Refurbishing the Flagstaff Spade Finial

DrillMaster Color Guard/Color Team, Equipment Maintenance Leave a Comment

There are spade finials out there that are damaged, I’m sure. Here, you will see the steps to make a spade finial presentable again. I use the word, presentable, because I am using things I have on hand to try to keep costs low.

The chrome finish that the spade had when it was brand new is not going to be brought back to life unless you spend the money to send it to a company that can re-chrome. I use Plano Metal Specialties in Plano, IL for my bayonets. It can be expensive, however.

For everyone’s information, the spade finial is not chromed, it’s just coated in nickel. The next step would be a chrome coating.

Following are the results of a collaboration between DeVaughn Simper, vexillologist at Colonial Flag, and me.

The Process

1.Prep Your Pieces

Wrap painter’s tape around any threads. For the upper or lower ferrule, I put each on a stick and locked the stick into my workbench vice. I even used a clamp to hold the finial by the threads and put the clamp in another vice I have.

2. Wire Brush.

If you have finials that have as much corrosion as the ones pictured at the top of the page, use a wire bristle brush, it really helps to get the crud off and keep the metal smooth.

3. Sandpaper.

Use sandpaper if you want get any nicks or scratches out of the surface and to remove any remaining corrosion. You may want to use something around 1500 grit and maybe even work your way up to remove and sanding lines.

Note: You could use low grit sandpaper and work your way up to high grit and possibly come out with an amazing mirror-like finish like ceremonial guardsmen do with their cheaters. It take hours of work but might be worth it to you. Once you get the mirror shine, you would coat it with several layers of a clear gloss. For complete details on how to accomplish this, read this article: How to Shine Your Heel Taps- “Cheaters”.

4. Rinse and dry completely.

This is essential as it removes any dust particles.

5. Apply Light Coat of Paint

A big thank you to my daughter, who is a cosmetologist, for her help. I learned that this process is similar to professionally painting fingernails. The paint dried much better in the sunlight (UV).

I used what I had on hand. I do not recommend a brush, foam or bristle. They tend to leave lines. I live in FL and we have some pretty decent humidity, even in the winter months. What I learned is that we needed to wait a couple of hours at least for the paint’s moisture to completely disappear.

As a matter of fact, I started putting one coat on in the morning and then one before dinner. I repeated over the next couple of days ending with three and four coats of paint.


The paint from Culture Hustle

I used the acrylic “chrome paint” from and I am certain that if I would have applied the paint with an airbrush, the results would have been much better.

Sprayed on and brushed on

Next, I wanted to see what the gold paint from Culture Hustle (CH) would do. In the photo at the left, you can see that I painted two pieces the gold color.

The lower ferrule at the bottom I used the Gold paint from CH. It was nice, but spraying it on would have been better. For the middle screw joint, I used gold spray paint that we had. It turned out just as good if not better (more even, no lines). The photos don’t do the painting justice.

I applied three coats of paint letting it dry/cure for hours. Make sure you apply it evenly and ensure that it’s completely dry.

7. Clear Coating.

The first and second coats didn’t really seem to do much but the third and fourth really brought out a nice shine. I used Rustoleum gloss clear coat. It did a great job.

Again, I made sure that I left it for a few hours between coats.

The Results

I would put the metal pieces on a staff and use them, even with the extensive lines from the paint brush on the spade. I do prefer the spray paint and then the clear coat purely due to the even application.

This process can save you some money along with refurbishing your guidon flagstaff yourself.

Receiving and Replacing the Colors

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DrillMaster (DM)- I received an email with great color guard questions on formally receiving and replacing the colors and how that might influence the posting of the colors.

Email (Q)- Thank You and feel free to post this as a “From the Inbox” to your various media if desired. “From the Inbox”, I like that!

DM- There are two formal sequences for receiving and replacing the colors.

Q- Can you please give some insight/clarify paragraph 7.32.3 in AFI 36-2203 which states “On command of the senior flag bearer, the guards of the color guard present arms on receiving and parting with the US Flag. After parting with the US flag, the guard is brought to order arms by command of the senior remaining member, who is the right flank of the guard”. What does this mean exactly?


DM- Great question! This is a technique of receiving and subsequently replacing the colors that were historically kept in the squadron commander’s or first sergeant’s office. This was the standard that the Army developed (see TC 3-21.5 and older versions: FM 22-5) that the AF adopted upon writing the first Air Force regulation on drill and ceremonies and it remains today.

