The Why of the Military Color Guard – Precedence and Command

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There are times when you have read manual after manual, read them for multiple years, and a certain issue that you are trying to understand just doesn’t seem clear. A “forest for the trees” situation, if you will.

That has been my dilemma for a while: I know the precedence of the military, I know who is supposed to command in multi- or joint-service situations, and I understand what technique takes precedence in those situations, but how can I explain this and point to where it’s written?

Well, thank you to an Army NCO friend of mine who is currently an Army ROTC instructor. I truly appreciate my readers who are also focused on standards. Our community is small, but we have a large impact!

Precedence

The precedence of the US military is found in DoD Directive 1005.8, Order of Precedence of US Armed Forces, 1977 (yes, it’s been current ever since, a new one will come out with Space Force in there one day).

This information is repeated in MCO 5060.20 and AFI 34-1201. However, the 2020 version of 34-1201 is wrong in precedence with the addition of the Space Force after the Coast Guard. The Coasties are part of the Department of Homeland Security and will therefore come last in order. When Congress officially* declares war (that has not happened in a very, very long time), the Coast Guard then moves to the Department of the Navy and thus service order then changes.

*The last time the United States Congress met its constitutional mandate to officially declare war by voting, for the record, to engage members of the US military in conflict was in 1942.

Multi vs. Joint Service

Our six military services in order (non-wartime): Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, and Coast Guard.

Our six military services in order (officially declared wartime): Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, and Space Force.

Technically, Multi-Service is two to five services represented. Joint-Service is all six. Sometimes we say partial or full joint service.

Who commands?

The senior service officer or, in the case of the color guard, the senior service non-commissioned officer who is the national color bearer.

What techniques are used?

Regulation Drill. This is drill and ceremonies that comes out of TC 3-21.5, MCO 5060.20, and AFMAN 36-2203. The US military has three drill and ceremonies manuals. We used to have one drill standard that Baron von Steuben created for the Continental Army that the Marines used as well.

That served our nation well for many years until before, during, and after the Civil War era when certain officers (COLs William J. Hardee, 1820; and Silas Casey, 1862) began to experiment and come up with variations to von Steuben’s original writings. From there, we began to write separate drill and fighting techniques, including the Navy’s Landing Party Manual.

Ceremonial Drill. This is drill and ceremonies that comes out of manuals that are not used outside of a ceremonial setting. For example, only Air Force and Space Force Base Honor Guards are authorized to train using Air Force Honor Guard-developed Standards contained in AFMAN 34-515.

The same goes for US Army Active Duty, National Guard, and Reserve honor guards that follow the 3rd Infantry, Old Guard, standards. The Marine Corps uses MCO 5060.20 only while Marine Barracks Washington has it’s own Barracks Order that details their ceremonial standards. The Navy and Coast Guard are the same, following the MCO while the ceremonial teams in and around DC have their own written standards.

When the honor guards get together, the senior service standards apply, whether ceremonial or regulation. As an example here, when on the plaza of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or full joint service ceremony anywhere else, US Army ceremonial standards are followed.

This is great to know, but where is it written that the senior service standards are used?

Here (bold emphasis mine):

E8.5. COLOR GUARDS

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, [Space Force will go here -DM] 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, Nov. 13, 2001

b. Color guards carrying the Navy and Marine Corps service colors will consist of five members, three Marines and two Navy members. The national color bearer and commander of the color guard will be a Marine.

c. A Joint Armed Forces Color Guard will consist of eight members; three Army, two Marine, one Navy, one Air Force, [Space Force will go here -DM] and one Coast Guard. The national color bearer and commander of a joint color guard will be a Soldier. The respective service colors are aligned to the left of the national colors as depicted in figure 7-4c. For color guards involving service academies, reserve or National Guard colors, refer to enclosure 2, chapter 3, for the proper precedence.

MCO 5060.20, May 15, 2019

2.11.7.20. 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 furthest from the United States Flag will be a Marine.

AFI 34-1201, August 18, 2020

Now that you have read all of that, I have a question for you. Why would the commander have to learn another standard? The answer is, they don’t. That would not make sense.

We have to know what the manuals say and what they don’t.

Can Any Event Have a Colors Presentation?

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Can anyone request a colors presentation for any event? Must the event be formal and military only? Just a short time ago, I received a message through my website asking if an organization could have a color guard present the colors for their annual fundraising gala.

The Message

The Organization of location Chapter Number is a DOD Veterans Service Organization. We have had galas where a color guard posted the colors. It has been brought to our attention that we should not be presenting the colors because our fundraising gala is not a formal military event. What is the correct protocol to present the colors at our event?

My Response

Whenever I receive questions like this through my website or social media, I envision one of two situations: 1) someone sincerely came to you wondering if protocol allows a colors presentation or, 2) a know-it-all barked at and belittled you. I very much hope it was the former and truly appreciate those who want to ensure proper flag and color guard protocol is followed.

Whoever said you should not have a colors presentation is misinformed. Anyone at just about any occasion may present the colors. There is no restriction on presenting the colors for an event, marathons, car races, school board meetings, city or county council meetings, and even horse riding competitions have colors presentations, none of which are a “formal military event”.

Colors Presentation at Golf Tournament – how much less of a “formal event” can we get?

If you wished, you could invite the Boy Scouts, a local veterans group, police or fire department honor guard or Explorers, Sea Cadets, Civil Air Patrol, Young Marines, ROTC, JROTC, or local military color guard to present the colors for your event. Your fundraising gala is just fine for a colors presentation. I suggest that you have a US and state flags already preposted before your event and then the color guard can enter to formally present, Star-Spangled Banner (played or sung), and then the team departs. Simple.

