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The JROTC Instructor

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The Good, the Bad…

First, lets get something out of the way. Not all JROTC instructors are great people. Not all bank tellers are great people. Pick a job and you will have someone in a position that makes you wonder why they chose to take it. On the flip side of that, there are incredible JROTC instructors in each branch (including mine, Lt Col Bernard C. Lorenz and CMSgt Earl C. Broomhead), including some of the National Guard-run programs like Junior Guard in Kentucky.

JROTC instructors are all retired (20 or more years) or medically retired from their branch of service in the US military and have chosen to help mold some of America’s youth into being better citizens- the stated goal of the JROTC program.

Next, let’s also get this out of the way. JROTC instructors need better training in drill and ceremonies in general (more on that later), but color guard standards in particular. JROTC units have color guards all over newspapers, TV, and the internet. It’s time we had some highly trained officers and NCOs to ensure service standards are followed.

In this vein, I don’t understand how NJROTC can write the Cadet Field Manual and almost completely ignore MCO 5060.2 and MCO 10520.3. But, that’s another article. Moving on.

and the Ugly

Now, there are BAD instructors. Just go to a search engine and type in “JROTC instructor arrested” and you will see a long list of men sent to prison over the years, mostly for having an inappropriate relationship with a cadet.

Another type of bad JROTC instructor is the one who is abusive. The one who is unable to leave his time as a Drill Sergeant, Drill Instructor, or Training Instructor behind. JROTC is not indoctrinating civilians into becoming Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen, or Coast Guardsmen, it’s making more responsible citizens.

Lastly, in our list of Bad Instructors, we come to the individual who is filling his or her position to supplement their income. At retirement, we get 50% of our Active Duty pay, or some percentage higher. When an instructor takes a position, that brings their pay back up to a similar level when they were in the service. School districts can pay two JROTC instructors and it only amounts to one teacher’s salary since both instructors get paid half. It’s a great deal all around.

The lazy instructor will rely heavily on cadets to run things. But, cadets are supposed to run things. Yes, that’s true. However, the instructors are supposed to be involved in supervision and guidance. Drill team and color guard is not supposed to happen outside while the instructor sits in their office. And that brings us to lack of knowledge and being embarrassed to admit it.

Education is Key!

My Instagram account has what I call, Micro Training Moments. The posts I make there (and cross-post to the DrillMaster Facebook page) are most often educational critiques of drill teams and soloists, but roughly 95% of my posts are regarding color guards and the flag. By presenting critique after critique, cadets around the world have been able to more fully understand the letter and meaning of TC 3-21.5, Drill and Ceremonies; AR 840-10 [Flag Manual]; MCO 5060.2, Drill and Ceremonies; MCO 10520.3 Flag Manual; AFMAN, 36-2203, Drill and Ceremonies; AFI, 34-1201, Protocol; and AFPAM 34-1202, Guide to Protocol. One big issue I deal with on a regular basis is informed cadets and uninformed instructors.

After being glued to social media for a time and reading post after post that my social media accounts provide, cadets can become more knowledgeable about drill and ceremonies and related subjects and possibly surpass their instructor(s). With that in mind you must remember that military officers may have marched in college, but, depending on their job, have almost zero to do with drill and ceremonies while in the service and, even though its an NCO thing, most enlisted instructors have not marched since their last professional development course which probably was five or even 10 years before they retired. That’s not meant as an excuse, it’s to help everyone involved understand the situation.

JROTC Instructors: You need to be as informed as possible on all of the guidance for your service detailed above. Otherwise, I will continue to receive emails from cadets like this: (Yes, this is edited text of an email and message I received)

Hello, I am curious what to do about instructors who do not know the regulations. I am in a JROTC unit in [a state] and recently a ceremony. Our job was to hold American flags for VIPs. Our cadet corps commander told us we were to dip the flag. I refused based on the standards in the Flag Code. The commander talked to our senior instructor who ordered that I dip the flag. I again refused and said I would not disrespect the flag. I was ordered to fall out of formation and talked to by our instructors for not doing what I was told. I then showed them the exact place in the Flag Code and they said “it’s just a one-time thing”. I was absolutely amazed by the ignorance of the people that are supposed to be teaching me and am unsure what to do at this point.