I doubt it has been used since possibly the 1970s or possibly earlier with the services going for more utilitarian options. The advent of installation honor guards and having Airmen assigned to the team required the colors and other equipment to be stored with the team. As far as I know this is more historic than useful anymore. I’ve created several diagrams to help you visualize what happens.

Keep in mind that every military installation has a parade ground (deck). The Air Force has not maintained a strong parade ground opting to have more ceremonies on the flight line or in a hangar, which makes sense.

Teams would march to the parade ground/deck or flight line or at least pile in a van after obtaining the colors.

The Retrieval Sequence

The four team members of the color guard arrive outside of the office where the colors were traditionally stored. They could form up elsewhere and march or form up right there. R = Right Rifle Guard; U = US Color Bearer; A = USAF Color Bearer; L = Left Rifle Guard

Colors Team Arrives to Take the Colors

Next, U and A march inside (column formation) and take the colors from their stands and come back out into formation. The US Color Bearer always leading. Once the team is formed, Present and Carry is given (7.32.3. On command of the senior flag bearer, the guards of the color guard present arms on receiving and parting with the US flag. 7.32.4. Having received the US flag, the senior flag bearer conducts the color guard to its proper position in the center of the color squadron.). Notice that the USAF flag is NOT dipped. It’s not dipped because the requirements for it to render a salute are not met (see AFI 34-1201 for the requirements).

Colors received and the team is back in formation

After the team has gone back to Carry (guards with the rifles on the outside shoulder only), they march to the parade ground or wherever the ceremony will take place.


I know, this brings up the question of, how is the staff held during this time? It would have to be Port/Trail Arms and even Angle Port to get through low clearance areas and doorways. Our biggest issue here is that the manuals do not cover these positions except for Trail. However, Trail doesn’t take care of every situation.

Our next question is when do the Bearers go to Carry? Immediately out of the doorway or when they get back into formation? I answer these questions in my in-person and (coming soon) online training.

The Replacing Sequence

Dismissing the Colors is the Army term for this, I chose, “Replacing”. After the ceremony is finished, the team marches back to where the colors are stored and reverse the above sequence like this:

The team arrives where the flags are stored.

The team arrives, the NCOIC gives Present for the guards only, and the color bearers march into where the flags are stored and secure them.

7.32.3. On command of the senior flag bearer, the guards of the color guard present arms on parting with the US flag. After parting with the US flag, the guard is brought to order arms by command of the senior remaining member, who is the right flank of the guard.

AFMAN 36-2203

Meaning, when the color bearers have marched into the building (out of sight), the Right Rifle Guard gives, “Order, HARMS!” and both guards wait for the bearers to return.

The color bearers march back out to the formation. The NCOIC then marches the team back to where they formed or simply dismisses the team.

What about Posting?

Q- While the colors are being posted/retrieved, should the guards be at present arms?

Answer: No. There is NO reason to do this.

Q- Directly after posting, and directly before retrieving, should the flag bearers all face and salute the US flag.

Answer- No. Everyone faces forward. No one should face the national color whether you have the entire team in front of the stands or not.

DM- I hope you are sitting down, this will take a minute or so to explain. The above sequences have NOTHING to do with posting/retrieving the colors. In the next paragraph is the Army version, which is similar, but still has NOTHING to do with posting/retrieving the colors. Emphasis mine in the quoted text.

The Color guard uses the following procedures when receiving or dismissing the Colors.
a. When receiving uncased Colors on display in the commander’s office, the Color guard is positioned in a single rank facing the Colors. The Color sergeant commands Present, ARMS and Order, ARMS. On completion of Order Arms, the Color bearers (without command) secure the Colors. The Color guard files outside (guard, National Color, organizational Color, guard) and reforms in a line formation. The Color guards execute Right Shoulder Arms and the Color bearers assume the Carry Position.
b. To dismiss the Colors, the procedures are basically the same except that the Colors are placed back in their stands before executing Present Arms.

TC 3-21.5, 20 January 2012


Here’s the issue with the USAF. Historically, color guards were just that, a team of four-plus Airmen from the Air Police Squadron who were called upon to present the colors here and there and not much else. Then, slowly but surely, the ceremonial requirements increased and installations created honor guards that were not based in the police squadron. Each of the services went through a similar situation.

The AF used the Army posting technique for decades before the USAF Honor Guard took over the Base Honor Guard program in the mid 1990s. Still, if a color guard is not part of a BHG (cadets, explorers, and Airmen), they must use the procedures in TC 3-21.5. All BHG Airmen must use the ceremonial techniques explained in the BHG manual.

