the creation of Space Force this will need to be updated very soon, should have been already]; Memorandum to DoD Dir 1005.8 (15 July 2016); DoDI 5410.19 Public Affairs Community Relations Policy (2001); AFI 34-1201, Protocol (2020) [the writers got the arrangement of the Space Force wrong in this edition, SF is immediately to the left of AF], and finally, General Order No. 47 established the Precedence of Forces in Parades on 13 May 1935.

Marine Corps Color Guard Two National Flags Parade Order

Displaying Flags vs. Carrying Them

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We need clarification and constant reminders of standards of what many think they remember and what actually exists in reality. This is not an insult directed at anyone. There are thousands of well-meaning Americans who remember what they were taught in school or during their time in the military and those memories fade, just like every other aspect of teaching. We need a refresher. This article is a refresher and also addresses some information that may not be readily accessible.

There is a difference between carrying and displaying flags. A display of flags is already in a set of stands either for daily display or for an event/ceremony and not carried by a color guard.

Any flags carried first with the intention of posting them in stands for an event/ceremony must conform to the requirements of a color guard. Just because flags will eventually be posted does not mean the color guard can ignore these standards.

Tribal Flags

There is no documentation on the order of precedence for tribal flags. I find this unfortunate. The advice DeVaughn was given was to place the tribal flags after the territories because tribes do not have representation in Congress and are under the Department of the Interior.

When on tribal soil, the appropriate tribal flag would go to the marching left of the US (where the state should be).

For multiple tribal flags, alphabetical order is best as it eliminates a very contentious subject of establishment date.

All of this is reasoned opinion and not solid protocol.

Fringe on Flags

It’s best to avoid fringe on foreign national flags. Some foreign flags have a certain color and length of fringe, but international flag protocol settles the matter at leaving fringe off. Here is an example below.

Arrival Ceremony at the Pentagon

You can see in the image above that both national flags do not have fringe even though the Army requires fringe on all flags carried by soldiers.

Color Guard: Foreign National, State, US Territory, and Tribal Flags

I need to emphasize this now: A color guard NEVER marches with the American flag higher. Color guard flags are always carried at the same level unless the bearer height or waist levels are so different that the American flag must be carried higher, but it is then carried MINIMALLY higher.

Flags must be as close to the same dimensions as possible and flagstaffs must be the same length.

Foreign national, American Indian tribal, and US territory flags are considered foreign national flags when it comes to flag protocol. This is not about legal issues, that’s much too confusing and contentious. We are strictly addressing flag protocol.

Army, Air Force, and Space Force

If your color guard is Army, Air Force, or Space Force, the the foreign national, state, US territory, or tribal flag is carried directly next to the American flag on its left. If there is one of each that is the order for carrying.

Army, Air Force, and Space Force color guards can carry up to five flags with one having to be the departmental/organizational. For more about the Army color guard, read this article. For more on about the Air Force and Space Force color guard, read this article.

Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard

The Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard form a separate three-man color guard for the foreign national, tribal*, or US territory flag with two guards. If more than one flag in this category, then another three-man color guard is formed.

*As for the tribal flag, there is no guiding documentation as to how the Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard it represents a nation and the recommendation is to treat the flag just like a foreign national or US territory flag.

State flags cannot be carried at all. The Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard can only carry the national ensign and the departmental/organizational flags in the main color guard. For more, read this article.

Two National Flags on Separate Teams

The image above shows both teams standing together on US soil (Marine Barracks Washington) with the foreign national flag’s team to the left of the main team in line formation with approximately two steps in between. The team of three takes all commands from the color guard proper (main team). The main image at the top of this article shows these two teams in parade order with the main team in front and the second team centered behind at approximately six steps.

Display: Foreign National, State, US Territory, and Tribal Flags

Standard flag display

A flag display follows established protocol, whether national or international. For this display, all flags are as close to the same dimensions as possible and all flagstaffs (indoors) or flagpoles (outdoors) are the same length/height.