Presenting, Posting, and Retrieving

When it comes to presenting and then posting the colors (placing the staffs in stands), the event must be formal (sit-down evening meal- black tie). For retrieving/retiring the colors, the event should be even more formal (very formal- white tie). Depending on your location, posting could be limited to once a month or fewer times. Retrieving the colors would be at a yearly event. Why? Because posting the colors and retrieving the colors are supposed to be uncommon, special occasions. The more common posting the colors becomes, the danger of the ceremony becoming less special looms ever closer.

I mentioned location as a factor above and I will explain what I mean by that. The Presidential service honor guard units in and around Washington DC are presenting and posting the colors several times a day for informal, formal, and very formal events. The same goes for some National Guard teams around state capitols. The farther you go from these political centers, the less formal events become on a regular basis. It just depends.

The Show-N-Go

The Show-n-Go is the most common, or at least, should be the most common presentation technique used by a color guard. This technique entails a pre-posted set of colors already displayed. The color guard then enters the room, marches up to centered on the audience, formally presents the colors, remains for the Star-Spangled Banner, and departs. No posting of the colors.

Why would not posting the colors be a preferred method? Several reasons: (1) Using another organization’s flags is inappropriate, (2) only presenting requires the least amount of training for the team when honor guards are Active Duty, National Guard, and Reserve ceremonial units are Congressionally mandated for Military Funeral Honors first with everything else taking a back seat, and (3) not every event is formal enough for posting.

Usually, the Protocol office has a complete set of flags and preposts them. The BHG then presents their set. BHG teams should have at least two sets of colors for every occasion that is usual to their particular location.

But Only One American Flag is Authorized at Ceremonies!

There is no “one American flag only” rule. It’s a myth. If this rule existed, every time the President speaks, his protocol team that sets up multiple US and presidential seal flags, is breaking the rules. Not to mention a sports stadium with a large flag on a tall pole and then a color guard on the field. I’m sure there are many more examples.

Having only one flag at an event was the personal preference of General Douglas McArthur and the knowledge of that standard being elusive and yet “somewhere” has existed ever since.

Now, the way some politicians and others alternate the US flag with another flag to make the “Media Wall Flag Display” is inappropriate because it puts the US in an inferior position.

The next two images show flags displayed properly.

Example of correct protocol for flag display
Example of correct protocol for flag display

In the image directly below, you can see different finials (flagstaff topper) and different length staffs. That makes three protocol issues in one display.

Inappropriate flag display

In this last image, a still from a video, there is one more American flag off to the left that you can barely see. The display starts off correctly, but the Second and third American flags are in the inferior position.

Inappropriate flag display

Politics and other Flags

US military and cadets in uniform cannot present colors at a political rally or any event that would imply endorsement of a candidate or party.

See also this article about using other organization’s flags. No one in uniform is authorized to carry unofficial flags.

Official and Unofficial USAF Flags

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As much as it may cause discomfort for some readers, facts outweigh feelings. I updated the #NotTheUSAFFlag tag on Instagram to include a couple more posts of mine. I do not mind being respectfully challenged, sometimes it’s the only way we get to learn. But the research I accomplished this morning has only solidified my stance.

A Chinese Communist Party Plot?

Within about an hour’s worth of research and I noticed a couple more of my Instagram posts of color guards that I didn’t recognize as carrying the Chinese knockoff novelty flag.

USAF Seal flag

Above is the official US Air Force seal on a flag, which is not an authorized flag. This is what is called a novelty flag. A novelty flag would be one for your favorite sports team, a corporation, or even a school.

Even the Thin Line series of flags that have the image of the American flag in black and white with a colored line or lines to identify military, law enforcement and more, looks like they are inappropriately using the stars and stripes (I’ll agree with that). However, technically, since there are no red stripes and no blue canton, it’s not infringing on the Flag Code and is just another novelty flag.

USAF Emblem flag

Novelty flags are everywhere and sometimes it’s difficult to tell what is official and what is not. The flag above uses the US Air Force Emblem and is approved by USAF Public Affairs for use when use of the USAF Seal is not authorized. Only the Emblem may be used for public/commercial use and requires an official license agreement.

Covering All Bases

Let’s make sure we identify everything necessary here. You may see flags with the following images, they also are novelty flags and not authorized for color guards to carry.

The USAF Symbol
The USAF Signature

Before we Finish…

I wanted to just briefly touch on our newest service, the US Space Force.

Below, is the official US Space Force departmental flag when it was presented to then President Trump. This is the only authorized Space Force flag and must have silver-colored fringe. Note: going into 2022, there is a shortage of silver fringe and some USSF flags will have white fringe. No other flag is authorized to be carried in military color guards.

This is the US Space Force logo:

US Space Force logo

For more information, contact:

Air & Space Forces Intellectual Property Management Office
Air Force Public Affairs Agency
555 E Street East
Bldg T-581
JBSA-Randolph, TX 78150

Governing directives for the information in this article: 10 U.S.C. § 2260, 15 U.S.C. § 167; 1114-1125, DODI 5535.12 and DAFI 35-114, Air Force Branding and Trademark Licensing Program, and DOD Guidelines about the use of DOD Seals, Logos, Insignia, and Service Medals. All of these links are available here.

Presenting the Colors at a Sporting Event

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In 2017 I was talking with one of the JROTC instructors at one of the local high schools where I have taught in the afternoons and he was relaying the story of their color guard presenting the colors for a professional ball club and how the training I gave the team really helped since it provided the cadets and the instructors with a repertoire of moves from which they could choose to make their colors presentation look as professional as possible. “Education is key”! Let’s get into presenting the colors at a sporting event. First, information for the announcer.

For the Announcer

Here is a great article on what to announce for the different situations announcers may encounter. Read the article from sportsannouncing.com. Here is a snippet from the article, All About Presenting the Colors. Please read it for a full understanding of presentation methods and techniques.

While there may be other anthems representing certain people groups, they are not afforded the same protocol as a national anthem. The public is not required to stand or place their hand over their heart. Let’s take the Black Anthem as an example.