A concerned cadet

I’ve received emails and messages similar to this for years now. Please, JROTC HQs and instructors, let’s work out a plan to educate instructors so that we can avoid disrespect to our nation’s flag, our state, territory, and service flags. Here is another.

I would like some advice regarding one of my instructors, he’s a former Marine DI, and he is in the mindset of a DI. I recognize that some of his methods may be extreme but I believe that he is possibly a danger to the cadets, from what I have observed, he swears constantly but he has also threatened to physically assault me and he is prone to fits of rage.

A concerned cadet

Being an instructor means being a high school teacher with all of those responsibilities, plus: teaching years 1-4 with the different books that go along with them, plus armed drill team, unarmed drill team, rifle (shooting) team, Raiders, color guard, rocketry, cyber warrior, cadet counseling, and probably more. Some schools have three, four, and even five instructors, due to enrollment but those units are few. Most, have one officer and one enlisted instructor and that’s it. Some JROTC units have just one instructor!

There is a certain incorrect perception that everyone who graduated Basic Training/Boot Camp is an expert of everything military, especially drill, because that’s what we do in the service, we march everywhere- not anymore. The JROTC instructor who doesn’t want to look dumb in front of the high school cadets who might know more about drill than he/she does and hides instead of learns, is going to hurt the program.

Side note here: While this article is more about JROTC, we must include Sea Cadets, Young Marines, and Civil Air Patrol. These youth programs bear just as much responsibility to educate cadets and present the colors within service standards.

The New Instructor

Loyalty can be taken to extremes and I am very much aware of the severe backlash that comes from treating an instructor almost as a god. I’m quite serious.

The previous (Chief, 1SG, MSgt, etc.) taught the cadets one way and he retired at the end of last school year. Now you, the usurper, the new instructor, have moved in and destroyed everything we were working for! Or, that’s how it seems to a small group of cadets.

Personality conflicts will arise. Even though it takes time for everyone to adjust, one thing that cadets have to understand is that the instructor is in charge, period. Just because your new instructor is “terrible” because “everything is different” or whatever reason, is no excuse to cause an insurrection or mutiny.

A note to cadets: Even if your new (or current) instructor is not a very nice guy/gal, you need to deal with the situation or at least learn how to do so and be respectful. You are going to come across people who will end up being your best friend and others you will not get along with, no matter what you do. Deal with it, learn, and try to understand. Dealing with others in an adult, professional manner is going to do you and everyone around you good. Trying to get your way through manipulation, arguing, or stomping off while taking other cadets with you, shows that you have much growing up to do.

Outside Flag Display Protocol

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For years people have verbally attacked each other over what they thought they know to be true, especially where flag display is concerned. Even if you know what the Flag Code says and you politely try to correct someone about their display (hotel, business, school, etc.) you will probably receive and angry reply.

Standard display

The above display is for every day of the year except for the six national observances, below. See also this article on POW/MIA Flag Protocol.

Should only be displayed six days each year

Authorized for six days each year. The six national observances are:

  1. National POW/MIA Recognition Day (third Friday of September)
  2. Armed Forces Day
  3. Memorial Day
  4. Flag Day
  5. Independence Day
  6. Veterans Day
Proper display
Proper display

The only time the American flag is higher than

Flags must be raised to full truck

The above display is not appropriate since all of the flagpoles are the same height. The American flag should be at the viewer’s left, see the image at the very top.

Proper display withe the American flag in the center displayed with several other flags
Appropriate half-staff display
Appropriate half-staff display due to flagpole height
Inappropriate half-staff display due to flagpoles being the same height.
All flags must be at full truck
Appropriate half-staff display

In the above image, this is appropriate half-staff display with one (or more) national flags. This goes for a foreign business located in the US and also military installations located overseas. Foreign national flags may not be brought to half-staff without that government giving its OK. Military installations overseas must contact the host nation liaison for permission to lower the host nation flag.

Standard double-halyard pole display
Appropriate display six days each year (see at the top)
Appropriate half-staff display

“Intended Direction of Display” is a term that I coined to help people understand the direction of display and the location for each of the flags in the display.

