“Happy” Memorial Day

DrillMaster Ask DrillMaster, Commentary Leave a Comment

I understand why you might think of or even say that phrase. But please, allow me to tell you why we who have served our country in the uniform of one or more of her armed forces, do not wish to ever hear that. It’s not necessarily a “happy” time.

And please, oh please, do not thank any of us for our service during this time.

The Sorrow

Many of America’s men and women deployed to different conflicts in foreign lands. Some came home in a flag-draped transfer case laden with their remains and dozens of pounds of ice. The memory of these men and women are what Memorial Day is all about.

June 18, 2016: The Memorial Wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC at dawn.

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department, a statement by the adjutant General of Massachusetts, that you are the mother of 5 sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine that would attempt to beguile you of the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from rendering to you the consolation that may be found, in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have ever laid so costly a sacrifice upon the alter of freedom.

Yours very sincerely and respectfully,

Abraham Lincoln

The Joy

Maybe some still cannot fathom how anyone could have joy at a time that recalls so much sacrifice. But, there is a certain joy. A joy of thankfulness that someone would stand up to tyranny. Someone who runs toward the danger. Someone who sticks their neck out for others and risks everything.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

John 5:13

The Negative

I am aware of the arguments that condemn the actions of combat. That condemnation belongs to those “elite” who make and profit from war, not the average Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman, or Coast Guardsman. Their heart is in the right place when that individual raises their right hand and takes the Oath of Enlistment or the Oath of (Office) Commissioning. I am also aware that Pres. Lincoln was a fascist and not everything we learn in history is, shall we say, accurate.

However, now is not the time to protest wars or stand on the flag. You have the right to free speech and to be ungrateful, disrespectful, and communicate in a most idiotic fashion, but maybe just not this weekend. Families are in mourning.

The Positive

Many honor guard members render honors every day. It’s what we do and, for many, what we love. It’s not as though anyone is filled with glee at the announcement of a funeral. We seek and relish the opportunities to render honors to our brothers and sisters who have gone before us. It is a truly fulfilling experience every single time.

I retired from the US Air Force in 2005 after serving for 20 years. During my time, my specialties did not necessarily deploy except on very rare occasions. That has changed since my time in the service. I served overseas and stateside, but I never went into a battle zone, by the grace of our Lord and Savior. I was given the opportunity to render honors to my fallen brothers and sisters as an Air Force Ceremonial Guardsman at several locations around the world.

I have given folded flags to the next of kin, and stood for hours on end as a member of a color guard for wreath laying ceremonies and commemoration ceremonies at many American Cemeteries where tens of thousands of our men and women are buried: St. Mihiel Cemetery, France; Luxemburg Cemetery, Luxemburg; Ardennes, France; Flanders Field Cemetery, Belgium, Henri-Chapelle Cemetery, Belgium; Netherlands (Margraten) Cemetery, Netherlands; Brittany Cemetery, France; Normandy Cemetery, France; Somme Cemetery, France; and Oise-Aisne Cemetery, France; and countless ceremonies at various sites throughout Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg, France, and even Germany.

To stand and stare at a sea of white crosses and stars was and still is humbling and the very least I could do to honor their memory.

All I’ve wanted to do is stand tall for them.

While the clip from the movie, Saving Private Ryan, is supposed to be emotional, the character saying to his wife, “Tell me I’ve led a good life, tell me I’ve been a good man” echoes a great deal of truth.

Have a wonderful weekend, enjoy the time with family and friends, and, if you would, even for just a moment, thank the fallen for their ultimate sacrifice. They believed they were protecting their friends and families and the future of our great nation and the free world.

The main picture is courtesy of my friend, former US Navy Ceremonial Guardsman Alec White who was a Casket Bearer with the Navy Ceremonial Guard in Washington, DC.

To the Rear March Official and Unofficial Techniques

DrillMaster Ask DrillMaster, Instructional, Regulation Drill Leave a Comment

I’ve had a few questions about this over the years and I even put together a presentation on it that will be part of the online training offered here eventually.

The focus of this article is to explain exactly how the Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard are supposed to execute this from the commander’s point of view.

Test from MCO 5060.20: p 1-11,

  1. When giving commands, commanders face their troops.
    a. For company formations or larger, when commanding marching troops from the head of a column or massed formations, commanders march backward while giving commands.

That’s it. There is no other information for the commander when executing To the Rear March or other commands. However, some Marine Drill Instructors teach the following method:

The Unofficial Technique

This section title could also be: The Unauthorized Technique. Many Marines will tell you they’ve never heard of this and others will tell you that this is the only way to do it. Keep reading, please.