Foreign National-Specific

  • A foreign national flag is never displayed to the right of the American flag when on US soil.
  • A foreign national flag is never displayed lower than the American flag.
    • The American flag can be displayed at half-staff/mast while the foreign national flag is flown at full truck (all the way to the top). Some countries consider half-staff/mast to be insulting to their flag.
  • A foreign national flag is never displayed under the American flag.


  1. The American flag is displayed to its’ right (viewer’s left).
  2. Any foreign national flag is next and if more than one will be displayed (not counting the US) they are displayed in alphabetical order in the English.
  3. Next comes any state flag and if more than one, the flags are arranged in order of acceptance into the union, not alphabetical.
  4. A US Territory flag is next and if more than one, they are arranged by territory establishment date.
  5. A tribal flag would be next and if more than one, the flags are arranged in alphabetical order.

American Flag Higher

It’s a myth that the American flag must always be higher. There is one display where having the American flag higher is a must.

I need to reemphasize this: A color guard does not march with the American flag higher. Color guard flags are carried at the same level unless the bearer height or waist level is so different that the American flag must be carried higher, but it is then carried MINIMALLY higher.

The only time the American flag is displayed higher is when it is in the middle of the display. The flags it is displayed with radiate out from it starting on the right.

American flag higher and center with radiating flags

The graphic above is ONLY for a static display indoors or outdoors. A color guard does not carry or post colors like this. These displays are always informally setup before a ceremony or for daily viewing.


Just because you may want or think that the American flag should be higher, doesn’t mean you force it. All flags are raised to full truck and when all of your flagpoles are the same height, that means the American is raised at the far right, viewer’s left. For more on outside displays, read this article.

Creating this Article

I collaborated on the fine details of this article with DeVaughn Simper, Vexillologist for Colonial Flag. The only flag manufacturer that I recommend with a very knowledgeable staff. Consultations were also with the Institute of Heraldry and the State Department Protocol Office.

Besides the consultations mentioned above, the following were part of the research. The Flag Code, TC 3-21.5, AR 840-10, MCO 5060.20, MCO 10520.3, AFMAN 36-2203, AFI 34-1201, and AFPAM 34-1202.

The Firing Party Timing

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Forensic Experts Galore

What you hear and what you see can be two different things. A firing party fires so quickly that it can be impossible to hear that a single shot fired by all seven team members is not at exactly the same split second.

We hear perfection, but a photo or still from a video can show a very, very minute imperfection. However, just because all seven did not fire at exactly the same instant does not mean we do not hear what is called a “Boomer”, all seven sounding like one booming shot.

Just because you don’t see a plume of smoke or fire emanating from every single barrel doesn’t mean the team sounded like popcorn popping. OK, you have fired before and know the concepts behind it, that doesn’t mean you are a forensic expert.

In the photo at top, you can see the historic reenactment of firing black powder rifles. Notice the slightly different plumes of smoke and fire. Even with this variation in the photo, it’s quite possible they sounded like one shot. Same with these images below.

May 1919: Firing party at a memorial day for American and British soldiers buried at the war cemetery in Brookwood, Surrey.
Kelly Dragus, wife Jonathan Dragus–the last Oklahoma City police officer killed in the line of duty–fires her pistol with other members of the honor guard as fallen officers are remembered at a memorial in front of Oklahoma City Police Headquarters in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on Friday, May 9, 2008. BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OKLAHOMAN

The 21-Gun Salute

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Let us get this out of the way: a firing party does not fire the 21-gun Salute.  The 21-Gun Salute is fired on land or at sea, and only by cannons, which are called guns. I know we call a rifle a gun, but it’s a rifle. The Firing Party fires the Three Volley Salute. Click here to read Fire Team, Firing Party and Firing Squad. What’s the Difference?

on land

at Sea

The Origins of the 21-gun Salute

(Source: Headquarters, Military District of Washington, FACT SHEET: GUN SALUTES, May 1969.)