Standard display
Flags located near the street should be displayed so that the American is closest to the street

The Flagstaff Spade Marker

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The Flagstaff

The guidon staff comes in three sizes for the US military:

  1. 8′ – for guidon flags and 3′ x 4′ colors (all services)
  2. 9’6″ – for 4’4″ x 5’6″ flags (all but the Air Force)
  3. 9′ – for 4’4″ x 5’6″ flags (Air Force, for some reason, as of 2019)

The Finial

A finial is a device or ornament at the top of a color guard flagstaff, outdoor flagpole, a lamp, and even at the ends of a drapery rod. Really. We will concentrate on the flagstaff.

The US military uses only the Army spearhead (also called the spade) on all guidon flagstaffs . With first responders being paramilitary, it makes perfect sense to follow military standards. The Navy and Coast Guard may, with local funds, purchase the battle-ax finial for use on flagstaffs. Read this article to see how to replace the spearhead.

Placing the Marker

When we stand at Order, Parade Rest (Stand at Ease), and Carry (Right Shoulder), the spade should be flat to the front. In order to do this, for many years, we (older guys) would use thumbtacks that we could feel with our fingers with the staff on the deck and/or see when carried. You can see the thumbtack on the upper half of this staff (the visual marker) on my kitchen floor.

A small-head (less noticeable) thumbtack is good, the one in the picture is a large-head. On the upper part of the staff the marker is used to align the staff when in the harness socket. A very small nail driven into the wood also works. You want to use something that the color bearer can feel on the lower portion of the staff and see on the upper half of the screen. However, anyone outside of the color guard formation should not be able to detect either marker.

At Carry/Right Shoulder

On the upper half of the staff a good way to mark the staff is to hold it at Carry (Right Shoulder), ensure the spade is flat, and take a ballpoint pen and draw a straight line on the staff right between the bearer’s eyes so that it is about two inches long. Press into the wood a bit to ensure the mark is made and make the mark on the side of the staff so that the fringe gather is pointing to the rear (spade) or to the front (flying eagle, battle-ax) so that the fringe is in the proper position when the flag posted (read this article for a full explanation). The line should be placed where it can be seen by a taller and shorter color bearer.

Another method would be to use a thin strip of tape in place of the pen mark. A thumbtack or small nail are good also.

At Order and Parade Rest/Stand at Ease

On the lower half of the staff, on the front side of the staff with the spade flat and the fringe gather in the preferred direction (see above), you can cut a small “V”-shaped groove (the point of the “V” would be toward the core of the staff) into the wood that the color bearer can feel even while wearing a glove. You must now protect the groove and ensure it will not snag any material that comes in contact with it. Sand the area so that it is smooth and put several coats of polyurethane on the groove.

Another method is using a thumbtack, small nail, or strip of moleskin so that you can feel it with your gloved fingers.

What do you use?

What are some ideas that you use that other teams might be able to use?

The Military Hand Salute

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This article originally published on Dec 30, 2014 under the title, When in Doubt, Salute! This is an update and rearrangement of information to help everyone understand this subject better.

How to Salute

The services have slightly different techniques. One technique is followed by the Army and Air Force. The middle finger is placed on the corner of the eyebrow, the forearm is straight and the elbow is slightly in front of the torso.

The Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard execute the same salute, but the right elbow is in line with the torso.

When and Who to Salute
Protocol requires a salute to the following:

  • President of the USA
  • Commissioned and Warrant Officers
  • All Medal of Honor Recipients
  • Officers of Allied Foreign Countries

Render a salute for the following:

  • US or foreign national anthems, Hail to the Chief, or the bugle calls: To the Colors, Taps, and Reveille.
  • When national colors are uncased outdoors
  • Raising and lowering of the flag
  • When honors are sounded
  • When reporting
  • When turning over control of formations
  • Arrival and departure ceremonies for state officials

Saluting Update for Veterans

The Defense Authorization Act of 2000 and subsequent years authorizes military veterans in civilian clothes to render the hand salute as the flag passes or for the Star Spangled Banner. All Marine Corps Veterans will NOT execute this salute as part of the strict Marine Corps tradition (see ALMARS 052:08).

