The OTHER Unarmed Color Guard

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About the image at the top: The cadets here are in a middle school leadership program that is similar to high school JROTC. Some middle schools do not have the funding for equipment and some schools choose not to issue rifles.

Armed and Unarmed Teams

In the JROTC competitive drill world, teams are split into two categories, Armed and Unarmed. For each category a single school can enter four teams into competition for a drill meet, an armed drill team, an unarmed drill team, an armed color guard, and an unarmed color guard.

An Unarmed Color Guard?

The Armed and Unarmed categories do not apply to the color guards, only the drill teams. Even though a color guard is entered into the Unarmed category, the guards still carry rifles, it’s required by all three drill and ceremonies manuals. The categories create the ability for a school to enter two color guards and therefore more cadets can participate.

An Unarmed Color Guard

A color guard inside a chapel is usually unarmed but it depends on the chaplain. He can always allow the guards to carry rifles. It’s always best to check rather than assume.

Unfortunately, this requirement is only explained in Marine Corps Order 5060.20. All of the service honor guards (ceremonial drill) follow this guidance, but many people outside of the ceremonial drill world do not know about it from only reading the the regulation drill manuals.

Below is an image of the Commandant’s Four, the color guard from Marine Barracks Washington (MBW). Marines assigned to MBW, also called “8th and I” because it’s on the corner of those two streets, are the Marine Corps’ Honor Guard performing ceremonial drill. They are presenting the colors in the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, commonly called the Washington Cathedral. Inside the church, the color guard is uncovered (they do not wear hats) and the guards are unarmed (when a salute is required, they render the hand salute). In this photo, the team is in the middle of executing Countermarch in their unique MBW style that is not authorized for the Fleet or cadets. The national color (American flag) bearer is then Sgt Kenneth Newton, 37th Color Sergeant of the Marine Corps.

One of my favorite photos

Our Situation

With the God-given right to keep and bear arms under constant threat, JROTC is beginning to come into view. For decades, law-abiding citizens as well as cadets have used firearms without issue. All Army and Marine Corps (possibly Navy as well) JROTC units were issued demilitarized M1 Garands and M1903s when they began as units. From what I gather and my own experience, Air Force JROTC units were not issued rifles until the late 1980s and early 1990s and most of them received the new Daisy Drill Rifle.

Daisy has made air guns for over 100 years and began manufacturing the drill-purpose rifle in the 1990s. The rifle, along with the Glendale DrillAmerica rifle, has now replaced a majority of the demilitarized rifle in JROTC programs around the world. These replica rifles are essentially very well made toys. This is not to downplay their purpose and use, but the reader must understand that while they look like the real thing, it is impossible to use them as a rifle except for drill and ceremonies.

The New Unarmed Color Guard

I received two messages not long ago relating a similar story. Suddenly, the school principal is not letting the school’s JROTC program use the replica rifles in the color guard.

The main question was, is there a specific regulation that says a color guard is required to have the guards armed? The answer is, absolutely. You wear the service’s uniform and you are in the service’s program. You and your fellow cadets fall under applicable service regulations. TC 3-21.5, MCO 5060.20, and AFPAM 34-1203 (formerly AFMAN 36-2203, AFM 50-14, & AFR 50-14), all require the guards to be armed. However, that argument alone not going to get you what you want.

A Political Move

While some may want to deride the seeming idiocy of a political decision like this, it is the principal’s prerogative to make these decisions for on- and off-campus activities because the cadets represent the school. Some schools have even overridden the requirement to wear a cover (hat) in uniform.

Make an Argument

I suggest that you spread the word among cadets and parents and bring this up to the school board in a respectful manner. Once you have a large group of supporters at the school board meeting, you can respectfully let your collective voice be heard. It’s my belief that if you go solely down the road of “the (service) requires the guards to carry rifles, it says so right here”, you won’t get far at all.

Make your argument from here: The Benefits of Military Drill. Write up a short speech and tell the board. Have a couple of cadets speak who have excelled at drill and improved after marching or rifle spinning.

