My firefighting friends in California had a great question for me. Here are my thoughts.
What a tragedy to lose a fellow firefighter, emergency medic, or law enforcement officer, let alone a member of the armed forces. However, it does happen and all to often. Since we know that death comes to us all and that it is just a matter of when, it is a good idea to be as prepared as possible. We will concentrate on the earthly traditions following a death, although each individual must give a thought to his everlasting soul before time runs out.
Tradition holds that warriors are draped with the colors under which they fought. That is why our US military service members and veterans have flag-draped caskets. Whether or not one believes, as Marine Corps Major General Smedley D. Butler once said, “War is a racket”, is not the issue. The issue is about rendering respect. Your politics, my politics have zero to do with the situation. This is also why we stand at the appropriate time.
1 Peter 2:17 Show proper respect to everyone.
Romans 13:7 Give to everyone what you owe them: if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
First responders are also “in the fight” in the form of serving the public safety interest on a daily basis. Again, good/bad are not the issue.
Members of the US military receive the American flag. First responders have a choice. If the deceased individual has not made a choice, the family is then asked. If they do not have a preference, the American flag is the default. The choices for first responders are their state and city flags.
NOTE: check your local guidance for any special flag fold procedures. Some states have them, most do not. For any state/municipality without guidance, the rectangle fold is standard, keeping the triangle fold reserved for the American flag. Yes, guidance can dictate the triangle fold.
The question then becomes, when does the body of the deceased get draped with the flag?
Tragedy struck the Arizona firefighting community a few years ago and it reverberated with firefighters throughout the world. Nineteen firefighters fighting wildfires lost their lives in unimaginable circumstances. This picture is from an unknown source. Some, were horrified that the picture was posted on social media. Read more about that by clicking here. I’m using this photo as an educational example.
Once the dead first responder is discovered, the remains must be moved to a staging area for transportation preparations. At that point, it would be appropriate to cover the remains with a flag. It would also be appropriate to begin Casket Watch at this time.
The deceased do not care, it’s about the family, both relatives and beyond. Showing the utmost care and respect are the best things one can do in these terrible situations. Carrying one or two interment flags (5′ x 9 1/2′) in a vehicle or apparatus is part of preparing for the worst.
There are two types of material for flags, plastic-based and cotton. I highly suggest never giving anything other than a large-star cotton flag to the family. In the field, there is a possibility of the flag becoming soiled. Dry cleaning is perfectly acceptable. If a rayon-type flag is used it is slippery, does not fold well and is quite light. Cotton is heavier. It may be necessary to tuck the flag underneath the body bag or maybe to weight it down with a couple of stones while in the field to prevent it from leaving the remains. While it is not the best situation, I will leave that decision up to those who have to deal with losing a brother- or sister-in arms: do you even place the flag right then and there and does it need weighting down or do you simply wait until the body is in the coroner’s vehicle.
A while back I noticed pictures of scouts (male and female) cutting the canton (blue field) from American flags readying them for proper disposal. I was not happy. I then noticed pictures of stars cut from American flags that we neatly packaged in very small zip-close bags with a nice typed note inside to our country’s veterans that reads:
“I am part of our American flag that has flown over the USA. I can no longer fly. The sun and winds caused me to become tattered and torn. Please carry me as a reminder that You are not forgotten.” (Emphasis theirs)
Let’s see what the US Flag Code has to say about a flag that is “tattered and torn” from the sun and wind. TITLE 4, Chapter 1, Sec. 8(k) states:
“The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”
You can imagine my surprise that someone would actually think it is just fine to cut up the flag, whether “tattered and torn” or not, and hand out its pieces as a tribute. So, I found the website for Stars for our Troops and sent them a message. When you submit a message to the organization, you must supply all of your contact information.
My message read: Deplorable! http://www.starsforourtroops.org (Your) company cuts up American flags and gives the stars to vets. So, desecration of our National Ensign is OK as long as you give the stars to “deserving” people.