We will start with the formation commander (officer/NCO) facing the platoon in Line Formation.

The platoon is formed in Line Formation and the commander gives, “Right, FACE!”

Sea Cadets, Sea Scouts, MCJROTC, NJROTC, CGJROTC, and Young Marines team commanders take a position of and maintain a three-step distance at all times.

The commander then gives, “Forward MARCH!” while facing the formation and steps off with a Left Face-in-March
The team is marching in Column Formation with Squad Leaders leading
Marching in Column Formation, the commander gives, “To the Rear, MARCH!” and everyone executes the move in the manner described in the MCO
The commander gives, “To the Rear, MARCH!” and as the team begins the movement, the commander executes the first of two facing movements to the left

The technique for the commander here will be “MARCH!” on the right foot, bring the next left foot to the right to halt, Left Face, Left Face, step off.

As the team continues to execute the pivot, the commander executes his second Left Face and everyone steps off

The Official Technique

The MCO for drill and ceremonies does not have the two facing movements to the left. Replace them with a standard 180-degree pivot to the rear and everything else is the same.

So why is the above taught and not in the current MCO? Apparently, it was an oversight.

What to do in Competition?

The facing movement technique is not in the MCO, that technique should not be used. Will you be crucified by Marine, Navy, or Coast Guard judges because you did not execute them? Maybe, but not everyone knows of the two left facing movement technique. However, you have the MCO on your side and can challenge the judge’s decision.

Honor Guard and Drill Team Shoes

DrillMaster Color Guard/Color Team, Drill Team Training, Drill Teams, Honor Guard, Honor Guard Training, Instructional, Uniform Tips 6 Comments

Originally published May 18, 2012 with the title, Shoes for the Driller and How to Shine Them, this is a major update to help answer questions (fill in those blanks) that people send me.


Plastics: The term, poromeric, refers to a class of breathable synthetic leather. Corfam (not “Corfram,” “Clorfam” or Clorfram”) is made by the DuPont Chemical Company. Clarino, manufactured by the Kuraray Company, is another synthetic high-shine leather found mostly in flagstaff harnesses. Patent Leather, first created in England in the late 1700s, gained popularity after inventor Seth Boyden of Newark, New Jersey created his own version with linseed oil. These are all synthetic resins. Note: to clean poromeric shoes and equipment that have scuffs or run marks, use Brasso.

Pros: Never shine shoes again! Just keep the heel, sole, and welts black with high-gloss edge dressing. You do not shine poromeric shoes, you clean them.
Cons: They can get HOT! If you are facing the sun for a long time, you may need to treat the tops of your feet for burns. Really. Wear two layers of thin dress socks or a thicker dress sock to protect your feet.

Natural leather shoes.

Pros: Break-in period can be shorter than synthetic shoes/boots and they can last for years.
Cons: Shinning them over and over and over and over.

If wearing leather boots/shoes and you want the mirror shine without the constant maintenance, use Leather Luster. Here are the directions to use it. And here is a great video from the people at Lather Luster!

How to Blouse Your Boots.

Shining Standard Leather Shoes/Boots
They can be tough to shine but, polish, a little water, cotton balls or an old cotton t-shirt are perfect for making leather shoes like mirrors.

Brand new leather shoes are perfect for shining. Sometimes there is an oil coating on the shoes that will hinder a shine. If so, it is best to remove it with some rubbing alcohol and a rag. Now you are ready to begin.

I first learned how to shine shoes from my dad using polish, a cloth, then use a brush, and finally suing a shine cloth. However, to shine them to a mirror finish, Old Cadets taught me when I attended New Mexico Military Institute. We used Kiwi there and it always worked really well for us.

How to shine: Using shoe trees helps (see Shoe Care below). Lightly wet a cotton ball, dab it in the polish and work the polish into the shoe making little circles. When the cotton ball starts to make scratches, get a new one. It takes many hours to build up a base coat of polish and then have it shine like a mirror, but once you have the base coat, you can easily touch up your shoes. If you are going to make all of the shoe mirror-like, be aware that as soon as you take your first step, where the shoe naturally bends with your foot, the polish will crack and flake off. So, you may want to limit the mirror parts to the heels, the sides and as much of the toe as possible, highly shine the rest- including the tongue!

It is all about building up a base and when you first being it will seem like it takes forever, but as you progress, it will take less and less time to shine your shoes. If your shoes have leather soles, you will be able to sand the outside of the sole and shine it with shoe polish as well. If your soles are rubber or some sort of synthetic material you will have to use edge dressing.