The use of gun salutes for military occasions is traced to early warriors who demonstrated their peaceful intentions by placing their weapons in a position that rendered them ineffective. Apparently this custom was universal, with the specific act varying with time and place, depending on the weapons being used. A North African tribe, for example, trailed the points of their spears on the ground to indicate that they did not mean to be hostile.

The tradition of rendering a salute by cannon originated in the 14th century as firearms and cannons came into use. Since these early devices contained only one projectile, discharging them once rendered them ineffective. Originally warships fired seven-gun salutes–the number seven probably selected because of its astrological and Biblical significance. Seven planets had been identified and the phases of the moon changed every seven days. The Bible states that God rested on the seventh day after Creation, that every seventh year was sabbatical and that the seven times seventh year ushered in the Jubilee year.

Land batteries, having a greater supply of gunpowder, were able to fire three guns for every shot fired afloat, hence the salute by shore batteries was 21 guns. The multiple of three probably was chosen because of the mystical significance of the number three in many ancient civilizations. Early gunpowder, composed mainly of sodium nitrate, spoiled easily at sea, but could be kept cooler and drier in land magazines. When potassium nitrate improved the quality of gunpowder, ships at sea adopted the salute of 21 guns.

The 21-gun salute became the highest honor a nation rendered. Varying customs among the maritime powers led to confusion in saluting and return of salutes. Great Britain, the world’s preeminent seapower in the 18th and 19th centuries, compelled weaker nations to salute first, and for a time monarchies received more guns than did republics. Eventually, by agreement, the international salute was established at 21 guns, although the United States did not agree on this procedure until August 1875.

The gun salute system of the United States has changed considerably over the years. In 1810, the “national salute” was defined by the War Department as equal to the number of states in the Union–at that time 17. This salute was fired by all U.S. military installations at 1:00 p.m. (later at noon) on Independence Day. The President also received a salute equal to the number of states whenever he visited a military installation.

In 1842, the Presidential salute was formally established at 21 guns. In 1890, regulations designated the “national salute” as 21 guns and redesignated the traditional Independence Day salute, the “Salute to the Union,” equal to the number of states. Fifty guns are also fired on all military installations equipped to do so at the close of the day of the funeral of a President, ex-President, or President-elect.

Today the national salute of 21 guns is fired in honor of a national flag, the sovereign or chief of state of a foreign nation, a member of a reigning royal family, and the President, ex-President and President-elect of the United States. It is also fired at noon of the day of the funeral of a President, ex-President, or President-elect.

Gun salutes are also rendered to other military and civilian leaders of this and other nations. The number of guns is based on their protocol rank. These salutes are always in odd numbers.

The Personal Color

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Definition -Personal Color

For the US government and military, a personal color is a flag that represents an individual’s rank and/or office. This is where the term Flag Officer comes from. General Officers (GOs), Generals and Admirals, are Flag Officers because they have a flag with 1, 2, 3, or 4 stars on it.

The sample GO PCs above are in no particular order. Notice that the Army uses a red background and several branches use different colors. Most Army flags have gold colored fringe, some organizational and personal/positional colors have fringe based on the branch color.

The Marine Corps uses a darker red background and arranges stars differently. The fringe is gold colored.

The Navy arranges stars like the Marine Corps and has Admiral flags with a blue (line officer) and white (restricted officer) backgrounds. The white background is for officers ineligible for command at sea (Medical, JAG, etc.). The fringe is gold colored.

The Air Force follows the Army with star arrangement and uses the USAF blue for the background. The fringe is gold colored. The CAP seal is in the positional color (covered below) with a brighter blue.

The Space Force follows the Army with star arrangement. The flag color is black with silver colored fringe.

The Coast Guard arranges stars like the Marine Corps, has the service seal in the center. The fringe is gold colored.

Air Force PC furled and Space Force PC unfurled for transitioning GO.