Army posting and retrieving sequences have been corrupted time and again by veteran service organizations (stomping on the stands to post the colors, sound familiar? Stop it!) and individual veterans in other organizations into all kinds of strange spectacles that have NOTHING to do with the original intent- and not only the intent, these spectacles go outside of the writing in TC 3-21.5. Simply reading the TC would alleviate what amounts to ridiculousness bordering on disrespect.

It comes down to sequence corruption (because people don’t read) and ignorance that the AF was supposed to have been following the TC (FM) all this time. These are the culprits for how some rifle guards are left at the position of Present for minutes at a time while the flags are being posted/retrieved and how everyone on the team executes a half or some teeny-tiny facing movement just to render a salute while facing the flag.

For the Record

Presentation of the Colors = formally presenting the colors to an audience. As long as an American flag is displayed, this can be all that the color guard does, called a Show-n-Go, and then depart.

This should be your color guard’s most-used technique. You can find more information here: All About Posting or Presenting Colors. That article can get you started, but there is even more information you (everyone) should know.

Posting the Colors = This is a formal presentation (this MUST happen) and then the color guard or just the color bearers moving to post the flags in stands all in front of the audience.

When presenting or posting the colors and not a formally trained part of a BHG (or formally trained CAP cadet), follow the Army procedure. You can alter it to meet the needs of the environment but that doesn’t mean making up something you think would be “really cool”. That’s not what the colors is about.

Remember: not every single colors presentation or posting is covered in the TC or in the Marine Corps Order, which AF teams may also use. Both are available to download from the Resources section of this website.


Formal assemblies conducted indoors begin with the presentation of the Colors, referred to as posting the Colors, and end with the retirement of the Colors. The following instructions outline the procedures for posting and retiring the Colors, with a head table and without head table. Since indoor areas vary in size, configuration, and intended purpose, these instructions do not apply to all situations. Therefore, persons planning an indoor ceremony can modify these instructions based on their specific floor plan.

(2) When a head table is not used, the Color guard enters and moves to a predesignated position centered on and facing the audience. This may require the Color guard to move in a column and use Facing movements. The movement must be planned so that the National Color is always on the right when in line and is leading when in column.

TC 3-21.5

Emphasis mine, above.

For More

To get a better understanding of the requirements for each service color guard see the following links:

The “Why” of the Military Color Guard – Regulations

The “Why” of the Military Color Guard – US Army

The “Why” of the Military Color Guard – Marine Corps, Navy, & Coast Guard

The “Why” of the Military Color Guard – Air Force

The Mounted Color Guard

DrillMaster Announcements, Color Guard/Color Team Leave a Comment

There is a new eBook by the DrillMaster called Mounted Color Guard Protocols For Civilian Organizations. Major contributions to the book were made by DeVaughn Simper, Vexillologist, Professor Flag.

The techniques come from the military just like a color guard on foot and allowances have been made for American citizens who wish to present the colors while on horseback.

Folded Flag Salute Protocol

DrillMaster Honor Guard, Instructional, Protocol and Flag 4 Comments

The Salute Fest is what I witnessed by a team of law enforcement officers, pallbearers, standing over the casket of a comrade and folding the American flag. Before picking up the flag, they saluted (this is acceptable). Before the first triangle fold, they saluted. The team then continued to salute for the other 12 triangle folds. It was painful to watch.

Yes, we want to honor our flag and we should. This is why the Flag Code was written and the US military wrote even more guidance. First responders follow either the Army Training Circular or the Marine Corps Order if they want just regulation drill, both downloadable from the Military Manuals section of the Resources page. If they want ceremonial drill, they follow the national standards detailed in The Honor Guard Manual.

Saluting the Uncased Flag

An uncased flag is one that is mounted on a color guard flagstaff and is not cased and also a flag that is not folded into a triangle.

  1. When it is carried, uncased, by a color guard and the team marches past.
  2. When passing, approaching from any direction, a color guard (whether the staffs are at Carry or Order) and the flag is uncased.
  3. When a car with a mounted flag drives past (do not salute a stopped car unless it is occupied).
  4. When a coach (hearse) or caisson carrying a flag-draped casket passes.
  5. When passing a coach (hearse) or caisson carrying a flag-draped casket.
  6. By the oncoming and off-going Casket Watch guards (the guards do not salute each other) who salute the flag-draped casket.
  7. When the flag is raised at Reveille.
  8. When the flag is lowered at Retreat.
  9. By pallbearers just before picking up the casket for transport.*
  10. By pallbearers just before lifting the flag off the casket to fold it.*

*This salute is not rendered by every military service, it is acceptable.