In return, I received a package in the mail
The package contained a sandwich-sized zip-close bag with 49 of the smaller zip-close bags, that I mentioned earlier, containing stars cut from flags. There was also a typed note with a hand-written message.
The written message said this:
“You have the opportunity to change and thank 49 people because we appreciate them.” Signed by Susan.
Below is my final response to Susan and her organization’s completely misplaced respect for “our troops”.
I do have an opportunity, one that is multifaceted due to your organization. My first opportunity is to properly dispose of American flag material, something that is every American’s responsibility, whether they accomplish it their self or have a veteran service organization do it for them.
Here is the sequence of events that took place to properly dispose of the 49 stars and the small threads that fell from some of them:
First came the removal of all 49 stars, the tiny threads and the pieces of paper inside each bag. Side note, I recycled the paper.
I did not have access to nor did I have the ability to create a fire and place the stars on it as is usual, so I adapted and took a piece of scrap metal that I had, cleaned it off, placed the stars on it and soaked them in lighter fluid.
I then lit the stars and made sure they burned completely. I gathered the remains in a small shovel, buried them in a small spot in my back yard, sounded Taps through my phone and rendered a hand salute during that time (veterans are now able to salute in civilian clothes since a National Defense Act of the mid 2000s).
My next opportunity is to educate you and the rest of America as to why it is so very wrong to cut up “tattered and torn” American flags and give them out as a misplaced form of appreciation. This is not some one-up, tit-for-tat game nor is it an attack, this is my version of reproof for you. It may seem harsh, but out of a difficult situation we can learn and grow. In no way should you continue to cut flags and hand out the pieces as tribute! It does not matter how any veteran “feels” when they receive it, what you are doing is wrong and I’ll even attempt to educate my fellow veterans. The “Tears in veteran’s eyes” thing does not phase me. It’s a caring gesture that the veterans appreciate and a great majority of Americans, it seems, have no understanding of flag desecration, especially when it is done with utter sincerity.
I cannot force you to do anything, nor do I really want to. I would appreciate it if you would just stop doing this of your own volition. Stop desecrating flags and handing out the pieces. Here’s a thought, switch to handing out tiny triangle-folded flags. The flags that are on the small sticks that people buy and wave at Independence Day parades would be perfect, people don’t know what to do with them on July 5th anyway, so why not begin a campaign to have them donated/mailed to you. You could fold them into triangles per the Flag Code and even get local JROTC cadets or scouts to help in this. How much more meaningful this would be, a definite win-win for everyone! Here is a picture of a flag that I received in 2010 from a prospective Eagle Scout. It’s a great idea!
“Right now we as a nation are struggling with many negative issues in our country, but the one thing I can tell you is this… Americans love their veterans and Operation Honor Guard shows this by the overwhelming response and outpouring of monies and support by community members.”
The 2016 Operation Honor Guard Day of Giving was a huge success! Community members and corporate partners combined to donate over 170,000.00. The response has been overwhelming and honor guards in Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan will soon be looking more uniform as their honor guard details head out to honor fallen veterans. Operation Honor Guard started out as just a local fundraiser in Vermilion County, headed by funeral director Rich Darby of Sunset Funeral Homes in Danville, IL. The fundraiser was such a success in year 3 when it raised over $60,000 that Rich knew it was time to turn this fundraiser into its own nonprofit organization. Operation Honor Guard now a 501(c)(3) organization exists to solely outfit and eventually train veteran service organization honor guards throughout the nation.
It takes over $800 to properly outfit 1 honor guard member. On top of this other costs are flags, rifles, rifle repair, transportation, training, and any other item needed in the regular use of an ceremonial team. Funds raised this year will help numerous teams across Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan and this number will continue to rise each year as honor guard members are reaching out and asking for financial assistance. If you have questions, call Operation Honor Guard direct at 844-409-1049 or visit their website at www.operationhonorguard.us.