While I am in no way suggesting disrespect should be shown to a piece of music that may have meaning to a number of people, it is not at the same level as a national anthem and is not accorded the protocol of standing and placing the right hand over the heart, a military hand salute, or even the color guard going to Present Arms with the rifle guards at the position of Present and the non-national flag dipped forward. If this other music is played, the color guard should only stand at the position of Attention if on the court/field and after that music has finished, the commander of the team gives “Present, ARMS!” and the Star-Spangled Banner is then played or sung.

The announcer can say, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Black Anthem.” After it is finished the announcer should say, “Ladies and gentlemen, please rise, (men remove your hats, and place your right hand over your heart) for the Star-Spangled Banner.” Here is where the color guard would go to Present Arms and the anthem would then begin.

Now, we will cover which direction the team should face. This is all about communication to the audience.

Which way does the team face?

A cadet contacted me on Instagram asking about the proper direction to face for presenting the colors. That is an excellent question! Below, the images concentrate mainly on professional events where the team must hit a certain mark for the TV cameras. However, there are high school and college games that come into play, although many college games, if not all, are probably on the same level of a professional event with TV cameras.

High School Games

I appreciate why a team would stand at the 20 yard line (or the top of the key, for instance) face the opposite end zone instead of the home team stands and fully support that thinking, this is exactly what my color guard used to do while I was drum major of my high school band. Doing it is very appropriate and here is why: it’s a game, not a war. Yes, I understand that some may build a sport up to the level of “doing battle on the field”, but it’s not even close and this is not about the three types of respect or sportsmanship. The other team is not made up of enemies. The other side of the field or court is full of spectators; parents and grandparents who are out to see their student play his or her heart out. Everyone is there to support their team and enjoy the sport. Facing only one side does not create a sense of mutual respect.

In General

There are different ways to enter, position, and exit a sports field. Some, provide a unique “problem” on how to accomplish the ceremony while keeping the flag in the primary spot (to the marching right or in front). Once you read this, you will not encounter any more “problems”, you will have the tools necessary to navigate those issues.

Below I have used images to illustrate the different ways to enter and exit the different fields you may come across. If it is a professional or even college sport, your team may have to hit certain spot at a certain time while facing a certain direction for the TV camera all coordinated with the timing for the broadcast.

For this, I suggest moving to your position at Port (flags and rifles/axes), post at your spot, and then go to Right Shoulder/Carry and then Present as the announcer asks the audience to stand.

If you will stage in the tunnel (off field), go to Right Shoulder/Carry, and enter and post with the camera on the team the whole time, you will have to coordinate halting, facing, and going to Present as smoothly and quickly as possible.

Basketball Court/Football Field/Soccer Pitch

For this setup, the team forms up in column formation and waits. At the cue, the team marches forward, rounding their corners (no flanks!), and moving into position.

Moving to center court/field: The team may wait at the sideline and again wait for another cue, or continue marching forward once in line formation and hit their mark for the presentation. An alternate to this is rounding the corner at the key and executing Every Left On at center court. The same principles apply for football and baseball. Below are examples.

Basketball Court
Football Field
Soccer Pitch

Baseball

Entrance from the viewer’s right. For this setup, the team marches out to in front of the pitcher’s mound, or in front of/behind second base in column formation, picks up Mark Time at a predetermined spot, and executes a Colors Turn-On or halts and executes Left Face. The exit would then be either a Colors Turn-Off to exit to the viewer’s left, or Every Left Off to retrace the path of entry.

Baseball Diamond Colors Presentation

Ice Hockey Rink

The first setup involves entering, traveling down the carpet and presenting to the right. You cannot start with the American flag last in line and then face to the right. The American flag leads in column formation and the team executes Every Left On. To exit from here, the team execute a Colors Turn-Off or a Right Face.

Ice Hockey Colors Presentation to the Right
Ice Hockey Colors Presentation to the Right

The second setup involves traveling down the carpet and presenting to the left. This involves Colors Turn-On or Left Face. To exit from here, the team must have the lead/right rifle/axe guard step off first and then every team member steps off in sequence with Every Left Off.

Ice Hockey Colors Presentation to the Left
Ice Hockey Colors Presentation to the Left

Coordination

Once the team is in position, giving Present Arms right away would be a good idea instead of waiting for the first note. That way, the Anthem can begin on the visual signal of the color team going to Present.

If you are a trained and certified Ceremonial Guardsman, remember, you are the ceremonial expert everywhere you go, you are the one to tell the hosting organization what you do, how you do it, and when. You must have a knowledge of flag protocol.

Departing

I also suggest that, when leaving, you give the command, “Port, Arms”, which brings the colors down to your side (you have finished your job and are no longer the focus) and depart.

Posting the Colors Outside

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Let’s get this out of the way, when asked to formally post the colors in stands outside, don’t. Just don’t do it. Let’s look closely.

Most every colors presentation should not be a posting. Posting the colors is for a formal situation and an outside ceremony either should have the color guard itself post (standing off to the side) or just enter, formally present for the anthem, and then depart without posting the flags. This type of presentation is called a Show-n-Go and should be the most common sequence for the color guard. See All About Posting and Presenting the Colors.

Outside? Pre-Post.

Every public event should have an American flag displayed somewhere. Since the ceremony is outside, is there a flagpole nearby? If so, that requirement is covered. If not, you may want to pre-post an American flag with some heavy weight around the stand. Having a color guard come in to formally present and then leave is perfectly acceptable.


Low-neck flag stand

High-neck flag stand

Back yard umbrella stand

The trouble with the low-neck stand is that it does not adapt well to being outside, even if heavily weighted, since there is little support for the staff. This can be remedied by adding a tube (see Color Guard Flag Stand Problems Resolved). The high-neck stand has a bit better stability, but still cannot handle wind gusts. What may be best is a backyard umbrella stand that can be filled with quite a bit of sand.

