Manual of the Ceremonial Fire Axe

DrillMaster Honor Guard, Instructional 3 Comments

There is the manual of arms for the rifle, saber/sword and even a handgun. What about the Firefighter’s Ceremonial Fire Axe? I have the solution! For my fifth book for the military drill world, The Honor Guard Manual, I developed a manual for manipulating the firefighter’s ceremonial fire axe that mimics the manual of arms for the honor guard.

What I have done is to try to match, as closely as possible, the honor guard manual of arms for the rifle and present a standard that everyone can use regardless of where they are or the size of their team.

Click the image to go to Plano America, the BEST in ceremonial fire axes!

Here is a sample of going from Attention to Port Arms and then Port Arms back to Order Arms/Attention:

From Attention to Port Arms

From Port Arms to Order Arms/Attention

In The Honor Guard Manual you can learn about the three ceremonial elements and how to perform all positions of each element and more!

“Detail” and its Connotation

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What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word, “detail”? I think of being “voluntold” to mop floors, lawn police, etc. Some law enforcement personnel think of overtime details downtown working a sporting event security or something similar. You possibly thought of something different while reading this. Regardless, we need to stop calling every formation a “detail” as in “Detail, Tench, Hut!”

Army Pall Bearers

Yours is a professional ceremonial team and you need to project that at all times not only in what you do, but in what you say. Calling out “Detail” as the preparatory command, which is quite common, is not a word that is usually associated with a professional honor guard unit and I suggest not using it at all especially in public. After all, in the military, members get picked for unpleasant details, jobs that they would rather not do and that word is associated with the members of a detail not wanting to be there. This is not something that we want to project to VIPs or even the next-of-kin.

Better preparatory commands, as you will read throughout The Honor Guard Manual, are specific:

  • “Bearers” for the pall bearers
  • “Colors” for the color team
  • “Firing Party” for those on the team firing the 3-volley salute
  • “Cordon” for those on a cordon
  • “Guard” for the honor guard
  • “Drill Team” or “Team” for a Drill Team

For downloadable audio examples of how to give commands, click here and scroll down to Honor Guard Commands.

Drill Team Recruiting

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Canadian Air Cadet DT

Numbers and attendance. It’s nothing new to JROTC or some other high school activities. However, when it happens during your four years of school, it seems like a brand new problem has popped up. Over the years, I have received pleas from cadets who so badly want to march on their school’s drill team, but cannot seem to generate enough interest in the program among other cadets.

I received two messages within two days last week, one through Instagram and one through Kik, about drill team practice attendance numbers dropping.

I posted a question on Instagram and Facebook and received some interesting replies like these:

  • More community service hours opportunities are given in reward.
  • I started with a squad and did an exhibition routine with them and presented it to my Battalion. After they saw the things that we could do, it encouraged them to join.
  • I think drill teams should do more small performances in middle schools ms elementary schools. They should do basic stuff within the routine but still look super sharp and cool. They should also wear a nice beat uniform. Appearance attracts also

There are lean years where the extra-curricular activities in JROTC are scraping to get by and then there will be several years of more than enough cadets to fill all of the positions. Many schools experience this phenomenon almost cyclically.

I began to see a pattern, though, with the complaints of instructors not being fully involved tying in with poor attendance at drill team or color guard practice. For those who said their numbers were dropping, I asked if the instructors were involved and received these comments:

  • Not really. [Drill team is] mostly cadet run. It just seems commitment with the new cadets and seniors is just non existent.
  • Our instructors are not really there when we are training. They’re never there during drill. They do however get involved in certain functions, but I don’t really see them as being heavily involved, which is what we really need.

Lack of instructor involvement is an issue that needs to be addressed. But, here is what I see as a possible culprit to this issue: lack of drill and ceremonies awareness. When it comes to senior NCOs and CPOs, they are more management than anything else. While some do have experience with being a Drill Instructor, many do not and, even so, competitive military drill is very different when it comes to advanced training requirements. JROTC instructors who do not have drill experience are more likely to want to stay away from the drill pad when it comes to a drill team because of a lack of knowledge in this area. Something that I truly hope to change through my books and educational clinics.

Click here for all of the articles with the tag, Drill Team Training.

Relevant articles to this issue:

Team Training Difficulties
How to Restart a JROTC Drill Team
Drill Team Drama
My Drill Team Needs to Get Better!

I’ve written articles with suggestions on how to try to conquer this problem (listed above), but here I offer another, very different, suggestion: a community drill team and/or color team (see why I put “team” there instead of “guard,” here). Even partnering with a local Civil Air Patrol, Sea Cadet or Young Marine organization is an option.