Edge Dressing: Kiwi stopped making their Honor Guard Edge Dressing years ago as soon as the military transitioned to suede boots. Honor guard units now use Angelus Brand Roll Call Military Grade Edge Dressing which is available at Glendale Paradestore and elsewhere.

How to Remove Edge Dressing: After a few coats with edge dressing, you will need to strip the welt* (the top of the edge, where the sewing is) and also the sides of the sole so as not to have that buildup that eventually looks terrible. For the outside of the sole, use steel wool to scrape away excess, a putty knife works well also. For the welt, you can use the putty knife corner, but be careful. Sometimes the edge dressing will flake off or come off in small chunks. If not, you may have to use Leather Luster Remover. Sand (very fine sandpaper is best) the sole and the side heel tap (if attached) so that it is even and then reapply the Angelus Edge Dressing. *Some shoes have an extremely small welt. I prefer the wider welt.

The Sole
The man-made, synthetic lighter soles are not the most desirable for the military Driller but are the most prevalent. Leather soles are great because you can pivot easily. Make sure to blacken the sole if it is a lighter color. Do you have a squeaky sole? Read this!


Especially with a competitive team (i.e. JROTC drill team), the team needs to lace their shoes exactly the same. Using wax-coated laces helps them stay tied.

Shoe Complete pic

Shoe Care

Shoe care. Pictured at left are my shoes. You can see in this photo that I  use shoe trees. Shoe trees come in wood and plastic and help to keep the shape of the shoes by keeping them stretched in the width and length. You can also see that I use shoe bags. Shoe bags are cloth bags that fit over your shoes to keep them protected and also protect your clothing when you travel.


Heel Taps Cheaters
“Cheaters” or “Clickers”

Heel Steel: Side heel taps (“Cheaters” or “Clickers”) are great whether you execute closed-toe movements or use the traditional 45-degree angle. You can get different colors: silver, gold or black. Silver and brass are great if you want shiny but you will have to constantly shine them. Black cheaters don’t need maintenance. Note: if you have black and put edge dressing on them, it will chip off and you will need to strip the metal and reapply so it doesn’t ‘cake’ up.

If you have cheaters that are shiny brass or steel, keep them shined and attach them with the same color sheet rock screws (top-right in the picture). Never use the screws that come with the cheaters (middle screw) because they can eventually split the heel (see below). Note: these screws have now been replaced and come with a much better option to use right out of the package.

Shoe split heel
The two cheater taps
Old Guard Cheater
Civilian Cheater

In the picture at the right, at the top is the Old Guard-style Cheater (highly recommended) and at the bottom is the Civilian-styled Cheater (they work and sometimes people with smaller feet must use these). When attaching cheaters, you can put spacers (washers) behind them or screw them solidly into the side of the sole. Since these taps are curved, you can either match your heel curvature or put a space between the tap and the heel to see if there is better sound quality.

Horseshoe taps can be dangerous and mark up floors, but sound awesome- especially in a large formation. Ask any farrier, horseshoes need to fit a horse’s hoof exactly all the way around the hoof. Ask any cobbler, horseshoe taps don’t. As a matter of fact a cobbler usually offsets the tap into the center of the heel by 1/16 of an inch from the back and keeps a gap of 1/8 of an inch on the sides. Horseshoe tap sizes are for smaller and larger feet (heels) and nothing else. Their sizes fit shoe sizes: 9-10, 10-11, 12-13.

Toe taps come in plastic (not recommended for marching, they will disappear in weeks) and metal. The nails have a ridge on them or you can use small, thin screws with a flat head.

Toe and heel taps are excellent for creating sound but require a tremendous amount of practice. If you do not have the time to put in, don’t wear them.

Putting taps on modern cushioned soles can be difficult as the nails can come out easily. Leather soles are best but you must special order those shoes.

Foot Pain?

I suffered plantar fasciitis for years. Exercise for my feet helped tremendously as well as stretching both muscles in each calf. You must wear shoes and boots with a wide toe box. Even if you have never worn “wide” shoes, do your research and keep your feet as healthy as possible.

Heel striking while running is apparently bad for you. Not having the heel hit the running surface is very helpful: whole foot strike or toe strike only.

Sometimes, you need temporary relief for different reasons. Lacing your shoe/boot differently can be of great help. Look up the different lacing methods that can relive pressure in different places, which is too much to go into here.

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

DrillMaster Color Guard/Color Team, Drill Teams, Honor Guard, Instructional Leave a Comment

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

DrillMaster Drill Team Training, Drill Teams, Instructional 2 Comments

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

DrillMaster Ask DrillMaster, Color Guard/Color Team, Drill Teams, Honor Guard Leave a Comment


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.