Just in case that link doesn’t work at some point, here is paragraph 3: SALUTING. A RECENT CHANGE TO THE LAW HAS AUTHORIZED ACTIVE DUTY AND RETIRED SERVICEMEMBERS TO SALUTE THE NATIONAL COLORS, WHETHER COVERED OR UNCOVERED, INDOORS OR OUT. BY CUSTOM AND TRADITION, MARINES DO NOT RENDER THE HAND SALUTE WHEN OUT OF UNIFORM OR WHEN UNCOVERED. LET THERE BE NO CONFUSION; THAT HAS NOT CHANGED. DURING THE PLAYING OF THE NATIONAL ANTHEM, OR THE RAISING, LOWERING, OR PASSING OF THE NATIONAL FLAG, MARINES WILL CONTINUE TO FOLLOW NAVAL TRADITIONS AND THE POLICY / PROCEDURES CONTAINED IN REFERENCE (A). SPECIFICALLY, MARINES NOT IN UNIFORM WILL FACE THE FLAG, STAND AT ATTENTION, AND PLACE THE RIGHT HAND OVER THE HEART. IF COVERED, MARINES NOT IN UNIFORM WILL REMOVE THEIR HEADGEAR WITH THE RIGHT HAND AND PLACE THEIR RIGHT HAND OVER THEIR HEART. WHEN THE FLAG IS NOT PRESENT, MARINES WILL ACT IN THE SAME MANNER WHILE FACING IN THE DIRECTION OF THE MUSIC. IN CASES SUCH AS INDOOR CEREMONIES, WHEN MARINES ARE IN UNIFORM AND UNCOVERED, THEY WILL FACE THE FLAG, OR THE DIRECTION OF THE MUSIC WHEN THE FLAG IS NOT PRESENT, AND STAND AT ATTENTION.

With the Left Hand

Have you heard something like this: “Always salute with the right hand. Never salute with the left hand.

The left-handed salute while at Right Shoulder

“Always” and “Never” hardly ever apply. A missing or incapacitated right arm or a right arm that must hold a crutch for handicapped individuals (cadets) are legitimate reasons for the left-hand hand salute.

The left-hand INDIVIDUAL SALUTE while armed is authorized with the left hand for all service guidon bearers and for all Marines, Sailors, and Coasties (Army and Air Force stopped these salutes circa the 1970s) armed with a rifle while at Order or Right Shoulder.

“That’s Disrespectful!”

Saluting with the left or right hand has nothing to do with being disrespectful. The salute, in and of itself, no matter which hand is used, is respectful. The US military uses the right hand for a reason and that reason is utilitarian, not an issue of respect.

Left Salute
The Left-hand salute of the Boatswain’s Mate

Authorized Left-Handed Salutes

Did you know that there are only two authorized left-hand salutes for the American Military? Along with the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps drum major, Boatswain’s Mates are authorized to salute with their left hand when piping a senior officer aboard a ship in either the Navy and Coast Guard. The pipe is held in the right hand when played, and the salute is rendered with the left hand.

Left Salute Fife Drum Major

The Drum Major as well as the unit he leads, follows Revolutionary War standards of drill and ceremonies. That’s why the left-hand salute and the fact that his salute has the palm facing forward.

No one else authorized to render a left-handed salute in uniform, but is there an exception? Yes. Any veteran with a missing or incapacitated right arm is not going to be lectured as to the “proper” way to render a salute.

JROTC Competition

There is no such thing as an “authorized” move or position in exhibition drill. Judges: in the case of exhibition drill, please put away your bias of “right” and “wrong” way to do something that is based on what you have learned through the military. Cadets: have fun creating, but don’t allow something that someone else has created to become “absolute law” for you or your team- JROTC cadets have a great tendency to never pick up the manual and only learn by observation. Hence, what one sees must be how “it” is accomplished and no one can tell them any differently.

Hand Salute History

Here is the history of the American military’s salute, courtesy of the US Army Quartermaster Historian. No one knows the precise origin of today’s hand salute. From earliest times and in many distant armies throughout history, the right hand (or “weapon hand”) has been raised as a greeting of friendship. The idea may have been to show that you weren’t ready to use a rock or other weapon. Courtesy required that the inferior make the gesture first. Certainly there is some connection between this old gesture and our present salute.

One romantic legend has it that today’s military salute descended from the medieval knight’s gesture of raising his visor to reveal his identity as a courtesy on the approach of a superior. Another even more fantastic version is that it symbolizes a knight’s shielding his eyes from the dazzling beauty of some high-born lady sitting in the bleachers of the tournament.

The military salute has in fact had many different forms over the centuries. At one time it was rendered with both hands! In old prints one may see left-handed salutes. In some instances the salute was rendered by lowering the saber with one hand and touching the cap visor with the other.