For a memorial service or funeral service inside a chapel (church, synagogue, etc.) there are a couple of setups from which the ceremonial team can choose:
Either setup that you choose, you have to consult with the pastor/rabbi as to what he prefers for the color team. There are to situations:
Standard. Everyone enters (besides the pallbearers when they escort the casket/urn) without a cover (hat) and unarmed.
Also acceptable. Everyone enters unarmed but wearing covers.
Pallbearers wear their covers entering and departing since their hands are full or, some have their hands full and all are covered for uniformity. The pallbearers move to their assigned seats, remove their covers and take their seats. On cue, they rise, replace their covers and move into position to fold the flag or move the casket to the coach/caisson. The team can also leave the chapel and wait for their cue.
Color Team rifle/axe guards usually enter unarmed, but that depends on the pastor/rabbi. The team can also enter and leave uncovered. However, this requires pre-planning to find a place to remove the teams covers and leave the rifles. Leaving someone to watch over the items. The team either posts the colors or posts themselves, covered or not, armed or not. Law enforcement sidearms do not fall into this category, wear them all the time.
And Casket Watch?
This is a bit different. Armed (with a rifle, axe or shotgun) casket watch is usually not accomplished, unarmed (except for LEO sidearms) is the standard. Casket watch members should be in full uniform (Ceremonial, Class A, etc.) including the cover. For more on casket watch, click here.
During my 20-year US Air Force Career, I was stationed in three European countries and Japan as well as two states. I had not been to the Middle East or the African continent. Those two places are now added to the list.
Six Months in Planning
Apparently, I have a fan or two overseas. One just happens to live in Qatar and is part of the Police College of Qatar (PCoQ). He contacted the translation staff at the college asking for them to initiate a discussion as to how I could accomplish a significant task for them. The next six months were all about ironing out details and ensuring we were talking about the same thing in two different languages, Arabic and English.
Exhibition Drill Around the World
All one has to do is go to YouTube and see all kinds of videos that highlight drill teams performing exhibition drill. The bulk of videos is going to be of American drill teams, mostly high school JROTC. However, if you keep searching you will see some very interesting exhibition performances from all across Asia, Europe and even a few from the Middle East.
Of the performances outside of the USA, most are made up of a single-file line with some amazing ripple movements (see the Belarus Ripple Line here). That is because the rifles used now (M-16 like) do not facilitate any other effective manipulation or armed exhibition drill that includes tossing rifles around is just not a cultural thing.
After judging all kinds of visual performances since 1986, my view as to a limiting factor for exhibition drill outside America, is the use of what I consider highly ceremonial British-styled (foot) drill. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the style and have worked with a Canadian Army Cadets team as well as spent a few hours learning how to march being taught by British Army cadets and staff. I enjoyed learning the style and exchanging good-natured slighting remarks.
You can see this limiting factor that I previously mentioned in videos that display the style. The style does not allow for a consistent horizontal or even vertical flow for an exhibition performance (read about Flow here). As I said, it is very ceremonial in nature, and that is what makes watching the style so mesmerizing at times. For exhibition drill, though, it creates severe performance restrictions. As an example, see these selected videos (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcRniWQELcW4uU89-FEIL4po_e6boF6Up)
So, what is one to do when the prevailing style is British and yet one wants to knock the socks off of everyone with an exhibition drill performance? Teach a new style that is specifically for the performance and this is exactly what the PCoQ training staff was looking for.
Below is the video of the opening ceremonies of the PCoQ. The PCoQ does not have it’s own compound, it is part of the Police Training Institute. The PCoQ’s own compound will be finished some time in 2017.
The cadets here were trained for five weeks before the ceremony by the staff of the PCoQ. Just weeks prior, the cadets were in high school having not marched before. I think they did an outstanding job!
Note: I do not have pictures and video that I can share due to the Qatar Military Secrets Act, I cannot publish anything other than official work from the PCoQ. I’ll have that soon. The pictures and video I have were used for training purposes.
New, New, New!
Now that we established the style that the cadets and staff know by heart, we can see what the three-week training session entailed.