Weights

The photo at the top is the weight and stand system used in and around Washington DC. This particular photo is of President Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery where the flags are posted for the day to commemorate his birthday.

Even better. Years ago, the 3rd US Infantry, The Old Guard, did wind tunnel tests using the high-neck stands and placing two 45-lbs barbell plate weights over the neck. It looks neat and clean and provides a good base to support the flag in windy conditions.

Fringe and Streamers

For the preposted flag… No fringe. Fringe frays easily. Fringe attached to the American flag goes against the Flag Code anyway (see Flag Fringe and Finial Theory). An embroidered rayon banner material will be destroyed in windy conditions. Use nylon, 2-ply poly or Supratex. Also no streamers, for the same reason: once they get frayed a bit by the wind, they turn into a ball of thread. And they bleed if it rains.

DeVaughn Simper, Vexillologist (Professor Flag), contributed significantly to this article. Visit www.colonialflag.com

Flag Orientation on the Casket

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See also, All About the Flag on the Casket.

There is a proper way to place the flag on the casket and we will look at purely the orientation and not how to place it or the procedures for changing it. Having said that, changing the orientation can be as simple as bunching up the flag and reorienting it in the proper direction, but that is if it is caught before the ceremony.

If the flag is oriented incorrectly and the honor guard is now standing in front of the next-of-kin (NOK), it’s time for Stars-Over-Stripes if it is upside down or backwards. No need to change anything if it is upside down and backwards.

Always place the flag with the canton over the left shoulder of the deceased. This display maintains the standards set forth in the Flag Code where the canton is always in the upper left. With the NOK seated in their proper palce, you can see how that looks.

In the above illustration, we see the standard set up of the flag-draped casket and the placement of the NOK. If at all possible, the NOK should not be located anywhere else.

Correct and incorrect flag orientation and the terminology

Above, we have the four possibilities of draping the flag on the casket.

Note- the flag is ONLY draped on a casket (four sides), coffin (six sides, rarely used in the USA), and the transfer case. It is not draped on anything else, especially not the casket shipping container for commercial flights.

“Cutting the Colors”

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There is a very strange story about a line of flags and members of the military and veterans not being authorized to walk in between them. Most of this is a load of fertilizer that is quite deep.

It Goes Something like This

When you place two or more American flags in a line, you are not supposed to walk in between them. It is an actual RULE in the military. With flags AND with servicemen in line formation. You don’t ‘cut’ through lines of military or lines of flags. It’s called cutting colors. There is a poem about the space between two flags representing the graves of soldiers who died defending freedom.

It’s not exactly common knowledge with the general public, but it’s common knowledge with military members.

Let’s Begin with the Truth

“Hey, no cuts in line!” For any formation, we do not walk between squads/elements except during an inspection. We do not walk between ranks unless in a training scenario. In larger formations we do not walk between platoons or companies. Again, a training scenario would be different, but only the trainers cut through any and all lines.

For a color guard, we do not walk between the formation members whether there is one or more ranks. For a large states and territories flag formation (line or column), we do not walk between members, no matter how far apart the members are spaced.

Lastly, we do not walk in front of a formation, opting to move behind it if at all possible. All of these unwritten rules are what I call Formation Protocol.

Now for the Tall Tales

As far as “cutting the colors”, for flags that have been used for training purposes, they become stretched out considerably over time and for the first triangle fold we need to Cut the First Stripe. It has nothing to do with movement of people or even using scissors on the flag. This is the ONLY reference to any kind of cutting the colors except when retiring a huge flag. More on that here.

When you place two or more American flags in a line, you are not supposed to walk in between them. It is an actual RULE in the military.

No it’s not! This “rule” doesn’t even make sense. There is no such rule “in the military” or anywhere else for that matter.

It’s not exactly common knowledge with the general public, but it’s common knowledge with military members. 

Again, no, it’s not! It’s not common knowledge for anyone because it simply is not true at all.

There is a poem about the space between two flags representing the graves of military members who died defending freedom.

We don’t create standards from poems, just to let you know. The poem is known only to members of a certain veterans group. This group, of which I’ve been a member since just after my retiring from the USAF (’06), has created a tradition (not a rule) for the organization. To force this tradition on anyone else is inappropriate at best. This tradition is about walking between the American flag and the organization’s flag. That’s it, nothing else.

Display Your Flags!

If you are going to place flags in an area for some sort of patriotic display, do it! We veterans appreciate these displays and being able to walk through the flags. It’s a meaningful reminder to us and others that some of our brothers- and sister-in-arms never made it home or made it home be means of a casket.

Multiple American flag displays can be so beneficial. They can raise awareness, honor a day or an event, and even raise funds. For the best information on how you can host a flag display, Healing Field.

Music for a Colors Presentation

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What music is played when presenting the colors? That’s the question that has popped up time and again lately. So, let’s answer it.

The photo at top is of a DrillMaster mock funeral graduation ceremony colors presentation. Many first responder uniforms do not include a cover (hat). Quite often after receiving the training, the next step for the law enforcement, fire, or EMS unit is to establish uniform standards.

The Trio section of National Emblem is the standard. Not all of National Emblem. At what cadence? Lets look.

Tempo Matters!

This video was created by the US Navy Band in Washington DC. The tempo, about 80 beats per minute (BPM), is probably slower than you are used to but for ceremonial work, it’s standard. This is an excellent choice for the color guard to enter and depart.

Marching too quickly (120 BPM can be too quick), too slowly (please no slower than 80 BPM), and calling cadence are all to be avoided like the plague. Please see, How to Present the Colors at an Event and How Not to Present the Colors.

Situation Matters!

If your team is at a sports stadium, then you are probably going to march out early without music or fanfare, post, and wait for your cue, most likely a loudspeaker announcement (“Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for our National Anthem”). At an evening dinner or for a meeting, you could use the Trio music to add a bit of luster to the the team’s entrance and departure.