Definition – Positional Color

Any civilian or member of the military who holds a certain office (position) in the US government or a military service is authorized a PC.

Examples of Positional Colors for civilians are each secretary of a military service (Secretary of the Army, Navy, etc.), Secretary of Defense, the President and Vice President, Senior Executive Service personnel, and more.

Examples of Positional Colors for military personnel are Chiefs of staff for the Army and Air Force, Chiefs of Naval and Space Operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and there are also several enlisted positional colors holders as well.

There are positional colors for the head of each branch of the Army (Adjutant General, Engineers, IG, JAG, etc.) and many, many more.

Below is the Secretary of the Navy flag. This is a civilian position but rates at the 4-star level. There are Assistant and Under Secretary flags as well.

Secretary of the Navy

Several high-ranking enlisted in our military warrant positional colors. They most often have the title of Senior Enlisted Leader. While our enlisted ranks may have stars in the design, it’s the added stars that elevate the individual for a position. Many enlisted leaders receive general officer protocols. As an example, below are the flags of the top enlisted leader of the US military, the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (SEAC) and the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (CMSAF).

But Wait, There’s More!

The US government has eight uniformed services: The six armed services (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, and Coast Guard) and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Public Health Service (PHS).

NOAA (under the Department of Commerce), and PHS have small officer corps. These uniformed services have positional and flag officer colors. Here are some examples.

Interestingly, officers do not take part in color guards, carry guidon flags, or personal colors. So, both organizations do not use formations on a regular basis after training.

JFK funeral – PC bearer at the left


The first recorded use of a PC was for Julius Caesar, but some speculate the Pharaohs may have had them. Personal colors really got their popularity in medieval times when the knights would have their coat of arms emblazoned on a flag with a servant following behind carrying the flag (and possibly knocking coconut halves together). It follows that when the knight died, his PC bearer would be at the funeral. The thought process for trailing is that, in life, the PC bearer followed Caesar and the knights. It makes sense to continue that practice.

As goofy as this reference may be, it’s accurate, minus the coconut halves being knocked together. The knights here in the movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail are followed by servants who are carrying their respective personal flags.

Still image from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Precedence Today

The Army, Air Force, Space Force, PC bearers all trail the casket, when it is in motion (caisson, coach, or by the body bearers).

The funeral party travels in the following order (see figure 14-4):
– Clergy.
– Conveyance with casket.
– Active pallbearers.
– Personal flag (if appropriate).
– Family and CAO.
– Friends.

TC 3-21.5, Drill and Ceremonies

The Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard PC bearers precede the casket. This could come from this idea: depending on the Naval vessel, the PC would be flown from a mast or yardarm, usually at the front of the vessel (but it also depends on the vessel). This might be the difference between land-based and sea-based services, but it’s not a hard-and-fast rule.

d. The bearer of the personal flag of the deceased takes position and marches in front of the hearse or caisson.

MCO 5060.20, Drill and Ceremonies

Display of personal flag, command pennant or commission pennant in funerals ashore. If the deceased was a flag or general officer, or at the time of his or her death, a unit commander or commanding officer of a ship, the appropriate personal flag or command pennant, or commission pennant, shall be draped in mourning and carried immediately in advance of the body in the funeral procession to the grave.

OPNAVINST 1710.7A, Social Usage and Protocol

14.2.1. General. The USAF Honor Guard or the Base Honor Guard under the provisions of AFI 34-242, Mortuary Affairs Program, typically conducts military funerals. [This means you would use the applicable honor guard manual to obtain placement guidance – DM] Personal Colors. For funerals honoring general officers, their personal colors are present. During the ceremony, the honor guard will furl and case the personal colors. This is the only instance when personal colors are furled and cased.

AFPAM 34-1202, Guide to Protocol
Medal of Honor Personal Color

Order of Precedence of Multiple PCs

It’s quite possible to have more than one personal color at a funeral. For instance, a Medal of Honor recipient might also have been a prisoner of war. That recipient might be the senior leader of their branch of service, which would bring the total to three PCs.