Once established, muscle memory can be difficult to recreate and that is exactly what Matt and I had to do with the 15 staff members, recreate their muscle memory. We worked Standing Manual, teaching the staff to stand with their feet together at the heels and toes, new facing movements and then a new manual of arms with totally different rifles (thank you Joe Rivas of Glendale Paradestore!), not to mention the rifles being quite a bit heavier than what the staff members were used to! We even had classroom time for briefings on how to train, how to write drill and how to judge/develop a critical eye.
Only Three Weeks?
Three weeks is not enough to learn a completely different way of drill, let alone an exhibition routine, but the staff did an amazing job of just that and they learned almost four minutes of the routine! Here is a glimpse of the graduation ceremony performance:
Much more work, much more. The ultimate performance will be for the first graduation of the PCoQ in 2019. That means a great deal of practice and still more training to come and that means more news to come!
South Africa is quite a wonderful, hard and difficult country, for me, at least. For seven years Tshepo (“Tse-poh”) Tautshwane and I have known each other through Facebook. He has been very interested in drill and has wanted to start a drill team/(marching band) color guard for his church’s marching band.
Tshepo is the drum major of his band and a student at North West University majoring in music education. He plays tuba extremely well and has a passion to teach others. Below are some pictures of my trip. Top left is my wonderful new family, Lilly, Elizabeth, Nkepile (Tshepo and Elizabeth’s mom), and Natsu. Lilly and Natsu are Tshepo’s Nieces. Christian, who had to run off to school before the picture, is his nephew.
The bottom right picture is of Tshepo and fellow drum major for another marching band, Motlatsi Moloi. I took six color guard rifles over to help create the new auxiliary for the band. They learned some military manual of arms and also how to spin the rifles.
There is also much more to come from South Africa and the DrillMaster!
Yes, it is true! The DrillMaster has been international for years now, but my travels have not taken me outside of the country until today. At 1 pm Eastern, I will fly with my good friend and exhibition drill colleague, Matthew Pereau. We are truly excited and blessed for this opportunity!
Our first stop is Qatar where we will train a group for three weeks. Matt will fly back home and I will continue on for four days in Johannesburg, South Africa. I will publish the many details about the trip complete with video and pictures upon my return.
If George Costanza (from the TV series Seinfeld) can have “The Summer of George!” Then those of us in the military drill world can have The Summer of Drill! Every summer! But our summers will be filled with training and performances!
Each summer, I am heavily engaged with the Cadet Joint Service Honor Guard Academy in Flemingsburg, Kentucky at the National Cadet Training Center at Camp Sousley, training cadets at drill camps, and working with first responders teaching Honor Guard Ceremonial Unit Academies across the country. I even travel internationally, at times, writing and teaching exhibition drill.
Competitions: Solo exhibition drill competitions are just about everywhere. Seek and you will find. If you would like to advertise your competition on this website contact me!
If you contact me, please be patient as I will be working long, thoroughly enjoyable days. I will get back to you as soon as I can!
My best advice? Read, read, read, read, read. Knowledge is key!
There is quite a bit of information and several situations that every color team needs to know to maintain the American flag in the position of honor – on the marching right or in front. The American flag never marches any other position. Never. Military and para-military (just about every organization that has it’s members in uniform) should follow military guidance and never march the American flag in the center.The position of honor is to the right- not the center.
What Flags do we Carry and in what Order?
Military, Civil and Citizen teams have different requirements. The colors listed are in order from the marching right (viewer’s left):
Militaryteams (the US military, ROTC, and JROTC, and other cadet organizations) carry the American, (state,) and service colors. The organizational color would be last.
Civilteams (law enforcement, firefighters, and EMS) carry the American, state, municipal, organizational and even fraternal colors. The fraternal color can be omitted when presenting for loval government functions.
Citizenteams (Scouts, fraternal organizations) carry the American, state, and organizational colors.
Tribal teams , on Tribal lands, would carry the Tribal Nation’s color, American, and state colors. Outside of Tribal lands, the American would be first and then the Tribal Nation’s color. Some Tribal teams also carry service colors.
