Flag Protocol Slides

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The following slides are provided for educating my fellow Americans. Please download and share. If you would like to have the whole set emailed to you, please use the contact form on the front page of the website.

Casa Grande High School MCJROTC

Practice Never Makes Perfect

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“Practice makes perfect” is the usual phrase, or you may hear the modified “perfect practice makes perfect”, which doesn’t even make sense. What exactly is “perfect practice”? I really do not like either of those phrases at all because they are quite meaningless.

Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence. Vince Lombardi

The learning process starts with education. Training is the next step, but sometimes both education and training are combined. After training comes practice, practice, practice. Then, for a performance, military drill being one, a rehearsal or dress rehearsal or two is in order. Finally, the actual performance.

My Agua Fria (AZ) senior AFJROTC instructor, Lt Col Bernard Lorenz, always told us “Practice makes permanent”. He was an Air Force fighter pilot in Korea and Vietnam. His math skills were amazing and he used those skills to write drill for my unit’s drill team (see my book, Exhibition Drill for the Military Drill team for everything Lt Col Lorenz taught us and much more). His (correct) version of the statement about practice is true in everything we do. Everything.

For the JROTC competitive regulation drill performance, we march a long sequence of commands in a 100′ x 100′ box. The head judge is centered on one side and the team enters to his right, departing (in the southwest) to his left. As soon as the first team member crosses the boundary line, judging begins. Judging ends when the last team member steps over the boundary line.

While I was in school, Tolleson High School MCJROTC was our greatest rival. Hands-down one of the best teams in Arizona and probably the south western states. While our practice drill pad was a big, obstruction-free parking lot at the Agua Fria North campus (now Millennium High School) outside of Litchfield Park, Tolleson’s practice drill pad had one side up against a building and no one realized it was a disaster waiting to happen.

At a drill meet in Phoenix my team watched as the Tolleson unarmed female team went through a perfect regulation drill performance. It was perfect until just before the team exited the drill pad. The team was made up of four squads of four members. Just before leaving the boundary, squads 1 and 2 executed a modified column left and, you guessed it, squads 3 and 4 executed a modified column right. Their practices had cemented their muscle and visual memory so they did not have to think of what they were doing, they just did it. My team was thrilled because it was inside the boundary line and an enormous mistake- the pressure was off of us a bit and yet, we were so disappointed for the team. The Tolleson girls were devastated and never let it happen again.

We later found out through our instructors who spoke with the Tolleson instructors all about the one side of the practice pad being up against the building.

We won that day. Actually, the Agua Fria Union High School Air Force Jr ROTC Drill Team won every AZ drill meet and parade we entered from school year 79/80 to 82/83, except for one parade. The 1982 Billy Moore Days Parade. We lost to… Tolleson. It was my first experience as team commander and it was right at the beginning of the school year. I did not have enough practice and misjudged our entrance to the reviewing stand. Needless to say, enough practice was not an issue after that.

Practice truly does make permanent. What you do in practice, you will do in a performance because of muscle and/or visual memory. That’s why “JITT”, Just-in-Time Training rarely, if ever, works. You aren’t able to build up the muscle memory enough to be able to perform properly. So, train as you would fight – practice as you would perform and let practice make permanent in a good way.

The “Orlando Move” and Keeping Your Bearing

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Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Orlando De La Paz

When I was in high school (Agua Fria in Avondale, AZ) I was on the drill team for our Air Force JROTC unit. During my sophomore year, at a competition in Phoenix, one of my teammates performed an incredible feat.

We were always up against Tolleson High School Marine Corps JROTC and we would practice every day after school and on Saturdays just to beat them because they were SO GOOD! Other teams were good, but we were amazed watching Tolleson perform. Any kind of mistake would knock us out of the running for first place, we had to be perfect.

It was our turn to perform our exhibition drill routine. Our team commander, Thom Bushman (kneeling at the front in the above picture), went to report-in, returned to the team, and gave, “Forward, HARCH!” We entered at our signature spot, the upper right corner (from the head judge) at an angle and began our routine. Everything was going perfectly and as we got out of Wagon Wheel into flight formation to have the team now march squared off to the box, the team took off to the right, away from the judge, and Orlando (the dapper cadet with a mustache in the above picture) went to the left! We, in the team proper, went on to continue our performance without Orlando who, centered on the head judge, marched directly toward him. Orlando stopped a couple of steps away from the judge, popped a perfect salute, executed an About Face, and marched straight toward the rest of the team.

Amazingly, without any major adjustment, Orlando and the rest of the team perfectly merged and continued the performance without a single flaw, well, not a single detectable flaw to anyone outside of the team. As the team was dismissed, mouths were wide open in disbelief and everyone was cheering wildly.