You should mention the requirement, but your emphasis needs to be on the benefits of not only marching but handling equipment as well. In the military, we carry and use rifles, swords, and flagstaffs. These are weapons of war that have been brought into the ceremonial and exhibition drill worlds so that we can train, practice, and perform to the best of our abilities no matter what the situation.

Even if you don’t change anyone’s mind, you can still be a part of and learn from the process.

The Argument From AFPAM 34-1203

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What argument would this be? It’s about using the other two service manuals. It gets a bit complicated, but bear with me as we go through why the AFPAM has so little information and what to do about it.

We need to understand that all three drill and ceremonies manuals are lacking in certain aspects and using ones best judgment is recommended. Let’s look at the attempt to guide the reader of AFPAM 34-1203 (formerly AFMAN 36-2203, AFM 50-14, & AFR 50-14), Drill and Ceremonies, to the other manuals.

1.1. Scope.
1.1.1. This manual includes most Air Force needs in drill and ceremonies, but it does not cover every situation that may arise. For unusual situations, using good judgment and taking into account the purpose of the movement or procedure can often provide the solution. (emphasis mine)
1.1.2. Units or organizations required to drill under arms will use the procedures in US Army Field Manual 22-5, Drill and Ceremonies, SECNAV 5060.22 or Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies Manual. The type of weapon used will determine the appropriate manual.

AFMAN 36-2203 June 2018

Let’s rewind and look at that last sentence “The type of weapon used will determine the appropriate manual.” No, it doesn’t. While it may have at one time*, just like the mention of FM 22-5 and SECNAV 5060.22 these statements were true.

*In my research, I have not seen that rifle types were all that different between the the Army and Marine Corps. Both have used the M1, M14, and M1903 (our rifles for ceremonial applications now) and both had the manuals for each rifle at one time or another in each D&C manual.

A Little History

Paragraph 1.1.2 in the quote above didn’t come about until the early 1990s and initially also contained a reference to the USAFA regulation but that was removed, and we currently have the above two paragraphs in the quote. Unfortunately, the idea behind this guidance was never spelled out completely and also not updated.

  • FM 22-5 has been TC 3-21.5 for years.
  • SECNAV 5060.22 was actually SECNAVINST 5060.22 and has been MCO 5060.20 for years.
  • The then Army Field Manual had the manual of arms for the M1/M14 (the M1 was removed from the M14 manual section in the 1986 edition) and M1903 (Springfield)/M1917 (Enfield) in the appendix section and still does as of this writing.
  • NAVMC 2691 (1980s) only had the manual for the M16 and then used the M14 for firing party without explaining the manual for that rifle. It’s very possible that SECNAVINST 5060.22 for the 1990s had the same thing. This is an educated guess since manuals from the 1990s are extremely difficult to obtain. However, the certain photos used in the NAVMC and first MCO are identical and that leads me to the conclusion that the SECNAVINST was a retitling/renumbering of the NVMC.
  • The first MCO for drill and ceremonies came out in 2003, P5060.20, and included the manual of arms for the M1 Garand and M14 in the appendix section.

That History Equals:

Rifle type really never mattered, it was the application of the rifle that required one or the other manual. That leaves the question of how do we apply the Army Training Circular and the Marine Corps Order to Air Force and now Space Force drill and ceremonies?

Before we get to the answer for that question, this has to be stated: Ceremonial Drill, the positions and movements that come from the USAF Honor Guard and used by Base Honor Guard units around the world, do not mix with Regulation Drill. Regulation Drill, the positions and movements that come from the TC, MCO, and AFMAN, is its own separate species.

Ceremonial Drill has its basis in Regulation Drill both historic and modern but goes well beyond the scope out of necessity. That necessity comes from, among other things, the requirement to stand for extraordinarily long periods of time, navigate physical structures both inside and out, and maintain the strictest standards of protocol.

Air Force and Space Force JROTC and Civil Air Patrol cadets have a great tendency to mix these two very distinct styles with reckless abandon while not understanding the separation and the reasoning behind it.