Side note: If a military color team is going to carry the following colors, this is the order. No exceptions.
Military service flag
Carrying more than one national flag?
Let’s say you are part of an Emerald Society Pipe and Drum Corps and Honor Guard(a first responder fraternity). Many of these teams carry not only the American flag, but also the Irish flag. Why? The first cops and firefighters were Irish. The tradition continues. Back to our situation of two national flags: All national flags are treated the same on American soil – they are never dipped in salute. Ever. Both remain upright even during both national anthems, if they are played. All other colors dip in salute.
Note: While service color position remains the same, if all service personnel are not able to be present for the team, their order should go as follows as far as knowledge is concerned: regardless of service or rank, the most knowledgeable (as far as color guard experience) member should be the US color bearer and the second most knowledgeable should be the right rifle guard. Third in this sequence should be the left rifle guard with descending familiarity following from there.
Joint Service Order for First Responders
Full disclosure: I developed this. While this is not a hard-and-fast rule, I thought it necessary to create an order of precedence based on the implementation of each service. From my limited research, I came up with the following:
Law enforcement officer (LEO)
Using the guidance from the military, team make up might look like this:
Right/lead rifle guard: LEO armed with a rifle/shotgun, second-most experienced member
American flag: LEO, most experienced member
Other flag (State, etc.): Firefighter/EMS, can be least in experience
Left/rear guard: Firefighter/EMS armed with a ceremonial fire axe, third in experience
Keep in mind the guidance that the most experienced member should be the US color bearer, regardless of service/profession.
LEO/Fire Working Together
I encourage and enjoy joint work, but there is an issue that must be addressed: Technique.
Does Height Matter?
Experience before aesthetics. Not if you have the luxury of each member of the team being around the same height, but for cadet and civil teams, it should come second to knowledge and experience. Yes, the team might look “off”, but it’s best to have knowledgeable members of the team in key positions rather than have aesthetics. Click here and read this article.
Flag Stuck, etc.?
Problem during the Performance? That’s why God invented the right and left guards for the team! The guards are there to fix whatever issue they can. For more, read this article here.
Waiting for the ceremony still requires proper protocol.
Arrive at the site at least one hour early
Practice while in your travel uniform (this ensures no one thinks the ceremony has already begun and gives the team time to figure out their movements)
Change into ceremonial/Class A uniform
Hang out* with equipment ready in-hand and all team members in their proper place (American flag at right or in front of other flags- yes, even just hanging around – cameras are everywhere)
Ten minutes prior to show time, line up at staging position at Stand at Ease (or Parade Rest) ready to perform
*An example of how NOT to hand around. This is a USAF Base Honor Guard team, I have pictures of other services, this is just an example.
Left Wheel, Right Wheel and About Wheel. These are terms that honor guards use to describe turns accomplished by the color team most often outside. Right/Left Wheels use the center of the team as the rotation point which means half the team marches forward and the other half marches backward to rotate the team 90-degrees in an average of eight steps for teams with four to six members. The team executes the About Wheel in the same direction as the Right Wheel rotating the team 180-degrees in 16 steps.
Note: As a rule of thumb, colors enter at Right Shoulder (Carry) and depart at Port Arms. Entering at Port is fine if necessary.
Halt in front of and facing audience
Present Arms for National Anthem or Pledge (never both)
(Color bearers move to post colors and rejoin guards)
Standard entrance and departure.
To Present or Post, that is the Question!
Posting the colors is for special occasions. How special? That is up to the organization. Graduations are a special time, that would call for posting the colors. Weekly events would probably warrant pre-posted colors at the least or presenting the colors only.
The Show-n-Go. This is the honor guard term for presenting the colors for an informal/semi-formal event. The colors are pre-posted on the stage/front of the room and the color team enters, presents (Anthem), and then departs. No posting.
With the Show-n-Go, the colors do not matter. As long as the American flag pre-posted, the color team can present whatever they carry as their standard colors (American, State, etc.).