When to Not Salute the Uncased Flag

  1. When passing a flag mounted on a halyard (rope) on an outside permanent flagpole.
  2. When passing a flag mounted on a color guard flagstaff on display indoors.

Saluting the Cased Flag

A color guard flag that is folded (Marine Corps, Navy, & Coast Guard) or furled (wrapped; Army, Air Force, & Space Force) around the staff is then cased and the folded flag (triangle) is also considered cased.

  1. Each time the folded flag is handed off to another.
    • Typically, the flag is folded, handed to or taken by the pallbearer who ensures the flag is presentable (not salutes here),
    • then that pallbearer hands the flag to the senior member present (salute rendered by the pallbearer),
    • and the senior member then presents the folded flag to the next of kin (salute rendered by the senior member).

When to Not Salute the Cased Flag

  1. Before receiving the the folded flag.
  2. When the folded flag is being carried to/from a ceremony.
  3. At Reveille or Retreat.

How do we Salute the Flag?

We stand at Attention and render the hand salute. We do not bend our head down to look at the folded flag, we look straight ahead. The Slow Salute (3 seconds up, 3 second pause, & 3 seconds down) is appropriate for individuals only, not groups (formations). If more than one flag is presented at the same time and all presenters will coordinate their simultaneous Slow Salute, that is appropriate. Those in formation should render the standard salute (one second up and down and only on the commands of, “Present, ARMS” and “Order, ARMS”, respectively).

The Chief Brief

DrillMaster Ask DrillMaster, Honor Guard, Instructional, Protocol and Flag Leave a Comment

You have an upcoming Line of Duty Death funeral and will be handing the flag to the Sheriff, Police Chief, or Fire Chief who will then hand the folded flag to the next of kin (NOK). What do you say to brief the Chief? Here is something to help you:

“Chief, stand at the head of the casket. When I step over in front of you, hold your hands flat out in front of you with fingers together and I will hand you the flag with the presentation side down. I will salute the flag while your arms are still flat. When I finish my salute, cradle the flag into your chest (now, the presentation side faces out) and I will depart. If you forget to not cradle the flag before I salute, I will still salute. As I depart, you walk over to the NOK, bring your right hand up to the right side of the flag and push the long straight edge of the flag forward so that the presentation side is now up. Recite the statement of condolence, stand, render the Slow Salute, drop the salute and walk off.”

What to Expect

We can begin with the main image above. The flag is folded toward the foot. The checker takes the flag and then:

The flag goes through it’s inspection to ensure it is presentable and then sent down the “Chute” to the Lt.

The police lieutenant hands off the flag to the Chief.

The Lt salutes the flag, turns, and marches off. At this point, the Chief would move to the NOK and present the flag with the speech. Note: the Chief was not briefed in this situation as she was the recipient (mock NOK) for the mock graduation funeral. She was asked to just accept the flag without any guidance since the true NOK would not receive guidance.

Feet, Feet, Feet!

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“Oh how many feet you meet!” I read to my children every night when they were growing and Dr. Seuss’s Foot Book, was a favorite.

I got the idea for this article from this article –

Foot Pain!

Fascia: A sheet or band of fibrous connective tissue enveloping, separating, or binding together muscles, organs, and other soft structures of the body.

Plantar Fascia: The thick connective tissue which supports the arch of the foot.

Plantar Fasciitis: Short-term inflammation in a fascia. It is a disorder of the connective tissue which supports the arch of the foot. It results in pain in the heel and bottom of the foot that is usually most severe with the first steps of the day or following a period of rest. Pain is also frequently brought on by bending the foot and toes up towards the shin.

Plantar Fasciosis: Long-term inflammation in a fascia. Although, it seems that everyone just uses “fasciitis” to mean both, in general.

I spent 20 years in the US Air Force and before that I was an Army ROTC cadet at New Mexico Military Institute. Since retiring from the USAF in 2005, I still wear boots in my DrillMaster utility uniform any time I am teaching. That’s quite a few years to wear boots! To use today’s vernacular, plantar fasciitis much? Yes and I was given these hard plastic inserts by the VA clinic that I wore for several years that helped a little bit, but I still needed to get a new set each year or so. Still, the idea was still in the back of my head: why do I need these? What happened?

There are still people in the world who do not wear shoes. A tribe in the jungle somewhere doesn’t have a podiatrist assigned to it who is telling one of the older members, “Well, we just need to take an impression of each of your feet and then we will get you some hard, solid plastic inserts to give you some relief.” Insert into what? No shoes.

Theodoric of York receiving a patient

I don’t think foot doctors (barbers?) were walking around medieval England or Europe talking to people about fallen arches. As Medieval Barber, Theodoric of York once stated, “You’ll feel a lot better after a good bleeding!”