Remember, presenting the colors should be your goal 99% of the time. That means you enter, present, and leave with the colors while an american flag or set of flags is already posted. Posting the colors, where the team enter, presents, posts, and departs without the flags, is rare and only for special situations.

We are Posted, Now What?

On the color guard commander’s cue of giving the command, “Present, ARMS!” the music is played. Other than the sporting-type event mentioned above, the cue should come from the commander: the commands are:

  • Colors, ATTENTION!
  • Port/Right Shoulder/Carry, ARMS!
  • [Optional: Trio is played]
  • [Colors Turn-on] Colors, HALT!
  • (Left FACE!)
  • Present, ARMS!
  • [Music or Pledge]
  • Port, ARMS!
  • (Left, FACE!)
  • Colors Turn, MARCH!
  • [Optional: Trio is played]

The Star Spangled Banner is sung or played OR (not and) the Pledge of Allegiance is recited. Note: service departmental colors DO NOT DIP for the Pledge.

The AF D&C Manual Right Face in Marching is Wrong

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Wow, that’s a bit presumptuous of me to say that the AFMAN is wrong when it comes to the Right Face in Marching, isn’t it? You would think, but there’s a very good reason why I am writing this. While initially reading through AFPAM 346-1203, you may skim across the information and accept it at face value, however, if you look deeper into the Face in Marching, you will see there is a problem.

It’s a strange movement, but has a very good purpose. Essentially, it is a flank from a halt. For those of you who execute a Colors Reverse (an Army move that reverses a color guard) with flanks, you need to read this: The Colors Reverse and Countermarch How To.

The Army Face in Marching

4-15. FACING IN MARCHING
Facings in Marching from the Halt are important parts of the following movements: alignments, column movements, inspecting Soldiers in ranks, and changing from Normal Interval to Double Interval or Double Interval to Normal Interval.
a. For instructional purposes only, the command Face to the Right (Left) in Marching, MARCH may be used to teach the individual to execute the movement properly. On the preparatory command Face to the Right (Left) in Marching, shift the weight of the body without noticeable movement onto the right foot. On the command of execution MARCH, pivot to the right (left) on the ball of the right foot (90 degrees) and step off in the indicated direction with the left foot. Execute the pivot and step in one count, and continue marching in the new direction. (See paragraph 4-5c and Chapter 3, paragraph 3-1a.)

TC 3-21.5 20 January 2012

From the text above, we can easily understand that the face-in-march (my term, abbreviated F-I-M) is only executed with the pivot on the right foot at a full 90 degrees to the right or left with the left foot kicked out in either direction. This is what the image at the top of the article shows.

The text then goes on to describe the 45-degree half-right or half-left F-I-M, which is required for a column movement from a halt with two or more squads/elements. More on that in a moment.

The Marine Corps Face as in Marching

This applies to Marines, Sailors, and Coasties.

The MCO does not define a F-I-M, specifically. It refers to it as a Face as in Marching for Close and Extend and also for mass parade movement. It also mentions an Oblique in Marching. However, the F-I-M explanation is presented in Section 2, paragraph 12.

To March to the Flank. The purpose of this movement is to march the
entire unit to the right (left) for a short distance. It may be executed
when halted or while marching at either quick time or double time. The
command is “By the Right (Left) Flank, MARCH.” When marching the command of execution is given as the foot in the direction of the movement strikes the deck.
a. From a Halt
(1) For right flank, turn 90 degrees to the right by pivoting on the ball of the right foot and (using a cross over step) stepping off with the left foot 30 inches in the new direction of march.
(2) For left flank, turn 90 degrees to the left by pivoting on the ball of the right foot and stepping off 30 inches with the left foot in the new direction of march.

MCO 5060.20 15 May 2019

For either direction, once again, the pivot is on the right foot. Why? Because we step off with the left foot for every move we perform except for Right Step where we move laterally and do not face the direction of march.

The AF Face in Marching

Here is where we get into a strange explanation that does not make sense when you put it into practice.

3.18. Face in Marching. The command is Right (Left) Flank, MARCH. On the command MARCH, the Airman executes a 90-degree pivot on the ball of the right (left) foot and, at the same time, steps off with the left (right) foot in the new direction with coordinated arm swing. The pivot and step are executed in one count, and proper dress, cover, interval, and distance are maintained.

AFMAN 36-2203 19 June 2018

The image below shows what the AFMAN describes for a Right Flank from the halt. Why would this be different from the other services? There isn’t a good answer to this question.

Now, I’m aware that there are service differences. For instance, all of the services used to execute an Oblique but the Army and Air Force stopped using it decades ago while the Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard still use it. Another instance is Column of Files (Twos) from the Right/Left. That’s the Marine Corps and Air Force term for the move, but the MCO left this move out in the 2019 edition. The Army calls it File from the Right/Left.

The Duck Walk

Before we continue, let me throw this in the mix: the USAF “Duck Walk” is used for in-ranks inspections. If the above is to be followed, pivoting on the left foot and stepping to the right with the right foot, then why is the Duck Walk’s first pivot and following steps explained to look like this?

Why isn’t the first pivot on the left foot? Because it’s not supposed to be, that’s why. We don’t pivot on the left. Let’s continue.

The Problem Explained

If all you have to do is call “Column Right, MARCH!” while halted, and have the flight step off, we have a big problem. All of the element leaders, let’s say we have four elements, will step off on the right foot, but the rest of the flight, let’s say we have four ranks (a total of 16 members) will step off on their left.

Shown below are the foot steps of the first and second ranks. All of the element leaders (first rank) are executing what the AFMAN says is correct, but that creates a right foot lead off when the rest of the flight steps of, correctly, with the left foot. Now we have the first rank out of step with the rest of the flight.