The Armed Flight

An armed flight (the AF version of a platoon) of Jr/Sr ROTC cadets uses TC 3-21.5 as the source for the weapon movement (transitions) while still using AF standards for Attention, Parade Rest, and Right/Left Shoulder because those positions are pictured in the AFMAN. Why use the TC? Because the AF came from the Army and all legacy AF D&C manuals, beginning with the first edition in 1953 have duplicated the Army standards until the manual of arms sections were removed. Plus, the Army is the senior service. We go to the senior service first and then the second service.

Note: Enlisted Airmen and Guardians qualify on firing the current service rifle in Basic Training and then on a recurring basis, but there is no requirement for armed Airmen to stand or march in an armed element, flight, or squadron formation. The vast majority of Airmen and now Guardians do not have anything to do with fighting on the ground. We have no need for knowledge of the manual of arms in general. Other than Base Honor Guard personnel, there are very few Air Force Specialties that do stand in formation while armed. An example would be 3PO, Security Forces, armed and in flight formation for shift change and they use the Army’s TC for the manual of arms and inspection of the weapon.

The Color Guard

The guards for an AF/SF color guard go to the outside shoulder ONLY when the team is at Carry*. This technique of the guards at the outside shoulder is only found in the MCO where it is called the outboard shoulder. This means we look to the colors section of the MCO and find the method for synchronizing movement to and from the outside/outboard shoulder.

Note: The office of primary responsibility for AFMAN 36-2203 made a very big mistake years ago with the grip on the flagstaff and has since doubled-down on keeping the mistake, unfortunately. Read AFMAN 36-2203 Problems? for a breakdown of the issue. But don’t let that kill your reliance on the photos since the rifle and hand positions have not changed for decades.

Yes, we do use the photos and text to create the complete picture of the requirements. If we weren’t supposed to use the photos, drawings, or graphics, why would they be there in the first place? See also, The AFMAN Right Face-in-Marching is Wrong.

A marching color guard, as opposed to presenting or posting the colors, can follow the AFMAN guidance with help from the MCO with ease. The procedures for military parades are fully explained and street parades are fairly straight forward.

The AF and SF JROTC Color Guard

In competition, the AFMAN must be strictly adhered to. This means, no tucking colors, no Strong Grip, no “Ready, Cut”, etc. By using your best judgment and logic, techniques can be easily developed while maintaining the ideas in the AFMAN and not venturing into the evils of “exhibition color guard”.

Exhibition color guard is a heinous, vulgar offshoot of color guard procedures by those with a lack of understanding of the nature of a color guard and why respect and honor are so necessary. Any “wild” idea outside of published standards (Flag Code and applicable manuals) is inappropriate. If one of your teammates says something like, “Hey, what if we did this…” that’s a sign of trouble.

Presenting and Posting the Colors

Here is where the AF/SF have nothing to reference in the AFMAN. But first…

A Little History, Part 2

Around the time the USAF became an independent branch of the US military, military police in each service were charged with the additional duties of flag detail and color guard. This is why the pistol was an optional weapon for the guards. MPs were relied upon to take care of these duties, especially for the Army and AF. Eventually, base honor guards were formed out of volunteers from each squadron on base beginning in the 1960s/70s and base law enforcement took a lesser role.

I joined the USAF in 1985 and in 1990 I joined my first ceremonial unit, the then 836th Air Division Honor Guard at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ. When honor guard units were formed, the requirement for a color guard for all base functions now fell on the base’s team and was essentially removed from the duties of the unit First Sergeant, although the First Sergeant sent squadron personnel to the honor guard.

Every base team used a version of presenting and posting of the colors described in FM 22-5 and every base added a certain “flare”. This resulted in no two base honor guards being able to work together without extensive work to come to some agreement as to what to finally do. We also used the funeral standards in 22-5 with an “adjustment” here or there.

Why the adjustments and flare? For one reason, people like to stand out in a crowd and be the “best of the best (of the best)”. They get an idea of how to jazz up something that might send recognition their way. Another reason is we didn’t have complete information and we were making things up as we went to fill in those gaps.