If people can survive all their lives without a “tribal podiatrist”, what happened to my feet? Shoes and boots happened.

I don’t play a doctor on TV or anywhere, this is just my experience and research. A bunch of research that I will not detail except to say that there are some very good physical therapy accounts on Instagram that will explain all kinds of details that I’m not qualified to get into. Here is the shortened journey I went through to have feet that don’t hurt.

Exercise. Your feet have muscles that are not allowed to work properly when you wear certain shoes and boots. This is not going to be fun or comfortable at first, but I was better in about nine months. After two years, my feet are just fine. Do this every day.

  • I walked forward and backward in bare feet eight steps on the outsides, insides, heels, and platforms (ball of the foot and toes) of my feet. At first, the heels might be the most painful so I wore athletic shoes or went outside and walked in the grass. Eventually, I was able to do all of my walking on our hard floors in the house without any pain whatsoever.
  • “Make fists with your toes.” Lay a towel flat on a smooth floor and, while leaving your heel on the floor, pull the towel toward you with your toes and arch.

Shoes. When not on duty, start wearing shoes that provide protection from the surface on which you are walking, but that can bend and move and allow your feet to work properly. I fell for the notion of having shoes that must have steel plates in the soles to give you the best support or the supper soft squishy soles that help you roll your foot forward. Please don’t waste your money, the support comes from your bones, tendons, muscles, and fascia in your feet, up your legs, and into your pelvis.

I don’t wear flip-flops. If you want a sandal, wear one that has a strap around the back of the heel.

You are on a relatively short journey that I pray will reduce and eventually eliminate your pain. I hope this helps you.

NJROTC Cadets and Commands

DrillMaster Ask DrillMaster, Commentary, JROTC 2 Comments

In my years of judging military drill competitions, I have encountered a peculiar situation with just about every Navy JROTC team. The team commander (platoon, squad, or color guard) calls the commands without the first letter of each word. Here is an example:

“‘Orward, ‘ARCH!”

I thought it might be one of those situations where one JROTC team does something different and others want to do it too because different is somehow “cool”. That’s not the case at all. Apparently Headquarters NJROTC teaches this technique as part of the summer leadership school curriculum (please correct me if I am wrong!). If this is the case, we have a big problem.

The issue with this is twofold: 1) The US Navy follows Marine Corps Order 5060.20 for drill and ceremonies and the command voice is addressed in this Order. NJROTC must take the information in the MCO and apply it uniformly across the command. 2) The sound of these commands is like listening to a monotone sea lion. It’s an abrupt, bark-like sound, devoid of the proper qualities.

The following voice characteristics are completely ignored when using the monotone-no-first-letter NJROTC technique (text in bold below is my emphasis).

MCO 5060.20 Says

f. A command must be given loud enough to be heard by all members of a unit.
(1) Good posture, proper breathing, and the correct use of throat and mouth muscles help develop a commander’s voice.
(2) Projecting the voice enables one to be heard at maximum range without undue strain. To project a command, commanders must focus their voices on the most distant individuals. Good exercises for voice projection are:
(a) Yawning to get the feel of the open mouth and throat.
(b) Counting and saying the vowel sounds “oh” and “ah” in a full, firm voice.
(c) Giving commands at a uniform cadence, prolonging each syllable.
(d) When practicing, stand erect, breathe properly, keep the mouth open wide, and relax the throat.
(3) The diaphragm is the most important muscle in breathing. It is the large horizontal muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen. It automatically controls normal breathing, but must be developed to give commands properly. Deep breathing exercises are one good method of developing the diaphragm. Another is to take a deep breath, hold it, open the mouth, relax the throat muscles, and snap out a series of fast “hats” or “huts.” Expelling short puffs of air from the lungs should make these sounds. If properly done, you can feel the stomach muscles tighten as the sounds are made.
(4) The throat, mouth, and nose act as amplifiers. They give fullness to and help project the voice. In giving commands, the throat should be relaxed. The lower jaw and lips should be loose. The mouth should be open wide and the vowel sounds (a, e, i, o, u) should be prolonged. Consonants (letters other than vowels) and word endings should be curt and sharply cut off.
(5) The position of attention is the proper position for giving commands (See figure 1-6a). A leader’s bearing will be emulated. If it is military, junior personnel will be inspired to respond to commands with snap and precision.
(6) Distinct commands inspire troops. Indistinct commands confuse them. All commands can be given correctly without loss of effect or cadence. To give distinct commands, you must emphasize enunciation; make full use of the tongue, lips, and lower jaw; practice giving commands slowly, carefully, and in cadence; and then increase the rate of delivery until the proper rhythm (112 to 120 beats per minute) is reached and each syllable is distinct. Raising the hand to the mouth to aid in projecting commands is not proper.
(7) Inflection is the rise and fall in pitch, the tone changes of the voice.
(a) Preparatory commands should be delivered with a rise and inflection in the voice. (e.g., “BaaaTALion,” “PlaaaTOON,” “FoorWARD,” “TO the REAR,” etc.) In particular those preparatory commands that cause supplemental movements should be heavily accentuated on the last syllable. (e.g., The command “Present, ARMS” the preparatory command Preee(pause)ZENT” causes those armed with swords to execute the first count of the movement and the national color to go to the carry. Another example is “Officers, Center, MARCH.” On the preparatory command of “OffiCERS” those armed with swords go to the carry, on the preparatory command of “CennnTER” the officer’s step and/or face)
(b) A command of execution is given in a sharper and higher pitch than the tone of the preparatory command’s last syllable. A good
command of execution has no inflection, but it must have snap. It should be delivered with sharp emphasis, ending like the crack of a whip. If properly given, troops will react to it with snap and precision.
(c) Combined commands such as “FALL IN” are delivered without inflection. They are given in the uniform high pitch and loudness of a command of execution.