To get around this difficulty, the AFMAN has the following:

4.11.4. On the command MARCH, element leaders begin the movement by executing a face in marching for a column left. For a column right, element leaders take one 24-inch step forward, then execute the movement.

AFMAN 36-2203 19 June 2019

Working Jointly

We, in the US military are supposed to be able to fit together in war fighting and we display that ability when march. While there are some commands that can throw off the services (“By the Right Flank” called on multiple feet vs. “Right Flank” called on two right steps), that can be remedied but technique is another matter.

It’s an assumption on my part and I hope you can at least see my point here. Performing a move completely differently from the other services isn’t in our best interests and this can be easily cleared up.

It doesn’t make sense to have to long-standing drill and ceremonies manuals and then have the AF come along and say, “Nah, we’ll do it this way.” I’m looking at you, Space Force. Don’t make me write an article about you. Now, let’s look at this from an historic perspective.

A Brief History

Why the US military cannot use one standard is a bit confusing. We started with one standard for the Revolutionary War under Baron von Steuben’s Blue Book and during the Civil War era, different generals began writing slightly different standards for rifle manipulation, mainly. The differences continued from there.

The first Air Force Manual for drill and ceremonies was AFM 50-14, dated June 1956. I have both the initial manual and the revision. Both have the following paragraph on page 46. Remember, the USAF became a service out of the Army in September of 1947 and relied heavily on both Army Field Manual 22-5 (now TC 3-21.5) and the NAVMC 2691 (now the MCO 5060.20) manual for drill and ceremonies.

To Face in Marching. The facings in marching are an important part of movements as column right, close, take interval, and extend. For facings to the right or left in marching, the command, By the Right (Left) Flank, MARCH, may be used.

TO face to the right or left in marching from a halt, turn to the right or left flank on the ball of the right foot at the command of execution. At the same time step off with the left foot in the new direction. [emphasis mine]AFM 50-14 and AFM 50-14 (Revision) June 1956

Performance Report Bullet Needed in ’92?

The same text is used in the 1963 version of AFM 50-14. But the 1992 version, AFR 50-14, has the change! I cannot find any edition of the manual after 1963 version to before 1992 version, so I am not positive that the change was made exactly in ’92. In any case, it was made. Why?

The USAF history is relatively short, however we are losing our history. Just because you might have an idea doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to change a standard. Marching may not seem like a big deal from where you sit but let me assure you that it is a very big deal. Please read, The Benefits of Military Drill.

Wrap Up

Standards matter. The F-I-M is not simply a flank from a halt. It is a precise movement that requires coordination with the rest of the formation when different elements are executing different movements simultaneously.

Drill and ceremonies is not just something an individual can flippantly make up as they go. The impact is far too great. There must be sound reasoning behind a proposed change (I’m looking at you, Civil Air Patrol, Sea Cadets, and Young Marines.)

Now that the problem has been identified, let’s clean it up and reword the paragraph back to the original language. While we are at it, a definition could be added to the MCO to not only name the Face as in Marching (“as” not required), but also explain the Oblique in Marching (which the Army identified as the Half-right (left) Face in Marching.

And, could we just call it a Face-in-March too?

Flag Fringe and Finial Theory

DrillMaster Color Guard/Color Team, DrillCenter News, Honor Guard 16 Comments

Before we get into the Fringe Theory, let’s all just take a deep breath and not get reactionary. Completely dismissing or wrapping yourself around the axle into this theory without due consideration of the facts is not going to do anyone any good.

I know. Conspiracy theories! Wacko! Tin-foil hat-wearing fool! Yada-yada-yada. If you are not open minded or already know everything, please move along.

I’m not writing this to offer complete answers, just bring out information. I don’t know if we can have definite answers to the myriad of possible questions.

UPDATE: This Web page here has nothing but false information and yet it is being shared as if it is packed full of truth. It talks about the “military flag” that has fringe. There is no such flag and Pres. Eisenhower’s Executive Order does not have that language in it nor does the US Code regarding the flag. It’s all nonsense.

The Theories

  1. Fringe on the flag defaces it and suspends the Constitution.
  2. The gold cord and tassels adds to the defacement.
  3. State flags are also defaced by adding gold colored fringe (I don’t know if that applies to any other color).
  4. The finial has something to do with signaling a court is not following Constitutional law but admiralty or court martial law.
  5. Flag size other than the 1:1.9 ratio suspends the Constitution.

The Flag Code

The Flag Code is part of public law, it sets the standards. Since it is public law (all caps: 4 U.S. Code CHAPTER 1—THE FLAG), I trust house.gov website and no one else, really. There is too much assumption everywhere else.

Let me be clear: the average guy or gal can read a paragraph of the Flag Code and still be perplexed at the meaning of the words just read. But, let’s do the best we can here.

In addition to the Flag Code are at least two Presidential Executive Orders that are included in the website I linked to above. For example, Executive Order 10834, signed by President Eisenhower on July 4, 1960, adds the star for the Hawai’ian Islands, gives the dimensions the flag in great detail, and revoked Executive Order 10798.

EO10834

Hoist (width) of flag 1.0
Fly (length) of flag 1.9
Hoist (width) of Union 0.5385 ( 7/13)
Fly (length) of Union 0.76
Diameter of star 0.0616
Width of stripe 0.0769 ( 1/13)

However, it also states that minor changes can be made to the national flag or union jack. FYI, the Jack of the United States/Union Jack is a maritime flag displayed at the bow on the jack staff of a vessel only when moored or anchored.

(a) The Secretary of Defense in respect of procurement for the Department of Defense (including military colors) and the Administrator of General Services in respect of procurement for executive agencies other than the Department of Defense may, for cause which the Secretary or the Administrator, as the case may be, deems sufficient, make necessary minor adjustments in one or more of the dimensions or proportionate dimensions prescribed by this order, or authorize proportions or sizes other than those prescribed by section 3 or section 21 of this order.