The order in these instances would be MoH, positional, POW/MIA. The POW flag changes places each year on several holidays (read here), this does not apply to PCs as the MoH would always be first, regardless of the PC lineup and the positional would always take precedence over the POW.

Information on the Medal of Honor flag is found in Title 36 USC section 903 and Public Law107-248.

SEC. 8143. (a) Congress finds that— (1) the Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Forces of the United States [this means that no other personal color would take precedence- DM].

Title 36 USC section 903 and Public Law 107-248


After the procession is finished and the escort has arrived at the grave site, each ceremonial element posts along with the PC bearer(s). Regardless of the service, the PC bearer posts near the escort officer at the head.

The First Responder PC

A PC for the Fallen might be something your department honor guard would be interested in. A Thin Line flag (black background with the single colored stripe) or a special flag created by your department could serve as a PC. What might add extra significance is using streamers with the names and dates of the department’s LODDs.

Many thanks to DeVaughn Simper, Vexillologist, of and Michael Kelley, DrillMaster002

The DrillMaster Response

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While a massive majority of readers understand exactly what I do, there a tiny few who feel that I need to be told how to do what I do. However, those few are very few and are disrespectful, arrogant, selfish, prideful, vulgar, and many times childish.

Before we continue, let’s define some terms. We need to because some believe they already know what these terms mean, but in reality, they don’t understand them at all and that leads not only to confusing communication but also an adversarial atmosphere which accomplishes nothing.

Applicable Terms

Scorn: a feeling and expression of contempt or disdain for someone or something.

Rebuke/Scold/Reproach: express sharp disapproval or criticism of (someone) because of their behavior or actions.


  • The expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.
  • The analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a performance.

Constructive Criticism: The process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinions about the work of others, usually involving both positive and negative comments, not in an oppositional but professional manner.

Destructive Criticism: Purely negative comments purposefully designed as an attack against another. It is never useful.

You Put on a Uniform…

When you put on a uniform, you incur a certain amount of responsibility and certain standards must be met. In the case of a cadet org, your responsibility is to your unit, (school), community, cadet HQ, the service (AF, etc.), and the USA (in the case of a color guard). You are not just a regular Joe or Jane. Same for everyone in uniform. You represent something bigger than yourself.

When in that uniform and you pick up a piece of equipment, even more responsibility and higher standards come your way. You will be held accountable eventually. Don’t like it? Don’t do it.

Why do we have competitions?

To hone our skills and to ensure we are following standards (regulation drill) and/or to display our expertise in a certain area to where others approach us to find out how we train and practice. A competition is not about seeing who is better than others, but who or which team has better training and more efficient practice methods. Seeing competitors as the adversary is the wrong outlook.

Team Green should be able to go to Team Blue and ask, “How did you XYZ?” and Team Blue should then be able to then give an explanation. This is explained in the aphorism first coined by President John F. Kennedy, “a rising tide lifts all boats”. It is the idea that improvements in an economy will benefit all participants (all teams) in that economy. For our purposes here economy means a particular system and that system is the Military Drill World.


I have been judging visual performances for many years. While I was stationed in Netherlands, I was certified by Color Guard Nederland (the Dutch sister organization of Winter Guard International) as a General Effect Visual adjudicator. I judged for Drum Corps United Kingdom, Drum Corps Holland, and the Pacific Coast Judges Association in California. Since 1994 I have judged JROTC drill meets in several states and different countries and have judged a fire department honor guard competition. If you look at my Instagram account you will see that I have “judged” thousands of videos and images sent in by followers and posted them on the account. This doesn’t take into account the multiple hundreds of MP3 files that I have sent to Active Duty, Guard, and Reserve military members from all services (yes, Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen, & Coast Guardsmen), international drill teams, solo Drillers, JROTC instructors, and cadets with my real-time feedback of their performance.