MCO 5060.20 15 MAY 2019 Enclosure (1)

Notice how command voice qualities detailed in the MCO are the complete opposite of the technique that most NJROTC cadets seem to use. The MCO was written for a purpose, just like all other military manuals. We need to use it as it was intended.

The Loss of “Specialness”

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Certain things, when they become ubiquitous, can lose their special quality. Compound daily viewing with that object being everywhere and that object or moment becomes commonplace.


The American flag is one of those items. In the eyes of some, it’s just another piece of cloth. Many in the American public understand that it is not just some colored cloth, we understand that, even though the government might be running the country into the ground, the flag still stands for freedom, truth, etc. However, when Americans do not take care of their flag and hold it in high esteem, you get what we have today.

Take that idea and put the POW/MIA flag in the mix. As of 2020, this flag is now to be flown at every federal building. It’s never carried by military color guards, it is only carried for the funeral of a former POW as a personal color.


Let’s add to this idea and include the bugle call Taps. Taps is technically not “played” it is sounded and sounded only at specific times for very specific reasons. This is from Jari Villanueva, America’s Taps Bugler:

Taps serves a dual purpose: 1) To signal that the end of the day and that it’s time to go to sleep and, 2) To render honors at a military funeral or memorial service and only on a bugle or trumpet. Taps is not sounded just because the community or the nation is suffering a certain tragedy (real or perceived).

Note: When buglers are playing at a ceremony, they must be in view of the next of kin. All ceremonial elements must be in view.

And Another Thing…

The Firing Party is next on our list. A firing party is made up of a minimum of 4 members: 3 who fire and 1 to command; and the maximum number is 8 members: 7 to fire and 1 to command. The team does not shoot, it fires the Three Volley Salute. We find information about the firing party and when it executes its mission in Army Training Circular 3-21.5 and Marine Corps Order 5060.20. Both manuals have information for the team to fire during a funeral or memorial service and that’s it. A firing party does not fire a salute because it would be really cool or special. The Three Volley Salute is meant to show respect for a fallen comrade at a funeral, memorial or remembrance ceremony only. Traditionally, the firing party fires OVER THE GRAVE and we can extrapolate that to over the cremated remains or, if the remains have not been recovered, over the general area of where the next of kin.

Gun Salute at Marine Barracks Washington

A firing party does not fire the 21-gun salute. That is accomplished only by the cannons of the Army, Marine Corps, and Navy.

But, the Manuals Don’t Say We can’t…

This is selfishness. I’ve heard the arguments for all kinds of situations: “The manual doesn’t say we ‘can’t’ use metal staffs for color guard.” “The manual doesn’t say we ‘can’t’ fire a salute at the parking lot of the deceased’s favorite restaurant while his friends have wings and drinks in his honor.”

You are correct, the manuals do not have a long list of situations where the firing party (and Taps, for that matter) is not authorized. What you WILL find are the two situations where the firing of the Three Volley Salute is authorized. Look for what is there, not for what isn’t.


I was told by a social media friend that he saw a veteran service organization color guard during a parade in his town. The team marched to a certain point, stopped, the guards stepped out of formation, and fired. This kind of action needs to stop immediately. A color guard and firing party do not merge. We have manuals for a reason.