EO 10834, Sec. 24 (emphasis mine

Flag Sizes

There are specific sizes stipulated in the Flag Code but the EO mentioned above give the authority for the DoD to make adjustments. Why that would be necessary, I don’t know, but it’s there.

Authorized flag sizes
The flag with gold fringe and cord and tassels

Military Flag and Color Guard Flagstaff Sizes

The US Army, Air Force and Space Force display and carry 3′ x 4′ flags on eight foot staffs and 4’4″ x 5’6″ flags on 9’6″ staffs. The army can also attach the smaller flag to the taller staff. The Air Force authorizes 7′ staffs but only for posting colors indoors and at no other time.

The Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard display and carry 4’4″ x 5’6″ flags on 9’6″ staffs only.

Fringe and the Cord and Tassels

Merely an affectation?

The theory is that the gold fringe defaces the flag of the United States of America suspends the Constitution. I’m not so quick to make that conclusion, but I do understand how this thinking came about.

A Brief History of Fringe

According to DeVaughn Simper, a respected member in the vexillology community and a vexillologist for Colonial Flag of Sandy Utah, provided me with an interesting aspect of the original use of fringe, as far as the American flag is concerned.

Fringe was attached to the flag because it created static electricity and attracted dirt keeping the flag itself clean longer.

Perfectly reasonable.

An even More Brief History of the Cord and Tassels

The cord and tassels were used to tie the flag after it was furled (wrapped around the staff) and stored. When the flag was unfurled for display or to be carried, the place to store the cord was to tie it around the top of the staff just below the finial.

For the military, the gold cord and tassels is not authorized in any display nor for a color guard. However, the red, white, and blue twisted cord and tassels is authorized specifically for the Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard (see MCO 10520.3, AR 840-10 also mentions the RW&B cord).

Again, perfectly reasonable.

The difference in flags is the ONLY reason I am sharing this image

That was Then, This is Now

The cord and tassels is not necessary. Keeping it as a traditional/historic reference, I can definitely understand. Most likely the gold colored cord is there because the color matches the fringe. The red, white, and blue cord and tassels is required on all national colors for the Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard (MCO 5060.20). I prefer this tri-colored cord and tassels, referred to as a rope and tassels by the Marine Corps.

§8. Respect for flag
(g) The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.

Flag Code

Fringe could be described as a figure or possibly a design. Don’t attach anything to the flag. There is no argument that is acceptable for fringe that I can see.

Nowhere in the Flag Code is fringe authorized to be attached to it anymore (this is the key here). It’s not necessary since we do not carry it into battle anymore, which would require creating something to keep it clean.

For information on star size, read here.

AR 840-10 and MCO 5060.2

Army Regulation 840-10, Flags, Guidons, Streamers, Tabards, and Automobile and Aircraft Plates, provides guidance for the US Army regarding every kind of flag the service uses. In it is information about fringe.

1 – 6. Materials
Flags designed primarily for indoor and parade display [DM- these flags are called Indoor/Outdoor flags] will normally be made of banner rayon or heavyweight nylon with rayon fringe. Those designed primarily for outdoor display will be made of nylon-wool or heavyweight nylon without fringe [DM- these flags are called Outside flags].

AR 840-10 (emphasis mine)

(a) 12-inch hoist by 18-inch fly, of approved material, trimmed on three sides with fringe 1 1/2 inches wide. This flag is to be displayed with the individual automobile flag of the President and Vice President of the United States.

AR 840-10 (emphasis mine)

Fringe and Flag Sizes

b. National flags listed below are for indoor display and for use in ceremonies and parades. For these purposes, the flag of the United States will be of rayon banner cloth or heavyweight nylon, trimmed on three sides with golden yellow fringe, 2 1/2 inches wide. It will be the same size or larger than other flags displayed or carried at the same time.
(1) 4-foot 4-inch hoist by 5-foot 6-inch fly. This size flag will be displayed with the U.S. Army flag, organizational flag of ACOMs, positional colors (table 3 – 1), the Corps of Cadets’ color, the 1st Battalion, 3d Infantry color, the 4-foot 4-inch by 5-foot 6-inch chapel flag and the individual flag of a general of the Army.
(2) 3-foot hoist by 4-foot fly. This size flag will be displayed with the Army Field flag, distinguishing flags, organizational colors, and institutional flags of the same size. It will also be displayed within the offices listed in c below when no other positional or organizational flags are authorized.

AR 840-10 (emphasis and notes mine)

Now, why would the Army just ignore the Flag Code when the Marine Corps specifically forbids fringe on the national flag?

MCO 5060.20, Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies

p. The use of gold fringe on the U.S. Flag is expressly forbidden
for Marine Corps organizations.

MCO 5060.20 (emphasis mine)

Gold-colored fringe is required on all service departmental, organizational, and positional colors for all branches of the US military.

The Finial

Also called an ornament, It’s the device at the top of a flagpole (outside) or a flagstaff (indoor display or carried by a color guard). There are many finials to choose from. Here is the guidance. This section has many photos in it, if you are on a mobile device.

Below, where NTP 13B, Flags, Pennants, Honors, Ceremonies, and Customs, is referenced, the information applies only to the US Navy and Coast Guard. All of the Navy finials are interchangeable with small screws.

Here, you can see where each finial screws into the truck. I’m holding the upper ferrule.

Spread Eagle

Note- This is different from a Landing Eagle and a Flying Eagle. Many look like a plucked chicken anyway. I don’t know if the direction the eagle is looking toward matters.

(NTP 13B) It is for civilian officials and flag officers whose official gun salute is 19 or more guns. This includes such individuals as the President and Vice President, Secretaries of State, Defense, Army, Navy, Air Force; Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, State Governors, and Service Chiefs. Tables of gun salutes of military officers and civil officials are contained in Chapter 10, U.S. Navy Regulations.”