The Community Drill Team
Here is a possible situation: You have a certain number of high schools in your area with maybe 5 or 6 cadets who are really interested in forming a team, not enough members for a team from that school, but pool those members into one team and you have a district or community team ready to march in competitions and parades.

There are several issues that come to mind from the beginning:

  • Where to hold practice?

Rotate between schools or hold practice in a central location.

  • How to get to practice?

Car pool to the central location

  • If different services, what manual to follow?

The senior service takes precedent in this order: Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force & Coast Guard

  • What uniform?

Having a squad of each service would work well. It’s different, but then so is this whole situation.

  • Who is in charge, instructor-wise?

This could rotate on a weekly basis.

  • Who is in charge, cadet-wise?

As with the service honor guards, rank will always be respected, but the most competent of the members, regardless of rank, should be in charge. Is there more than one cadet who could lead well? Then have different formation commanders for phase of the competition: exhibition, regulation and inspection.

There are probably more questions to answer based on your unique situation, but I think you get the idea.

Could this work? I believe so, with patience and a willingness to work together, all hurdles can be surmounted.

Drill Team

The Benefits of Military Drill

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Terminology

First, for our purposes, what do we mean by “drill”? It’s Close Order Drill or Foot Drill, whether stationary or while marching in a formation: squad (element), platoon (flight), color guard, etc. The word also includes manipulation of a rifle, Rifle Drill.

Unarmed Drill is any movement performed without a piece of equipment: rifle, sword, saber, or flagstaff (guidon and colors staff). Armed Drill is obviously performed with equipment.

There are three types of military drill: Ceremonial, Regulation, and Exhibition. For a complete breakdown, read the article, What is a Military Drill Team?

For an historic perspective, you can read A Brief History of American Drill and Ceremonies. This graph may also help you in your understanding of drill classifications.

Purpose and Results

The purpose of military drill is to move a group of individuals from point A to point B in an efficient manner. In Basic Training or Boot Camp drill instills military bearing, discipline, and a sense of accomplishment. It teaches adherence to standards, response to commands, individual coordination, teamwork, esprit de corps (the spirit of the formation/body from an historic perspective), alertness, urgency, confidence, followership, attention to detail, and leadership. It gives a group the ability to render respect, show honor, and uphold tradition. It’s also a form of exercise.

Competitive drill and ceremonies, mainly seen in high school JROTC but also in college SROTC and some who drill independently of the scholastic system, brings in more benefits: exhibition drill brings out creativity in designing the marching, body movement, and rifle manipulation.

One of the biggest advantages can be seen in competitive regulation and exhibition drill for squads, platoons, and color guards. This comes in the form of a wide range of leadership skills:

The ability to teach the team the processes of the performance. Delegation of responsibilities while maintaining ultimate responsibility for the performance outcome. Memorization of the routine: commands, marching, and (rifle, flagstaff, and/or body) movement. The ability to think quickly to ensure the team stays within the time limit and physical boundaries and recover from possible mistakes.

Military drill has multiple benefits, some intangible and some to be realized possibly years later. All of these benefits come to fruition in battle, that’s why we march in the military, but they also are realized in all kinds of aspects of life in general.

The Medal of Honor Flag

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The Medal

Image is courtesy of devildoggraphisc.com

March 25th is Medal of Honor Day. The Medal of Honor (MoH) is awarded to members of the military who perform extraordinary acts in the face of extraordinary danger. Recipients are never referred to as “winners” as in Sergeant Jones won the Medal of Honor. Actually, we in the military do not win any of our awards. They are presented to us for certain accomplishments. The MoH is the only award that comes with a flag.

The Flag

On October 23, 2002, Congress enacted Public Law 107–248, which modified 36 U.S.C. § 903, authorizing a Medal of Honor flag to be presented to each Medal of Honor recipient. When awarded posthumously, the flag is presented to whomever received the Medal of Honor, usually the next of kin (NOK). The Old Guard developed a specific fold for the flag and each living recipient and NOK of deceased recipients received a specially folded MoH flag after its creation. Each recipients is authorized to display it in their home.

Below is the video of two Airmen from the USAF Honor Guard folding the MoH flag with it’s unique fold that was developed by the US Army Old Guard. The video was directed by a USAF Ceremonial Guardsman friend of mine.