Without missing a beat, Orlando was able to hold his military bearing (composure), and create something on the fly that absolutely no one would ever think was a mistake.

No matter what you are doing and no matter happens, never let anyone in the audience know that you made a mistake by rolling your eyes, making a sound, or any kind of gesture. Because no one in the audience really knows if that was mistake or not.

Oh, we won.

Nassau County (NY) Police Department Explorers

More Than One Flag At a Ceremony

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“You cannot display more than one flag at a ceremony!” That’s one of several urban legends I’ve heard over the years related to me or told directly to me by well meaning people. Well meaning people who don’t know what they are talking about. Apparently, one set already posted and another set formally presented is “too many”.

The Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team with “too many” flags

I know, you are a patriotic American and you know what you know because at some point you were in an armed service, a Scout, or on the school bike patrol. Standards remain the same, but our memories are poor at best. This is why we need to constantly go back to the Flag Code and our military manuals to recheck our facts. Below is a quote from the Flag Code:

§175. Position and manner of display
(k) When used on a speaker’s platform, the flag, if displayed flat, should be displayed above and behind the speaker. When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman’s or speaker’s right as he faces the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience.

Nothing in the Flag Code states that more than two flags is inappropriate or unauthorized. So let’s look at when and why two or more flags make an appearance in a ceremony.

The Massing of the Colors Event

The Massing of the Colors in Cocoa, FL

This could also be known as the “Way Too Many Flags Event” for some. If you have not been to one, this can be a wonderful sight to see: dozens of color guards, all with their flags from all kinds of different organizations gathering together to honor the flag. Read here for more information.

Presenting – Posting – Retrieving

The Show-n-Go

Presenting the Colors. The standard. The “Show-n-Go”. There is nothing wrong with having a set of flags already pre-positioned on the stage (for instance) and, at the cue, having the color guard enter, formally present a second set of colors, and leave with that second set. As a matter of fact, this should be the usual setup. It’s a formal presentation but can be used at an informal situation and still allows everyone to get on with the business of the event.

Posting the Colors. Presenting and then posting the colors should be reserved for a more special occasion and should not be the every-day or possibly even the monthly standard.

Retrieving the Colors. having the color guard come back into the room to retrieve the colors is a black tie affair and should happen maybe once a year. It need to be reserved for a very special occasion.

The Draped and Dressed Casket

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A fully draped casket

This article is about when to drape, dress, or band the flag on the casket and when to transfer a casket using each of the three techniques. Let’s begin with a bit of history.

For the US military, caskets have been carried while draped, dressed, and banded for decades depending on the requirements. Different services have used different standards at various times as you will see by the pictures.

The terms draped/dressed/banded casket = draped/dressed/banded flag.

Dressed casket of JFK

For many years, first responders (law enforcement, firefighters, and EMS personnel) have followed US military standards from the Army and Marine Corps due to the volume of information in both drill and ceremonies manuals. The Air Force manual relies heavily on both manuals and is usually not referenced. Even though the two manuals have an abundance of information, understandably, first responders have resorted to creating techniques to suit their immediate needs. These standards extend into the Forest Service, various rescue agencies around the country, TSA color guards, and Federal Reserve Police.

Draped Casket
1985 – Pallbearers carry the flag-draped casket of LTJG Sather at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

In the Military Drill World and especially the Ceremonial Drill World there are some times when “Never” and “Always” are necessary. To say, “A draped casket is never carried”, or something similar, is just not so. A drape, dress, or band situation is not one of those times for an always or never, except where noted below.

Defining our Terms

Draped Casket: The flag is laid over the casket.

Draped Casket (Circa 1985)
Here, a US Navy Ceremonial Guard Carry Team escort the remains of a fallen shipmate in a transfer case.
Trasnfer cases are now banded underneath the flag and the flag is then folded and tucked into the band on all four sides.

Dressed Casket: The flag is “dressed” (folded up) at each end.

Fully Dressed Casket (Both Ends)
Here, the last two guards for Casket Watch dressed the flag and are now rotating the casket to escort it out of the chapel to the awaiting pallbearers.

Banded Casket: A Casket band is around the flag holding it to the casket.

Banded Casket
Here, firefighters train to place the casket on the hose bed of an antique fire truck.
Draped casket
Circa 1960-1975 copyright Carnegie Museum of Art, Charles “Teenie” Harris Archive

When and Why

Pallbearers transporting a fully draped casket

Carrying a draped casket. There is no reason that a team of pallbearers cannot carry a casket with the flag draped. It’s just a technique the team can use. However, the team must also have a planned technique for ensuring the flag does not get caught under the casket when loading and unloading the casket from the coach, caisson, apparatus, or mockup. I wish I had pictures of my time with USAF Base Honor Guards, but we didn’t take pictures that much back then. At the mockup, the four pallbearers at each end would take their outside hand along the edge of the flag, run it out to the corner and lift the corner holding it out from the casket to prevent setting the casket down on the flag. The casket would be lowered and the Tabletop sequence would then commence. However, dressing the flag from the start eliminates any possible issues.