How to Enter
The standard entrance is to enter from the viewer’s right, present to the audience (then post) and depart. See the image above.
The standard exit is to the viewer’s left. See the standard entrance/departure image above.
To exit to the viewer’s right, use Every Left Off. The commander calls, “Step!” and the left rifle guard steps across, as close as possible to the team member on their left. Step any further away and the departure for the team looks terrible.
When to Retire/Retrieve the Colors
Retrieving the colors is reserved for the extra, extra formal occasions. Use the posting sequence in reverse.
When I was in AFJROTC (’70-’83), we didn’t have scoopers right behind horse entries in a parade. They were the unsung heroes who brought up the very rear, just in front of the police car with the flashing lights signaling the end of the parade. This meant that everyone in the parade had to dodge, duck, dip, dive and… dodge certain remnants from our equine parade entries.
Now, scooper are placed throughout parades and are making a crummy job fun.
there should be people, sometimes Scouts, who clean up during the parade walking behind horse entries in parades. However, there is the possibility of encountering one or more situations where you and your team may need to either March through or around an obstacle. The choice is yours. Manure won’t ruin shoes, but it’s not nice stepping in it and carrying a certain amount down the road with you especially when you are in front of the public, the whole parade is your performance. But, that’s what we do: adapt overcome and carry on. On the other hand, the team always has the option of separating and individually moving around obstacles and then coming back together. That movement should be as slight as possible – no major movements.
The first time one shaves is the beginning of a never-ending cycle when you wear a service uniform. Say hello to nicks, cuts and the occasional abrasion depending on your skin type and especially if you have acne.
There are shaving powders, creams, and soaps, but probably the best shave you will find is from oil. You can buy a relatively expensive specific blend of oils that create a better shaving experience, or, you can go into the kitchen and pour a little olive oil into a small bottle and use that. Olive and hemp oils (what I use) are great for shaving because oil protects your skin better as you run that steel blade across your skin and these oils do not block your pores which is even better. Using an oil is less expensive and healthier for you by avoiding the chemicals that can be in the soaps and creams. Here is how to implement oil in your shaving regimen.
Best in the shower: get your (face) skin nice and wet, wash your hair and then turn off the water (a cut-off valve is great). Now, put about six to ten drops of oil on your fingers and massage it over the area to shave. Put water on your razor and get your fingers wet on your non-shaving hand. Put this water on the first area to shave; you now have three layers of liquid on your face: water-oil-water. Shave the area that you just wet. Rinse the razor OFTEN. Here is an example:
Wet fingers, rub that water on your right cheek, shave right cheek with a downward motion of the razor, turn your water on so that it is forceful and rinse your razor, wet your fingers again and repeat for the next area to shave.
When you rinse your razor, the water must be quite forceful since the oil and stubble are a little sticky and messy. If you need to re-shave a portion of skin, add more water to that area, don’t just shave it again. The floor of your shower might become a little slippery, that is why you shave toward the beginning of your shower and then let the soap during the rest of your shower take care of the floor, to some degree.
Which direction to shave? Great question and only you can decide that. If you have very sensitive skin, shaving closely will irritate and possibly make your skin bleed with dozens of little red dot all over. Shaving against the growth of hair (“against the grain”) is the best way to get as close as possible. Shaving with the direction of hair is close, but the least irritating. Shaving sideways to hair growth produces in-between results.
Key points: no matter what you shave or how: use copious amounts of water, a little oil- add more oil if necessary, and more water. Rinse your razor constantly.
Ears, Eyebrows, and Nose
Guys, you will probably end up trimming all three of these at one time or another. It’s just part of getting older. However, trim them you must! You need to be as professional as possible and this is part of it.
Safety razor, straight razor, electric shaver, or hybrid (electrical wet shaver): It is up to personal choice. Try different methods and see what is best for your lifestyle and skin.
Speaking of oil
Get some coconut oil and oil pull for 15 to 20 minutes first thing each morning with a large teaspoon of the stuff. It will be extremely beneficial for you.