Members of the USAF Honor Guard perform the MoH flag fold

The flag is based on a concept by retired Army Special Forces First Sergeant Bill Kendall (deceased, 2013) of Jefferson, Iowa, who in 2001, designed a flag to honor Medal of Honor recipient Captain Darrell Lindsey, a B-26 pilot also from Jefferson who was killed in action during World War II. Kendall’s design of a light blue field emblazoned with 13 white stars was nearly identical to that of Sarah LeClerc’s of the Army’s Institute of Heraldry, which was ultimately accepted as the official flag. Kendall’s version included the words “Medal of Honor”. The pattern was authorized by President Eisenhower. The color of the field and the 13 white stars, arranged in three chevrons, consisting of two chevrons of five stars and one chevron of three stars, comes from the neck ribbon of the Medal of Honor.

The folding of the MoH flag is special and only accomplished once before it is presented to the recipient. The flag is never flown on a halyard and never carried/paraded (except at the funeral of the recipient). This flag is protected under the Stolen Valor Act. It is for the explicit use of MoH recipients and their families. While the flag was originally designed to be a perfectly square 3’x3′, it is 3’x4′, no other size is authorized.

AR 840-10, Section VI (June 2017)

3–54. Authorization
This flag is presented to each person to whom a Medal of Honor is awarded at the same time as the presentation of the medal, or as expeditiously as possible to each living recipient who has not already received a flag. In the case of a posthumous presentation of the medal, the flag is presented to the person to whom the medal is presented. (10 USC 3755) The flag will also be awarded upon written request to the Military Awards Branch at the U.S. Army Human Resources Command (AR 600–8–22) to the primary next of kin of deceased Medal of Honor recipients (Public Law 109–364, Section 555).

3–55. Display
a. The Medal of Honor flag is a ceremonial flag for indoor use and is considered a personal flag that recipients may display in their home or office.
b. The Medal of Honor flag may be displayed publicly when the individual is being honored at an official military ceremony or the individual is in attendance on the reviewing stand in an official ceremony. When displayed, the flagstaff will be 8 feet tall but shall not be higher than the U.S. flag when displayed at the same time.
c. When the flag is displayed with the flag of the United States, the U.S. flag will hold the position of superior prominence and the position of honor on the right. The Medal of Honor flag will be placed to the left of the U.S. flag. When viewed from an audience the U.S. flag will be on the left and the Medal of Honor flag will be on the right.
d. The flag should always be displayed in an attractive, dignified, and secure manner.

Personal and Positional Colors

Senior Enlisted Adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, SEAC, positional color

A personal/positional color represents the office that an individual holds while in the military (general/admiral, Chief of Staff, CMSgt of the USAF, etc.) or serving in a senior executive service position for the military (Secretary of the Navy, etc.). Only Generals and Admirals are presented their flag upon retirement for display in their homes. A personal (not positional) color can also represent being a prisoner of war (POW/MIA) and being a recipient of the MoH.

Multiple PCs representing the deceased can be carried at a military funeral. As an example, a general’s flag, the MoH flag, and then the POW/MIA flag could all be carried, in that order, as personal colors for the deceased.

The USAF Honor Guard at Arlington National Cemetery

The following text is an excerpt from my original post on Instagram that also shared to the DrillMaster Facebook page.

“In the photo the two PCs are out of order. The POW and MoH flags are NEVER paraded. They are only carried as personal colors for a funeral. Why are these flags out of order? The POW/MIA flag must go to the left of the MoH unless the day of burial was one of the six days where the POW takes precedence. It wasn’t. *Veterans groups, please don’t get any ideas about carrying the MoH flag to celebrate this special day.” (emphasis added)

What do you think happened within hours of my posting about the MoH flag? This is from DeVaughn Simper, Vexillologist:

“Surprisingly, I received many messages asking, 1. Where can they get the MoH flag and, 2. When can they fly it or carry it in a parade.”

Dear Veterans,

What part of personal color do not understand? General and Admiral flags are never carried in a color guard and the POW/MIA flag has had it’s specialness stripped from it by flying it ubiquitously by mandate and the MoH flag, by law, is NOT for sale or use by anyone who is not an MoH recipient or one of their NOK. Please read this carefully: It is illegal to own an MoH flag if you did not receive the MoH or are a deceased recipient’s NOK.

A military color guard is already special. Please stop trying to add more flags or step styles, or anything else to make it “specialer”. For regulation drill applications, please read and follow:

  • Army Training Circular 3-12.5, Drill and Ceremonies, and Army Regulation 840-10, Flags, Guidons, etc. (available here)

Or

  • Marine Corps Order 5060.20, Drill and Ceremonies, and Marine Corps Order 10520.3, Flag Manual (available here)

Or, for ceremonial drill applications:

I’m not recommending the USAF manuals because AFMAN 36-2203 relies on the MCO for color guard rifle work. Might as well go directly to the source.