Training: Holding the corners of the flag before setting down the casket

See also, All About the Flag on the Casket.

President GWB’s draped casket

Dressing the Flag

Here, the lead pallbearer uses an Air Force technique to dress the flag before the pallbearers approach

This technique can eliminate the guesswork ensuring the the flag is secure and not in danger of being caught on anything.

Depending on the military service, there are different times to dress the flag. For United States Certified Ceremonial Guardsmen, the times are: right after the completion of Formal Casket Watch, as pictured above, and upon the pallbearers lifting the casket from the bier or pulling it out of the coach.

Fully dressed flag
This occurs immediately after the pallbearers have the casket out of the coach and Push-Pull has moved from the head to secure his corner

Banding the Flag

This is an “Always” situation since the casket on a fire truck hose bed must have the flag secured. It is not mandatory in other situations, although there are times it may be preferable. Place the band and tuck the flag prior to final transport. Dress the flag before each transport and then drape it when the casket initially rests at each point of the funeral or at the last stop, the grave site.

Context is always necessary. Flags have a casket band in Arlington and other national cemeteries due to the casket traveling on a caisson. A banded casket being carried can be due to constant transfer from one mode of transportation to another (caisson, aircraft, coach). A casket being placed outside and left unattended probably should have the flag banded so that a sudden wind gust does not create an extremely embarrassing moment.

Banded due to transport and being set down outside
Armed Forces body bearers carry President Gerald R. Ford into the the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum during the funeral service Jan. 2 in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Or, movement on a flight line can require a band.

Priesdent Reagan’s casket

Other Techniques

There aren’t any.

Please do not roll

The Takeaway

United Stated Certified Ceremonial Guardsmen have their standards outlined in The Honor Guard Manual and each military service honor guard has theirs. While we can see that there are times when pallbearers should use a certain technique, there isn’t a right or wrong way for dressing, draping, or banding (except where noted).

The Authorized Provider Partnership Program (AP3)

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You can read the documentation here. This is the slideshow presentation.

In a nutshell, retirees and veterans of the military services may join full and part-time installation ceremonial teams (honor Guards) for the purpose of supplementing, not replacing, team members for funerals.

There are two unofficial categories: the veteran joins the team, is suited up in the Class A or Ceremonial uniform and works each day to train and perform. The next category is the veteran service organization (VSO) joins with the installation team at the grave site and while the service members fold and present the flag, the VSO members act as the firing party and possibly color guard.

I had the distinct pleasure of being an AP3 member of the Spangdahlem Air Base Honor Guard from 2009 to 2011. It was a great experience that gave me the opportunity to help the team in many ways.

Ask your local installation ceremonial team or VSO about joining. In the meantime, watch Rendering Honors.

The Cherry Blossom Festival Joint Service Drill Exhibition

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The Marine Corps won the first Joint Service Drill Competition years ago when it was held inside a shopping center. You can see brief videos of that on YouTube. There was a long hiatus and the competition started back up, this time in front of the Jefferson Memorial. The Joint Service Drill Exhibition is now held at the Lincoln Memorial.

Exhibition? What happened to the Competition?

The last competition, which I judged, was in 2011 and the Air Force was the winner- by a hair. Why the change? Fairness. The Marine Corps and Army have had their separate drill teams in one platoon and the members of those platoons have had their specific job of perfecting the routine. The Air Force eventually created a flight that does the same thing. I’m not completely informed as to the Navy’s team, but they probably have a platoon that is only for drill. That leaves the Coast Guard. They will never be able to win- that is not a statement that should in any way be associated with the CG’s team being poor. It is not. I am thrilled to watch all of the team’s performances every year ad love to watch the Coast Guard’s team.

Why won’t they win? They are the smallest honor guard and are unable to have honor guard members totally dedicated to the drill team. All of the Coast Guard honor guard members must master every element of the honor guard: Colors, Pall Bearers and Firing Party. They all can switch around as needed so most of their time is spent practicing all of their duty related tasks, drill team is extra. Those who are on the drill team put in extra hours- and do a great job, mind you- but the routine must be kept relatively simple.

The other teams that have dedicated honor guard members can create complex routines that “wow” the crowd and while the Coast Guard drill team still “wows” crowds with their performances, their routine, when viewed through a judges lens of Overall Effect, Composition Analysis, Equipment and Movement is unable- on purpose- to be as complex and still have the excellent execution that we see in the other service honor guard teams.