Most of the time my feedback is quite critical and has few positives. That is unfortunate, but many times a rebuke is necessary. We learn from rebukes, not scorn. My comments are based on the written standards (Flag Code, all service D&C, protocol, and flag manuals) for regulation drill elements and the only written standards for exhibition drill, the World Drill Association Adjudication Manual.

“Praise in Public, Punish in Private”

Punishment is a penalty inflicted for an offense, fault, etc.

I can only critique, ladies and gentlemen. It’s impossible for me to punish. Don’t get the “praise in public, punish in private” idea mixed up with constructive criticism. If you train to THE standard, not A standard, then you’ll get more ⭐ than ❌ for your critique on my Instagram account.

I receive appreciative feedback all the time from those who request a critique and on a consistent basis from those who are not even involved with the critique request (helping others learn by another’s mistakes). And then there are those who don’t have a clue.

“They’re just children!” is my favorite ridiculous comment, referring to cadets who have never picked up their service drill and ceremonies manual and yet presented the colors at an event. Other comments I’ve received: “You should thank them (veterans or military in uniform performing horribly) for just being there”, “Their hearts are in the right place”, and the latest, “They are just (Civil Air Patrol) Cadets, give them a break”, and here’s a good one, “I’m just glad they showed up”. Is that the extra

I’ve tried to explain what is going on to these people in an attempt to help them understand that standards always matter regardless of your age or any other factor that happens to come to mind. Unfortunately all I receive in return is scorn, which devolves into personal attacks. I don’t explain anymore.

Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:7b NASB

“I’m just happy they showed up” is a new comment. This means some are teaching cadets that standards don’t matter. It means there is no expectation of the achievement of excellence. It means that the bar is set so low that all cadets have to do is roll out of bed, dress, and roll over the bar. It means, in the case of this comment, that the USAF Core Values are MEANINGLESS.

“Ownership Leadership”

There is a (really bad) style of leadership that I call Ownership Leadership. You encounter it every once in a while when someone in a supervisory position tells you to never correct their charge(s) directly, you must see the supervisor as if the supervisor owns the individual(s). Correction on the spot is necessary and those who whine about the correction are insecure, plain and simple. This insecurity stems from the fear that the supervisor isn’t the superstar leader he made himself out to be.

Your cadets already know that you are a good or a bad leader, I talk to hundreds and hundreds of cadets every year about all kinds of things and one consistent topic is adults involved in cadet programs and how good or poor their leadership actually is.

There is No Excuse

If you are military or a cadet, read your applicable service manuals, all of them are available for free here. If you are in a Scouting-type program, stand by, more information is coming from The DrillMaster specifically for you. If you are a first responder, get on board with the United States Certified Ceremonial Guardsman program with the ceremonial standards detailed in The Honor Guard Manual.

A Study of Mark Time

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

The Different Categories of Military Drill and Ceremonies

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

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

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

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

The Requirements

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

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


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

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

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

The Proper Technique

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

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

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


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

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

Ankle-Knee image from

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

The Regulation Drill Styles

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


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

TC 3-21.5 3 May 2021

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

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

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

Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard

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

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

When Halted

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

When Marching at Quick Time

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

MCO 5060.20 15 May 2019

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

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

Air Force and Space Force

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

The explanation below highlighted in bold that makes zero sense.

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

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

AFMAN 36-2203 19 June 2018

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

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

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

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

To Halt


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

Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard

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

Air Force and Space Force

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

AFMAN 36-2203

To Resume Marching


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

TC 3-21.5

Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard

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

MCO 5060.20

Air Force and Space Force

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

AFMAN 36-2203

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

The Color Guard is Not First

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Band, platoon, colors, and platoon

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

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

Guidon Bearer?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TC 3-21.5 15-3 03 May 2021

To elaborate on the above quote

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

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

USMC Departmental

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

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

Cadet Unit Organizational Flags

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

Replacement Ideology

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

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

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

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