Let’s face it, all three service manuals do not cover absolutely every single circumstance you may encounter (this is where Ceremonial Drill completely outshines Regulation Drill). Although, when it comes to color guard, the MCO has done the best job of the three (including Trail colors and the description of what we call Angle Port to get through doorways) and yet still lacks complete guidance.

With the advent of base honor guards, there was no longer a need to store the flags in the commanders office and formally acquire them as described in the AFMAN. That process virtually disappeared by the late 1970s. Just call the BHG to coordinate your ceremony and we are there.

In the mid-90s the then Chief of the USAF Honor Guard, CMSgt Timmothy Dickens, developed the concept of the Base Honor Guard (BHG) program and we now have, more or less, a cohesive ceremonial program world-wide that covers all requirements of each ceremonial element. An incredible feat, to say the least. In steps Ceremonial Drill to the mainstream without anyone realizing it.

What does all of this mean? Because Regulation Drill has limitations, especially where colors is concerned, and the fact that ceremonial procedures and techniques are easily accessible, hybridized methods have become the norm for cadets but shouldn’t be.

Back to Presenting and Posting the Colors

When in competition and you must present, post, and/or retrieve the colors using AFMAN 36-2203, you are limited, so where do we turn? Again, we look to the other two manuals and borrow procedures from each as necessary. Need to enter a low clearance room? Use Trail Arms from the MCO. Need to go through a doorway? Use Angle Port, again, from the MCO (it’s not called Angle Port, but that is the description). Have a head table with the stands behind? Use the procedures in the TC.

We in the AF and now the SF use the beginning and ending positions for the flag bearers and rifle guards required in the AFMAN. We then search out the best procedures for our specific situation all the while not using ceremonial positions of which Port (the staff at the right side and the left hand flared horizontally across the torso, pictured at right) is widely used. Also used is the T-L-Step to turn around.

Using ceremonial procedures in a Regulation Drill setting is just an easy panacea so that we don’t have to do any research and discover what is supposed to take place.

Why is this hybrid not appropriate? Here are the reasons.

  1. Because you are not trained. Air Force Honor Guard and Base Honor Guard members go through training before they can begin using the techniques in a formal setting. Civil Air Patrol has a cadet ceremonial training program that must be attended before cadets can use the techniques. Both are a process of certification.
  2. Ceremonial drill is only accomplished in the ceremonial uniform.
  3. Because the requirements of the competition come from AFMAN 36-2203 and associated regulations (AFI 34-1201, Protocol and AFPAM 34-1202, Protocol Handbook).

The competition is a measure of knowledge (the “What”) and performance (the “How”). Running to ceremonial standards shows a lack of awareness of the standards required. This is a systemic lack of awareness, not just an individual unit level, of the true requirements of the competition.


AFMAN 36-2203 needs better guidelines, and we need a better drill and ceremonies training that takes into account that cadets will be using it for competitions and Competitive Regulation Drill requires paying attention to the finest of details, just like Ceremonial Drill.

We have lost our history. When each school year begins, we teach anew and dismiss the previous years as not pertaining to what is happening now. The reverse is true. history grounds us and helps us maintain a direction.

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 except for a foreign national (usually carried in a separate three-man team, but can be included). This is fully explained here.

Full Joint Armed Forces 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, Guard, Auxiliary, and Cadets/Midshipmen

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 Cadets 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 vs. Carrying Flags

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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 does not march 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 (Formerly FM 3-21.5 & FM 22-5), AR 840-10, MCO 5060.20, MCO 10520.3, AFPAM 34-1203 (formerly AFMAN 36-2203, AFM 50-14, & AFR 50-14), 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 Pamphlet 34-1203 (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. However, when looking at the foot as it is raised, it is logical to assume the meaning here is the toe, but this is not a hard-and-fast rule.

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.

AFPAM 34-1203 18 September 2022

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.

AFPAM 34-1203

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.

AFPAM 34-1203

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.