So, instead of handing the trophy back and forth between the Air Force and the Army, with the Marines getting in there every few years, we can go and watch and appreciate all of the performances since, in reality, they are winners just because they get up every morning, put on a perfect uniform, honor our country’s war dead and heads of state and then go off to practice drill.

DrillMaster’s Score at Home Sheet

With the elimination of judging (which I fully support) from the yearly Presidential Honor Guard Drill Team performances, that doesn’t mean you can’t decide who you think is the “winner”! Let’s face it all of the teams are fun to watch and do a wonderful job, but we all have our favorites.

I’ve created a very simple four-caption score sheet and scoring system for you to download and use. See how you think the teams did and stack your results up against your friends’ and family’s.

The Pentagon Channel and others may air it. Check your listings.

The Uniform and Presenting the Colors

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I post what I call Micro Training Moments on Instagram. You can see them at right. Over the years, I have centered around the color guard because there is so much that is urban myth surrounding presenting the colors and a large community of under-educated team members. Education is my calling and the color guard is at the top of the list.

Fairchild AFB (WA) SERE team Presenting the colors for their ceremony in the AF utility uniform

One of the sub-topics that comes up often is the uniform that a color guard wears when posting or presenting the colors. For those in the military (Active, Guard, & Reserve), we know that the color guard’s uniform should match the official party or at least the occasion. Read All About the Color Guard here.

  • If it’s a colors presentation in the field, we would expect everyone to be in their service utility uniform.
  • A change of command at a home base would most likely be in service dress/Class A.
  • Installation honor guard/ceremonial teams wear there ceremonial/Class A uniform 99.9% of the time for ceremonies. It’s rare but possible for a colors presentation in utilities.

To present the colors in a utility uniform in public is considered inappropriate. Even though you are only at a local baseball game, you still represent your service and should do so to the best of your ability.

Posting colors in the Rein-Main (GE) community in the AF ceremonial uniform

Cadet programs should follow the same guidance, Class A or even B is the appropriate uniform- all of the time. There isn’t a reason to present in utilities for cadets that I can think of except possibly this: Friday night football game colors presentation and a drill meet the following day. I understand that completely and would hope that others do as well.

The Formal Occasion

However, what about the formal occasion where everyone is in mess dress or the service dress combination with bow tie? These two formal uniforms do not require a cover, which does not meet the color guard standard. In this formal situation, the color guard does not dress to match. The Class A/Ceremonial Uniform is the top uniform for the color guard. A mess dress or Class A with bow tie combination are not appropriate for a color guard.

After the colors presentation, you can always change into a formal uniform if you so desire. Just don’t do as the cadet did in the picture at the top and present in a bow tie with an unauthorized white shirt (no collar).

Service Drill Teams Attend Annual Training Camps

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Each year around the end of February and the beginning of March, each of the service drill teams (Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force- not sure about the Coast Guard*), leave their duty station and head out to train for about 30 days to work on the upcoming season’s routine.

USMC SDP Challenge DayBefore the teams leave for training there is a challenge time or, at least for the Marine Corps, Challenge Day. Honor guard members wishing to be a member of the team can perform the drill team’s manual, which they have practiced for weeks, and be graded in the hope to make a performing spot on the season’s team.

The Army, Navy and Air Force Silent Drill Teams, separately, go to different installations around the country and the Silent Drill Platoon along with the Drum and Bugle Corps heads to Yuma, AZ each year.

The photo is courtesy of the Marine Corps and shows a Marine performing for a grade by his inspector.

*Unlike the other service drill teams that have permanent members who are assigned to the team and usually do not have other honor guard duties, the Coast Guard’s honor guard is very small and all honor guard members are cross-trained and certified on the different ceremonial elements. Members volunteer to march on the drill team but the assignment is also part of their regular honor guard duties, so they have double and triple roles to perform in any given day with funerals, VIP arrivals, etc. including drill team practices and performances.

First American Flag Triangle Fold into the Canton

The Meaning of the Thirteen Flag Folds

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There is no official meaning to the folds of the American flag.

No matter how strongly anyone insists that there is, there really isn’t any meaning behind a single fold. Click here for different unofficial flag fold scripts. There is a proper way to fold it, however.

Many videos liter the internet of how to fold the flag. In all honesty, most of these videos show terrible folding techniques. There’s even a flag company video that shows two employees folding the flag- upside down and backwards. Really. Several honor guard units also posted some videos showing very bad fold techniques.

Sagging, flipping, and ending the fold with red and even stripes showing, all are available for your viewing horror.

Please note. There is no other technique for folding the flag than making two horizontal folds and then thirteen triangle folds. While each military service has a slight variation as to how this is ultimately accomplished, there is no other authorized way.

I made the following video while I worked with a Army-based cadet organization located in Kentucky. I taught all ceremonial elements during the first and only Cadet Joint Service Honor Guard Academy.