Joint Service Order of the Colors

Joint Service Order

The regulation that directs this order of precedence is Department of Defense Directive 1005.8; Order of Precedence of Members of Armed Forces of the United States When in Formations, dated 31 October 1977. The more interesting part of the story is the history behind why that precedence is observed by the Department of Defense.

Seniority of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps is obscured by the divergent elements of the intentions of the Continental Congress as compared to the realization of those intentions. Although the intention of the Congress to establish an Army is apparent in several resolutions of June 1775, the realization of those intentions was not effected until 01 January 1776 when General Washington stated in his orderly book, “This day giving commencement to the new Army which in every point of view is entirely Continental.” Likewise the Navy which the Congress created by resolution in October 1775 was not to be realized until several months later. The process of procuring and outfitting ships as well as enlisting and commissioning personnel was a time consuming one.  The commander in chief of the Navy and other officers were not commissioned until 22 December 1775.

The Marine Corps, on the other hand, even though established by resolution on 10 November 1775, was actually a force in readiness before the Army or the Navy. Samuel Nicholas was commissioned a Captain of Marines on 28 November 1775, a month before the first officer of the Continental Navy was commissioned. In fact, the only facts that correspond to the present parade order of Army, Marine Corps, and Navy respectively are the dates when their first officers were commissioned, in June, November, and December of 1775. Indeed, the Marine Corps’ claim to being the oldest integral force in being results primarily from fortunate circumstances. The Corps was much smaller and more closely knit than either of the other services, and its origin was not complicated by the existence of provincial and local forces already in the field.

Thus, the Continental Marine force was all regular Marines from the beginning during the period when the Army was an amorphous mass of mixed Continentals and militia, and the Navy lacked ships.  The Marine Corps, therefore, could be considered the first truly “federal” armed services branch of the United States of America. In any case, the present order of parade precedence has become one of our foremost military customs and as the foregoing has indicated, there is little evidence to support any change in that order. The present order of parade precedence is defined in DoD Directive 1005.8 as Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force. Therefore, by analogy, the order of display of colors in any fashion, to include service branch seals, should be in the same order.

There are other lines of reasoning for the precedence of Marine Corps colors before Navy colors, but these versions are less popularly accepted as the above. Here are two:

  1. The foundation of the Continental Navy is recognized as being on 13 October 1775 when Congress authorized the outfitting of two vessels “of ten carriage guns.” This is the date we quote as the Navy’s birthday. The Marine Corps was established the following month, on 10 November 1775.  Jump ahead to 03 June 1785 when Congress authorized the sale of the one remaining naval vessel, the frigate Alliance. This was the end of the Continental Navy. For the next several years, the nation had no Navy, until 27 March 1794 when Congress authorized the construction and purchase of six frigates. This is the foundation of the U.S. Navy as we know it today.
  2. Although the Continental Navy was established by Congress on 13 October, 1775 – it disappeared when Congress had the Continental Navy’s ships absorbed into the War Department. The Department of the Navy, which today encompasses the Marine Corps, was not established until 30 April 1798 – well after the 10 November 1775 establishment of the Marine Corps.

Service flag order by date:

ARMY 11 July 1775 *The Navy officially changed to this date, prior to that they were a younger service than the Marine Corps.

 

MARINES 10 November 1775
NAVY 13 October 1775*
AIR FORCE 18 September 1947
COAST GUARD 4 August 1790

Joint Service Order information is courtesy of www.veteransinfo.net.

Members (in Joint Service Order)

A color team may consist of more than two flag bearers. The color team is formed in a single-file rank (abreast) from the right to left with the right rifle guard in the first position, followed by the US, State, Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, Police, Fire, EMS and the left rifle guard.

NOTES

  • The CTC must not assume Attention when calling commands. The CTC must perform all of the movements with the rest of the team.
  • Ceremonial cords are for static display on flags only.
  • Call the supplementary command of Colors, for all commands whenever performing in funerals or with other elements (ex. Colors, Present, ARMS).
  • Never use bayonets or swords on a color team!

All information is from The Honor Guard Manual and except where noted, is (c) John K. Marshall

2 thoughts on “Joint Service Order of the Colors”

  1. Thank you for the info on the Joint Colors. Where would the uniformed services US Public Health Service (est 1798) fit in the sequence? Before Air Force by date? Or after Air Force after the armed services? Thanks

    1. Hi Liz,

      That’s an excellent question! No other colors march or are posted in between the military service colors. The guidance is to have the Public Health Services flag posted to the viewer’s right, at the far left of the other colors. The NOAA flag would come after the PHS flag.

      Thank you for such an interesting question!

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