The “Bad” Honor Guard

DrillMaster Honor Guard Leave a Comment

Usually, when I post and article, I will have a relevant photo as the main image that is above. Not for this one. This issue is too touchy. I have dozens of photos of veteran organizations with the colors backwards, wrong flag, etc., etc. I am not going to single out one team but want to post a nice calming rainbow and unicorn from :-)

I received a message not long ago

Good day sir, one of my local honor guards is very untrained, they are a group of older vets who don’t have the knowledge I believe nor the skill and I’m wondering how I should inform them, I don’t want to be ignorant or arrogant but rather help educate them because I think that’s what they deserve for the deceased and their families. They have a video on YouTube but is for me very hard to watch because of everything that’s wrong. Thank you for the help.

My reply

I understand exactly what you are saying and how you feel about the team. Many veteran teams barely have an idea of what they are doing, they just think they know.

The first “problem” is attitude. Not yours but theirs. It’s quite possible that they already know everything and will dismiss you as some dumb punk who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

The second “problem” is choosing what standards to follow. Army TC or Marine Corps Order? Sadly, just like many groups, veteran groups rarely read the manual, even if they choose one standard, and then train to that standard.

The third “problem” is confusion. If you are trained in the TC and they are using the MCO (or vice versa), you are going to have a tough time switching over to constantly make those small adjustments. Along with this is a veteran serving his/her 4 years and then having a life for 30+ years in the civilian world and coming back to serve on a local team without the ne

The last “problem” is how you approach them. By what you wrote I can tell you have a great concern for them, the vets they honor, and upholding standards so, I don’t think that’s an issue for you. There is some risk involved, but if you are respectful in how you present the situation to the team, even if they are using a different standard from what you are used to, it’s quite possible that you all could learn together.

Having said that, if a JROTC cadets approaches a group of vets out on a ceremony, the cadet may run into laughter at the audacity of attempting to correct the team. However, it’s quite possible that the JROTC cadet is better trained in colors- not so much with firing party or flag fold.

Anecdotal Evidence

When I first PCS’d (moved) to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan and eventually, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, I did not have an initial desire to join either BHG until I noticed certain issues with both teams. My approach to the NCOICs for the colors presentations I witnessed made all a difference. Having said that, the leadership, especially of the Spangdahlem BHG had NCOs who were open minded and willing to listen. I eventually joined both teams initially as a behind-the-scenes trainer and then as a performer due to a lack of personnel (a rampant problem overseas).

It’s a two-way street- respect must be in the conversation and ego needs to go away.

Teams: Be Receptive

If you are on your veteran service organization for all of the glory, you are definitely there for the wrong reason. Service with an honor guard unit is not about the individual, it’s about rendering honors without recognition. You are not “you”, you are a nameless member of a team firing the three volleys, folding and presenting the flag, or standing as a member of the color guard.

When anyone approaches you or your team, even if they are impolite, you must be polite. You don’t have to act on their words, but you represent more than yourself in that uniform and when rendering honors.

How Much Should I Practice?

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This is a great question that I receive every so often. So, here’s an example of how you can begin spinning a rifle (or any other type of practice) and progress to a level of proficiency with which you are comfortable.

You are not going to be a world champion in six months after picking up a rifle for the first time. Patience, time, effort, hard work, dedication, etc., etc. are what it takes to progress in any activity.

I must say this here: You should not put undue pressure on yourself (or your team). Do not compare yourself (your team) to others. I know that when you go to a competition, you are ranked and rated against others, but don’t let that be your only gauge. Your competition is YOU. You (your team) needs to improve with each practice- even slightly. Constant improvement should be your goal. Trophies, ribbons, and other awards should be last on the list of achievements. They are fine, but if they are the ultimate goal, you are in for a big letdown. Achievement, progress, and improvement should be at the top of the list.

Don’t expect significant improvement in a week. At the beginning improvement will be very slow. It will increase.

Learning Phases

There is a cycle to training.

  • Beginning Education – Read everything you can about what you are to learn
  • Training – The initial learning the task
  • Practice – repetition of the task or tasks
  • Training – New task
  • Practice – Repetition of new task to include previous tasks
  • Repeat Education – Refer back to your original or updated training materials
  • Continuing Education – intermediate or advanced information
  • Training or Retraining – Continue the process or correct any action discovered in the previous Education phase
  • Practice – repetition of the task or tasks
  • Training – New task
  • Practice – repetition of the task or tasks
  • Repeat


If you can only practice once a week for an hour, then you will achieve a level of proficiency that is commensurate with that amount of practice. NOTE- there is nothing wrong with this if this is all you can do, just make you training and practice as effective as possible. However, you must realize that others with whom you will compete are probably going to practice more. All performers/teams should be cheering each other on, regardless.