I very much appreciated working with Vexillologist DeVaughn Simper of Colonial Flag on this article.

The Flagstaff Ban

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I’m from Arizona and I’m not talking about the wonderful college town in the northern part of my home state. I’m talking about the color guard flagstaff.

Tyranny, again

I do not want this article to get political but this has to do with politics; the convoluted, oppressive world of politics. As you read on, please use the picture above for reference.

An organization that represents descendants of the Revolutionary War went to an annual planned ceremony on February 7, 2020, in the Old Assembly Chamber at the Virginia Capital and were denied permission to present the colors in the same fashion as has been accomplished every year at this ceremony and for decades at tens of thousands of other presentations across the United States of America.

In recent years many of my fellow Americans have become increasingly afraid of rifles and “guns” in general for no other reason than a lack of education about them. With that being said, I can then understand the overreaction regarding the muskets carried by the two guards of the team not being allowed into the chamber. However, it didn’t end there.

That overreaction extended to the flagstaffs. The men pictures above not only were were barred from carrying their two muskets but had to remove the flags from the staffs! If you would, please pause for a moment and think of the utter foolishness and even childishness that makes up this decision. The equipment a color guard uses, flagstaffs and rifles, are seen as potential weapons because they ARE weapons.

Weapons of War…

The flagstaff comes from a spear that started as early as Genghis Khan to have a colored ribbon attached to the spear tip. Different units had a different colored ribbon attached to one spear tip and everyone was then organized under their color. The ribbons gave way to small pennants and eventually to vertical banners and horizontal flags. This isn’t a complete history lesson, just a very brief overview.

Similar to the flagstaff is the firefighter’s long (8′) ceremonial pike pole that is used as a flagstaff by some departments. The fire fighting tool known as the pike pole, used to rip apart a roof and other parts of a structure for ventilation, were used decades ago to unhorse mounted soldiers.

It is quite obvious as to what the rifle represents. There are the more ceremonial rifles, M1 Garand, M14, and M1903, and the tactical rifle of today, the M16/AR14. Law enforcement agencies also use shotguns as their weapon of choice. There are replica rifles made of every sort that are unable to fire let alone accept a single round. If live rifles are ever used, they are never loaded. That is not only for safety but also because a color guard member does not engage in battle, traditionally (there are historic exceptions of necessity).

Circling back to firefighters, they use shorter pike poles as the weapon/tool for the guards and the most prominent and recognizable tool, and the one I recommend because of those characteristics is the ceremonial fire axe.

Made into Plowshares

These weapons are tools of our respective trades: military, law enforcement, and firefighters. We use them because we are familiar with them and it is a show of force, if I may use the expression. However, in many cases, including this one in Virginia, it is about honoring the flag and tradition at the same time.

There is no legitimate reason to forbid a color guard from presenting the colors in our traditional or currently written standards.

When we do not teach history, history repeats itself and honor falls by the wayside.

AFM 50-14 Cover 53 and 56

AFMAN 36-2203 Problems?

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After the USAF was created as its own uniformed service on September 18, 1947, it went from using Army Regulations to writing and using its own. When it came to drill and ceremonies, the newly created service looked at the Marine Corps and Army drill manuals and chose from what it considered the best from each (most from the MCO). One thing the USAF eventually left out (beginning in approximately the 1970s) was the manual of arms for the rifle. Why? Because the Army and Marine Corps had already accomplished that task and Airmen did not have a daily use for rifles like Soldiers and Marines. We march, have military parades, color guards, and change of command ceremonies, so the USAF creating a drill and ceremonies manual with specifics for the Element, Flight, Squadron, Group, and Wing, was logical.

The History of AFMAN 36-2203

AFM 50-14

AFM 50-15 15 Jan 63

I have Air Force’s drill and ceremonies manual hard copies from

  • AFM 50-14, Sept 1953 (the first version!)
  • AFM 50-14, Jun 1956
  • AFM 50-14, Jan 15, 1963
  • AFM 50-14, Nov 25, 1963
  • AFMAN 36-2203, Jun 3, 1996 with Change 1, 24 September 2007

Digital copies:

  • AFR 50-14, 3 Jan 1992
  • AFMAN 36-2203, 3 Jun 1996 (no Change 1)
  • 20 Nov 2013
  • 19 Jun 2018

The versions that I am aware were published but I do not have:

  • AFM 50-14, 4 Jan 1960
  • AFR 50-14, 20 Apr 1985
AF Color Guard 1953

The copies from the 1950s have a complete manual of arms section featuring the M1 Garand using Army techniques (fingers wrapped at the small of the stock) and Marine Corps techniques (Present without going to Port and grip on the stock at Shoulder). However, both guards of a color guard were armed with sidearms because most teams were manned solely by Air Police. This is where we get the traditional pistol/web belt requirement for the guards and the colors harness without the belt for the color bearers. Look at the right arm holds the flagstaff. Notice the flag and staff size.