The following explanation of the origin of the hand salute is perhaps closest to the truth: It was a long-established military custom for juniors to remove their headgear in the presence of superiors. In the British Army as late as the American Revolution a soldier saluted bv removing his hat. But with the advent of more cumbersome headgear in the 18th and 19th centuries, the act of removing one’s hat was gradually converted into the simpler gesture of grasping the visor, and issuing a courteous salutation. From there it finally became conventionalized into something resembling our modern hand salute.

As early as 1745 (more than two-and-a-half centuries ago) a British order book states that: “The men are ordered not to pull off their hats when they pass an officer, or to speak to them, but only to clap up their hands to their hats and bow as they pass.”

Whatever the actual origin of today’s hand salute, clearly in the tradition of the US Army it has always been used to indicate a sign of RESPECT – further recognition that in the profession of arms military courtesy is both a right and a responsibility of every soldier.

What about the President’s Salute?

First off, any civilian may receive a salute. Returning salute is not something any civilian, including the President is supposed to do. President Ronald Reagan began returning the salutes rendered to him (he had a great deal of respect for the military) and it has continued since.

Color Guard Performance “Factors”

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As much as I am a “by-the-book” Airman, I know there are times when certain organizations must adapt and overcome and follow the spirit of the regulations rather than the letter. Speaking of letters.

Below, is the text of an email from a friend of mine, MSgt Vincent Liddle of Warren Central High School MCJROTC. I was surprised to wake up with Factors on my mind and then receive this email in the afternoon. Here, these Factors represent certain aspects that an organization must deal with where they cannot follow published guidance and pull off a respectful performance.

Factors are…

For instance. On my mind when I woke was a color guard made up of very young elementary school children who make up their school’s color guard for certain events. The teacher who leads the students wanted to create the team and contacted me many years ago about the protocols they should follow. Their biggest obstacle is student height. How can they properly present the colors while wielding flagstaffs twice their height? The answer was to use seven-foot staffs with 3′ x 4′ flags. See the main picture at the top- they are 5th graders (c. 2012).

MSgt Liddle’s Message

the 18th hole of Maple Creek Golf Course, Indiana

This a photo of a presentation we did at a Marine Corps charity golf event. This is an example of don’t judge a photo before knowing the whole story.

The “Problems”

  1. The cadets are in cammies due to not having a dry cleaning budget.
  2. The two hands on the staffs was due to it being very humid with a temperature of 92 degrees outside (hands were sweaty and the Battle Standard was having a very difficult job keeping a grip during the lowering when we did our walk through).
  3. The reason for the 3×5 flags was due to the extremely uneven terrain the cadets had to go across to get to position (I made the call for visibility). We had the 4×6 flag set but the National and MCJROTC color bearers kept breaking interval.

I believe in the rules and regs 100%, but I also believe in a professional presentation.

Thank you your continued education on proper drill and color guard, you help us do our jobs as instructors.

The Takeaway

I’m not getting soft in my old age. I will not let up on color guards (especially service and first responder teams); there is no reason whatsoever to not know your standards, period. Education, training, practice, practice, practice, and rehearsal.

However, I do realize there are circumstances where a team may have to improvise because I too believe in a professional presentation.

A big thank you to MSgt Liddle and his awesome MCJROTC cadets for doing to superb job and for allowing me to use them as a great example to inform others in the Military Drill World.

The Guidon Staff Repair Kit

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“The best thing since sliced bread.” That phrase is used so often that it usually loses its meaning. Until now – and it’s only available from MIL-BAR!

The Guidon Staff Replacement Kit IS the best thing since sliced bread. Well, it may be a little lower than the number one spot, but it’s on the list!

Maintenance is Key!

Flagstaff maintenance is so very necessary. Always ensure the screws are tight on the middle screw joint and each ferrule (monthly). Applying graphite powder on the screw joint, each screw, and the screw post for the finial (spade or battle-ax) will help keep them locked in place and yet allows easy removal if necessary. However, there comes a time when you overlook tightening one screw, it works it way loose, and it’s gone. What makes matters worse is losing the inner brass connector to which both screws attach. These connectors are critical for securing the middle screw joint and the upper and lower ferrules to the staff.