AR 840-10 state the spread eagle is only for presidential staffs. You will see the Presidential Color Guard most often at the inauguration parade. This team carries the National, Presidential, and Vice-Presidential Colors on 10′ staffs. The President and Vice-president’s colors are positional colors and receive fringe. Since the Army is the senior service, a Soldier carried the National Color and it has fringe.

Presidential Color Guard

Halberd

Also from NTP 13B and for the Navy and Coast Guard only. It is “for flag officers whose official gun salute is less than 19 guns, and for civil officials whose gun salute is 11 or more but less than 19 guns. Included in this category are such individuals as the Under and Assistant Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force; Naval or Military Governors; and flag officers of the Armed Forces other than those of 5-star rank or Service Chiefs.”

See the photo below of MCPO (Ret) Mark Hacala, DrillMaster003, the Ceremonial Specialist for the US Navy Ceremonial Guard at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling. The halberd is in his left hand (picture’s right).

Ball

This is for Army (AR 840-10) outdoor wall mounted flags for advertising or recruiting and NTP 13B states, “For officers of the grade or equivalent grade of Captain in the Navy, and for such diplomatic officials as Career Ministers, Consuls, or First Secretary of an Embassy or Legation.” It’s the standard finial for outdoor flagpoles. Read more about the ball here.

The USAF actually used the ball for color guards but it has not been authorized for use in decades- if you are still using it, stop.

See the photo below of MCPO (Ret) Mark Hacala. He is holding the halberd and battle-ax finials. Imagine, if you will, the ball alone without the rest of the ornament.

Star

Star

(NTP 13B) For officers of the grade or equivalent grade of Commander in the Navy. This is also the required finial for the Texas flag.

Certain states have specific finials, Fleur-de-Lis (optional for LA) and Botany Cross (required for MD), and even flag fold techniques.

Flat Truck

(NTP 13B) For officers below the grade or equivalent grade of Commander in the Navy, and for civil officials for whom honors are prescribed on the occasions of an official visit, but are not the equivalent of those officials listed above. The truck is the flat part of the upper ferrule of a flagstaff. That’s where the finial screws into.

In the photo below, DrillMaster003 is holding a Halberd Finial in his left hand. Below his index and middle fingers is the flat piece where the finial screws into the upper ferrule. That flat piece of the upper ferrule is called the truck. Remove the finial and you have the Flat Truck.

MCPO (Ret) Mark Hacala
Battle-ax

Battle-ax/Battalion Lance

This is used by the Navy and Coast Guard as their standard finial for color guard when working within that service or jointly together. When working with another service the flat, silver Army Spearhead must be used.

In the photo above of MCPO (Ret) Mark Hacala, he is holding the battle-ax in his right hand.

All of the Navy finials mentioned are local purchase only. If they are not deemed necessary for the expenditure of funds, the Army Spearhead is always used.

Spearhead

Army Spearhead/Spade

AR 840-10, MCO 5060.20, and AFI 34-1201, Protocol, all state that the flat, silver spearhead is the only finial authorized for color guard and flagstaffs.

Roman Spear

Spike, spire, cone, flat- there are many variations to these finials and like the Army Spearhead, they are all derived from ancient pole arms: spears.

The Theories Summed Up

  1. Fringe on the flag defaces it and suspends the Constitution.
    • There isn’t any proof that the Constitution is suspended. Fringe on the modern national or state flag is not necessary. One hundred years ago, it was, but not anymore. I suggest that fringe not be attached to American flags.
  2. The gold cord and tassels adds to the defacement.
    • I don’t appreciate the gold colored cord, I much prefer red, white, and blue. However, just like the fringe, I cannot definitively say there is any meaning behind it.
  3. State flags are also defaced by adding gold colored fringe.
    • I know of nothing at the state level that allows fringe to be attached to any state’s flag. Unless specifically authorized by each state government, it should not be attached. I suggest that fringe also not be attached to state, county, or city flags.
    • Fringe should also not be attached to any foreign national flags that your unit may be required to keep on hand. Some countries forbid fringe, others have very long fringe in different colors. The Old Guard in Washington DC carries all foreign national flags without fringe when foreign dignitaries visit.
  4. The finial has something to do with signaling a court is not following Constitutional law but admiralty or court martial (military) law.
    • This doesn’t make sense. All finials used in the US have some sort of history and there is nothing specific to a meaning except the purposes noted above that I can find.
  5. Flag size other than the 1:1.9 ratio suspends the Constitution.
    • There is nothing that I have found that supports this. Especially with the EO stating that changes can be made when deemed necessary. Apparently they were necessary for the US military with the 3′ x 4′ and 4’4″ x 5’6″ flags being authorized for display and to be carried by a color guard along with the outdoor flag sizes.

The Corporation of the United States

Let’s add another fact to this to help with the possible confusion.

On February 21, 1871 with no constitutional authority to do so, Congress created a separate form of government for the District of Columbia, a ten mile square parcel of land (see, Acts of the Forty-first Congress,” Section 34, Session III, chapters 61 and 62). From https://www.federaljack.com/slavery-by-consent-the-united-states-corporation/. This created the United States, Inc. As a corporation there are all kinds of different rules for a business verses a country.

Notice that when you read the Flag Code, certain statements only pertain to those living in the District of Columbia not to anyone else. A “US Citizen” is one who is based in the District of Columbia and subject to those laws. It’s a deep rabbit hole, but well worth it to onvestigate.

Conclusion

I don’t have one, specifically. I still have questions. However, I am much more inclined to follow the guidance of the Flag Code and the Marine Corps Order and not have fringe attached to the American flag/National Color. Flag size and finial type do not have an impact on anything as far as I can tell.

If you have any documented information to add in a positive manner to to dispute the information above, I welcome it.