AF Color Guard 1956
AF Color Guard 1956

Not much changed in 1956 except that the guards don’t have their hands cupped for some reason. Still, the right arms are holding the flagstaffs at Carry.

In the picture from the 1956, spacing is a bit wide, in 1953, our color guard started to conform to Close Interval. However, there isn’t any guidance for the team’s spacing.

In the manuals from 1963, we see a much more elaborate description of how the color guard is formed and more information on the manual of the staff. Notice in the pictures below that the right arm is still holding the staff and we now have the horizontal right forearm. Even though the manual now states that the team will form at Close Interval, spacing is a bit mixed up depending on the position of the team (Carry, Order, etc.).

AF Color Guard 1963a
AF Color Guard 1963b

1996 and a New Title

The 1996 Version replaced AFR (Air Force Regulation) 50-14 of 1992. We now have the first AFMAN 36-2203. The team is now, wrongly, shoulder-to-shoulder even though the text states the team will form at Close Interval. In each picture, the right hand is still the only one authorized to hold the staff.

Notice the flag size in the pictures below. The 8′ staffs are only supposed to have 3’x4′ flags mounted on them according to AFI 34-1201. Historically, these teams so far have met the standards.

AF Color Guard 1996
AF Color Guard 1996

See the improper grip (Marine Corps Strong Grip) by the American flag bearer? This manual was the standard until it incorporated Change 1 in 2007. The version with Change 1 was then the standard until 2013.

AF Color Guard 1996 Order

Initially, the manual did not have guidance on spacing and then guidance was developed in the 1960s. In 2013, we throw in a huge discrepancy.

Welcome to 2013

Now we see, frankly, a ridiculous display. The staffs here are 8′ and the flags are 4’4″x5’6″. This isn’t authorized, see AFI 34-1201. The larger flag is mounted on the taller staff only.

Again, the team is not at Close Interval, which is mandated at the beginning of the colors chapter.

AF Color Guard 2013

Now, we come to an egregious error that has caused quite a bit of contention. Out of the clear blue sky, the color bearers, for some unknown reason, are holding the staffs with the left hand while at Carry.

Let’s logically think about this. There is not reason to use the left hand-only carry technique. Nowhere in USAF, Army, or Marine Corps history can I find any color guard that ever utilized it.

7.33.2. Positions of the Flag at the Carry. At the carry, the ferrule of the staff rests in the socket of the sling. The flag bearer grasps the staff with the right hand at the height of the shoulder, only using the left hand to steady the staff in a strong wind. The staff is inclined slightly to the front. (Emphasis mine)

AFMAN 36-2203 (2013)
AF Color Guard 2013 at Carry

The rifles on the outside shoulder require Airmen and cadets to use the guard techniques in the colors section of MCO 5060.20.

Here’s another problem to consider. Every picture shows the team shoulder-to-shoulder and then, BAM! you magically obtain spacing when the team executes Parade Rest.

AF Color Guard 2013 Parade Rest

2018 – Fixed! Not.

AF Color Guard 2013 used again in 2018

Whew! That was a close one! Wait a minute. That mistake with using the picture of having the color bearers use the left hand at carry is less expensive to fix if you just change the wording!

7.33.2. Positions of the Flag at the Carry. At the carry, the ferrule of the staff rests in the socket of the sling. The flag bearer grasps the staff with the left hand at the height of the shoulder, only using the right hand to steady the staff in a strong wind. The staff is inclined slightly to the front. (Emphasis mine)

AFMAN 36-2203 (2018)

Conclusion

As you can clearly see there are issues with the Air Force Drill and Ceremonies Manual that can be easily fixed. We do not gold the staff with the left hand and we definitely don’t just throw that out on a whim without serious repercussions.

Let’s fix this now. For good.

The OPR (Office of Primary Responsibility) for the AFMAN is AF/A1S and it was certified by SAF/MR. Here is an easy list of errors to fix:

  • All formation pictures must have the team at Close Interval.
  • Only the right hand holds the flagstaff.
  • The 8′ staffs must only have 3’x4′ flags mounted on them.
  • While still using USAF techniques pictured in the AFMAN:
    • Explain that the MCO must be used for the guards since they have the rifles on the outside shoulder. This is not determined by the type of rifle.
  • Explain that an armed flight (probably only ROTC/JROTC) follows the Army’s TC.