When that happens, what you receive in this kit is worth its weight in gold:

  • Two short brass connectors
  • Four long brass connectors
  • Twelve screws

Mil-Bar is on top of its game when it comes to providing for ceremonial units and cadet-centric organizations.

The Final Defense of the American Flag

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When I was a cadet at New Mexico Military Institute, one of the inspection questions we were required to answer was:

What is in the truck (or ball) at the top of the flag pole?

First, the truck is the flat piece at the top of a flagpole (outside) or a flagstaff (used for color guards). This has to do with the flagpole. The required answer goes something like this:

  1. A single-shot handgun or single round for a handgun or rifle
  2. A match or lighter
  3. A razor blade, pair of scissors, or knife

You then had to describe how to use those three items:

When your unit is being overrun by the enemy, you use the razor to cut the union from the stripes, you use the match to burn the flag, and you use the bullet to defend the flag or commit suicide.

A flagpole truck

Allow me to put this into perspective. This whole idea is not real, it is pure legend. It’s a bit fun for cadets, but there are many holes in this story.

  • First, if these items were actually placed inside the truck or ball when the flagpole was first erected, how are time and weather not going to render these items unusable?
  • Second, if all of these items are in the truck, how on earth are you supposed to get up the pole? Especially if your enemy is overrunning your position.
  • Third, the truck is just a cap for the pole, it cannot hold anything. The ball is more or less sealed.
  • Lastly, cutting the flag is inappropriate unless it is huge (garrison flag) and you must cut it before burning it for safety. We do not cut the American flag before properly retiring (burning) it.
    • We can shred flags made of any kind of plastic to prevent toxins entering the air.

There is not such thing as the Final Defense of the American Flag other than bringing the flag down and evacuating the area.

Half-staff

The American Flag at Half-Staff and Half-Mast

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  • Staff = a flagpole on land.
  • Mast = a flagpole on a ship at sea or on a Marine Corps, Navy, or Coast Guard installation or other maritime location.
  • Halyard = the rope used to raise and lower the flag.

Never fly a fringed flag on a stationary or mounted (on a wall or post) flagpole. These flags are only for the color guard flagstaff. See this article for information.

This article is reworked and republished. It originally was published July 16, 2012.

The Order to Fly at Half-Staff

Most often the President will order all flags to half-staff for a national tragedy. Governors also have the ability to order flags to half-staff for their state. In the case of the governor, he/she can order state flags only to half, but this would be specified in the order. Most often, when a governor gives the order it is for the American flags in the state.

Many countries fly their flag at half-staff as a sign of mourning. Here are the established times for the American flag.

  • For thirty days after the death of a current or former president or president-elect.
  • For ten days after the death of a current vice president, current or retired chief justice, or current speaker of the House of Representatives.
  • From the day of death until interment of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a secretary of an executive or military department, a former vice president, or the governor of a state, territory, or possession.
  • On the day of death and the following day for a Member of Congress.
  • On Memorial Day until noon.
  • Upon presidential proclamation.
  • Peace Officers Memorial Day (May 15), unless that day is also Armed Forces Day.
  • Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (December 7).
  • Patriot Day (September 11).
  • The first Sunday in October for National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Day

4 U.S.C. § 7(m) was modified by President Bush in 2007 requiring any federal facility within a region to honor a member of the U.S. Armed Forces who died on active duty.

The Flag Code states that the flag will be raised to full truck from half-staff the day after a certain government official’s death. The time is different for different officials. Read US Code Title 4, Chapter 1, The Flag Code, here.

How to Fly the Flag at Half-staff

Raise the flag as normal, quickly to the top with smooth, continuous motion of pulling the halyard or turning the crank and then slowly lower to half-staff with the same smooth motion. To be as accurate as possible, count the number of pulls of the halyard or turns of the crank it takes to raise the flag to full truck. Then, lower it by half of that number.

When the flag is ready to come down, raise it smoothly and quickly to the top from half-staff and then lower it smoothly and slowly all the way down.

Only The American at Half

What you find in the Flag Code is that the American flag is brought to half staff. No other flag, on the same halyard, is mentioned. The center of the American flag should be at the center of the pole. If another flag was underneath, a state flag, for example, it would be too low. So, the information about another flag on the same halyard in this instance isn’t missing from the Code, as we might think (I once did), it’s just that only the American flag is brought to half-staff.