The same goes for practicing 10 hours each week- you will achieve a level of proficiency that is commensurate with that amount of practice. It’s similar for equipment. Your equipment can be a limitation. If you (or your unit) can only afford the lighter drill rifle for spinning, then that’s what you have and you should do your best to work with it. The effort you put forth is also going to come into play in how proficient you become. Are you willing to get up at 0400 to make it to practice at the field house or gym because 0500 is the only time the drill team can get at school? Are you willing to practice on your own?

To summarize:

The factors that affect your proficiency:

  • Time (how much time you can put into training and practice)
  • Equipment (the type of equipment you have at present)
  • Effort (how much hard work you are willing to put forth)

Rifle Spinning and More

This will be specific to learning how to spin a rifle, but can apply to anything.

First, don’t neglect what you have to do each day. Next, if you can put in only 15 minutes of practice each day, fine. Thirty minutes is good to start with. Sixty minutes is very good later on. Last, when you first begin, you don’t want to try to spin for an hour your first day and then end up with an injury or muscle strain. Yes, you are using muscles in a new way and they may ache, but you must build up your stamina and some people take longer than others.

Master the basics, add, master, add, master, etc. (refer to the Phases above). That means if you are going to begin rifle exhibition drill, master the manual of arms for your service and I mean MASTER those moves- know them inside and out and be able to execute them with minimal mistakes. Then, and only then, begin to explore individual exhibition moves. Work from simple to complex. You may find the simple moves too simple and want to skip over some- don’t. Learning everything you possibly can is how you are going to get more familiar with the rifle.

Familiarity with the rifle is key to communicating the quality of effortlessness when performing and that is what you want. It also gives you the ability to ad-lib (create on the fly or, what some call, monkey drill). The more familiar you are with that rifle, the better off you will be if you make a mistake during an exhibition drill performance.

Below are some beginning (and a couple advanced) videos of exhibition drill moves both for the rifle and marching.

For ANY Practice – Repetition

Whether you are working on ceremonial drill, regulation drill, or exhibition drill, you need to master a new task to become proficient and then move on to learning a new task. That takes repetition.

  • Vertical Repetition – repetition at one practice session
  • Horizontal Repetition – repetition over several practice sessions (not the same day)

Just one hour or even one day will NOT make you an expert or necessarily proficient to perform later that day (are you reading this Just-in-Time trainers?), it will take days or even a few weeks of repetition to master the task and create the necessary muscle memory.

Muscle Memory

Muscle memory: The physiological adaptation of the body to repetition of a specific physical activity resulting in increased neuromuscular control when performing that activity again.

Standing at Attention takes a certain amount of muscle memory. Really. For example, if you stand with bent, hiked elbows, looking like you are ready to attack someone ( I did when I first entered AFJROTC in 1979), you have that muscle memory, but it needs to be changed to where your arms are relaxed. The same goes for any movement.

Mnemonic: What the Marine Corps calls a “Ditty” is a technique for memorization and, in our case – drill and ceremonies, it’s also used to maintain tempo. This can be as simple as saying, “One-Two” while executing a Right Face or something more complex.

The Seven Principles of Learning

This is really good to have in the back of your mind as you train others/yourself. Courtesy of Principles of Learning.

Principle #1 – Potential. Humans are endowed with an inherent potential for increase in capacity, the establishment of habit, and the definition of being.

Principle #2 – Target. Human potential may be channeled intentionally toward a specific, predetermined target of learning, or will otherwise follow incidentally from the conditions to which a person is subjected.

Principle #3 – Change. Learning is a specific type of change, which is governed by principles of (a) repetition, (b) time, (c) step size, (d) sequence, (e) contrast, (f) significance, and (g) feedback.

Principle #4 – Practice. Principles of change are activated and aligned with learning targets through models of practice, exercise, or experience.

Principle #5 – Context. Learning is facilitated by a context of practice that is the same as, or accurately represents, the context of performance.

Principle #6 – Engagement. Learners will often engage in certain activities as a matter of habit, though they are also influenced by their current capacity to engage, as well as factors of motivation and inhibition related to the activity as a whole, part of the activity, its circumstances, or its expected results.

Principle #7 – Agency. Learners are not passive recipients of learning, but active agents with the ability to choose how they will apply their attention and effort, and to choose what learning activities they will engage in. Others may exercise their agency to promote or inhibit the agency of the learner, and may play a role in facilitating or impeding successful learning.