This doe not mean that flags on another halyard on the same pole or on a different pole are not brought to half-staff. This is only about the American flag and another flag on the same halyard.

The Nautical Flag Mast

Nautical displays have looked complicated to me since I served 20 years in the USAF and had no need to learn about the mast and it’s various displays. However, that has changed.

Mast with Yardarm and Gaff

When flown from the gaff, the Ensign is lowered so that the center of the hoist (center stripe) of the flag is aligned with the yardarm. The national ensign here with the pennant at the top is not flown in a disrespectful manner, please see the bottom of this article to help understand nautical flag display.

When the National Ensign is flown from the topmast at full truck, it is lowered just like on any other flagpole when it’s a single halyard mast. On a double-halyard mast, the Ensign is flown from the right (starboard) side and lowered just the same.

Mast with Yardarm, no Gaff

Though technically, half-mast is any point lower then full truck, the standard for half-mast is half-way between full truck and the cleat. In all of my research Yardarm = Crosstree. It’s possible that an argument could be made for a separation of identifying the Yardarm and Crosstree like the image below.

Two Yardarms or Yardarm and Crosstree?

For more information on the nautical display, the website, United States Power Squadrons, has created an exemplary resource here. There is also Sailing Issues with some great nautical flag etiquette here. Be familiar with MCO 5060.2, Drill and Ceremonies, Chapter 7; and [US Navy] NTP 13(B), Flags Pennants, and Customs, both available for download on the Resources page.

The Mourning Ribbon

an_outrigger_pole_set flagpolefarm-com
This flag does not get lowered

Flags flying on a pole (without a halyard) attached to a structure, are not lowered to half-staff. Instead, a black ribbon that is attached to the top of the flagstaff- yes, above the American flag- for occasions of mourning. See the picture at left and right.

Proper use of the mourning ribbon

The mourning ribbon is for flags that cannot be lowered to half staff as shown here.

All of the Flags at Half-staff?

Yes, and no. State flags are given the same consideration in each state as the American flag. Our Founding Fathers gave the term “United ‘States'” to all of the territories which was shocking back then since “state” means a nation. Each American state has its own laws concerning their flag. Here is information concerning Maryland’s flag laws as an example. The picture here of the DC police (from washingtonpost.com) with all three flags lowered to the same level, which is how all flags are to be displayed – at the same level.

But the American flag is lower than the other flags in this picture!

Take some deep breaths, you’re missing the point here. Not all countries have to lower their flags and not all flags must be at the same height all of the time. This 1968 photo, by John Wright on Smugmug, is from the Viet Nam war. The picture is from when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. It was not necessary for another country to lower their flag. This situation is proper.

When the President orders flags to half-staff, overseas military installations must lower the American flag as a sign of mourning. The host nation’s flag is not automatically brought to half-staff unless the host nation liaison says otherwise. The point here is not stop getting worked up over something that is relatively trivial. Don’t just think you know the rules, read them and have them ready as a reference.

Other flags Lower and the American Flag at Full Truck

This isn’t how a flag is supposed to be flown. There is no reason for the state flag here to be at half staff unless the governor specifically said that state flags will be flown at half-staff.

Otherwise, all flags must be flown at full truck (the flat piece at the top of the pole).

Flag Position on the Nautical Mast

The following is from here. The gaff-rigged pole had its origins at sea. Because of all the sail carried by the rigging of these vessels, the flag of a nation could not be clearly viewed if it was placed at the top of the mast. The stern of the vessel was the position of command and the captain’s quarters were located aft. Early boats also had the nobleman’s banner, king’s banner, or English ensign staff fixed to the stern rail. As sails changed, long booms sweep across the stern rail every time the ship tacked, so the ensign staff had to be removed when the ship was under way. Since the captain and other officers were still aft, the nearest position from which they found it practical to fly the ensign was the gaff. Over time, this became the place of honor to display the national flag. When the ship was moored, the ensign staff was set up again on the stern rail.

This was the practice in the eighteenth century, when the U.S. Navy was created. Now that warships are made of steel and the signal mast no longer carries a boom, our navy still flies the ensign at the gaff peak when under way and at the ensign staff when not underway. There is no law specifying how a flag should fly on a gaff-rigged pole, instead it is based on long standing nautical tradition.

The usual argument given by those that think it is wrong to fly the national ensign from the gaff is that the national ensign is flying below a club burgee or other flag contrary to the Flag Code. Notice that even when the national ensign is flown from the stern of a ship, it is lower in height than other flags flying on the ship. When the ensign is flown from a gaff-rigged pole, a flag flown at the top of the mast is not considered above the ensign because it is not being flown directly above the ensign on the same halyard.

Fun with Flags in Real Life

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Move over Sheldon Cooper* – Here is DeVaughn Simper. aka “Professor Flag”.

DeVaughn Simper
“Professor Flag”

DeVaughn is an award winning vexilologist – someone who studies all aspects of flags, including history, design, manufacturing, etiquette, and protocol. DeVaughn grew up as an “Army Brat” with both biological parents serving in the United States Army. His love of flags started in cub scouts. One of the requirements for his Wolf badge was to start a collection. Thirty years later that collection has grown to over 500 flags of all sizes. In his defense – the requirement never said when you were supposed to stop.

His passion for US History and flags got him through some tough childhood experiences and was eventually adopted at the age of 16. He participated in the JROTC program in high school, and was a member of the color guard competing in multiple competitions. He played the trumpet and was on call for funeral details with his ultimate goal being to join the Army and play in “Perishing’s Own”.

When he tried to enlist, it was discovered that he was medically unable to serve in all five branches. This was rather devastating, but he looked for and found other ways to serve.

He has served as the state and regional director for Bugles Across America. Whose mission is to provide live Taps at all veteran’s funerals.

As a member of Civil Air Patrol, he has served as deputy squadron commander, squadron commander, wing recruiting and retention officer, wing director of professional development, wing conference chairman, wing deputy chief of staff, and has trained and advised several color guards. He currently holds the rank of Major.

He worked with the Boy Scouts of America in the Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Venturing, and Sea Scout programs and is currently working on a program for youth to earn the BSA Honor Guard patch.

In addition to the CAP and BSA, DeVaughn also works with the US Naval Sea Cadet Corps and held the positions of division officer, executive officer and Commanding Officer of the NLCC training ship. He currently holds the rank of Lieutenant Jr. Grade and has recently been assigned to the new Maj. Brent Taylor Battalion in Utah County.

For the last 10 years he has written and produced the annual Wreaths Across America ceremony for the Fort Douglas Cemetery. Wreaths Across America is a national program that raises funds to place holiday wreaths on the graves of veterans all over the United States.

An entertaining public speaker, he shares his flag collection and knowledge of our nation’s history and her flags.

In 2019, he was hired by Colonial Flag serving as the Operations Manager and has begun the process to be a Certified DrillMaster. Find him at his Professor Flag Facebook page.

His awards include:

  • Exceptional Service Ribbon (CAP)
  • Meritorious Service Ribbon (CAP)
  • Distinguished Service Ribbon (CAP)
  • Unit Commendation (USNSCC)
  • President’s Volunteer Service Award (Gold and Bronze Level )
  • Daughters of the American Revolution Citizens Award.
  • Bugles Across America Honor Medal
  • Silver Beaver- Great Salt Lake Council, Boy Scouts of America
  • George Washington Honor Medal- Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge

*From the television show, The Big Bang Theory.

Flagstaff Refurbishing

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Flagstaffs can become weathered and lose their original look like the one pictured. That is easily remedied! Well, not easy-easy, but it’s not really all that difficult. Here are the steps:

  1. Remove the ferrules and middle screw joints.
  2. Sand the staffs down completely to the wood.
  3. Stain the the staffs.
  4. Coat the staffs with at least five coats of urethane.

Use 80-grit sandpaper to remove the finish, then step it down to 120, 180, 220, 240 for a smooth finish. You may want to use a sheet of printer paper between coats of polyurethane to give it a smooth and glossy finish. Three coats of polyurethane will work great for heavy use protection. 

The stain to use is Minwax Wood Finish Penatrating Stain, Natural 209.

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The photo at the top of the page was the start and this is the final product!

I want to give a huge THANK YOU to Matthew Benoit-LaFleur and his Civil Air Patrol Unit in Idaho for providing these instructions that can help many, many others!

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Here is the suggested topcoat. Minwax Indoor/Outdoor Helmsman Spar Urethane.