The Honor Guard Equipment Checklist

These are suggestions for your team.

Ceremonial Equipment

Flags (Colors): Authorized for the military, the 4′ x 6′ flag fit on the 9.5′ staff (ceremonial use). The 3′ x 5′ flag fits on the 8′ staff (usually for smaller rooms indoors). Since first responders are paramilitary, it makes sense to follow these guidelines. Do not use the spread eagle finial, click here for more information. The eagle finial is appropriate for permanent display.

Indoor/Parade Use flags have the pole hem so that the flagstaff (not a “pole”) slides through it for mounting. Flags with grommets are not appropriate for carrying, they are for mounting on a halyard for outdoor display only.

On using cords and tassels. Color guards do not usually have cords mounted on flags for marching. It is not prohibited nor inappropriate, it is just not the usual. A gold-colored cord is the standard for a permanently displayed flag. Click here for cord examples.

Flagstaffs: two-piece light ash wood guidon staffs are the standard for color guards. For permanent display darker wood is appropriate. Click here for information on how to mount a color on a staff.

Floor Stand Adapters: If you have guidon staffs with a tapered ferrule at the bottom, you need the adapters if you are posting in a low-profile stand or else the staff will tilt to one side. To keep the staff vertical, use an adapter or my suggested alternative. If, however, you have staffs without a ferrule that have a squared off bottom, no need for adapters.

Good to Have on Hand

  • Casket Band
  • Extra uniform buttons
  • A couple pairs of gloves in different sizes
  • Diaper pins (to hold buttons, anchor shoulder cords, etc.)
  • Extra chin strap
  • Extra shoe laces



The “Ownership” Style of Leadership

There really isn’t a style of leadership called the “Ownership Style”, it is the best
way I have found to describe this very bad technique of leading subordinates. It most likely stems from selfishness, insecurity, and fear and it is wrong. Here is how it works.

In each one of these pictures, there is at least one thing wrong. This is not to shame anyone, it is to help educate. Nothing else.

We have three people in our scenario, LeaderA, Subordinate, and LeaderB. LeaderA is responsible for all of the training for Subordinate and Subordinate does a fine job except for one day when LeaderB is the one who witnesses Subordinate making a big mistake (like in any one of the pictures). LeaderB then quickly verbally counsels Subordinate and both go about their business. LeaderA returns to find that LeaderB, in LeaderA’s mind, overstepped his bounds and is furious that LeaderB counseled Subordinate. LeaderA tells LeaderB how unprofessional, etc., etc., he has been and to never approach Subordinate again, that all corrective action must be routed through LeaderA no matter what. Ownership.

This is a ridiculous premise that no one can ever speak to another’s subordinate whether that subordinate is an adult or a cadet. This is just like “Ownership Parenting” where the parents of a child never let another discipline the child. We only go downhill from there. Input from another is OK, unless they are trying to take over. This article is about input. 

Are you doing something wrong? Be very sure that you will hear about it from a responsible party. Don’t like it? Then stop and do it correctly. Here is a good place to bring up the article, “Learning by Word of Mouth”. Learning that way is also wrong; read the manuals, statutes, laws, etc. about what you are to do.

Are you responsible for someone who is doing something wrong and have never paid attention to correct it? Don’t expect a responsible party to roll over and play dead. Deal with your deep seeded feelings of inadequacy or whatever it is and start being the leader you are supposed to be.

The “Flake Monster” at Obama’s Farewell

It happens to the best. It’s called “Flaking” in the Ceremonial World. You hydrate, eat well, exercise and you don’t lock your knees, but all of the sudden, after standing for two-and-a-half hours, your vision pinpoints, you feel light headed and BAM! you are out cold on the ground. It’s physical, it’s mental, and it’s physiological.

Flake Monster
The Flake Monster. Soldier of the Old Guard passes out

It is quite possible that this Soldier is not to blame. He most likely did everything he was supposed to. Then again, even having a beer or two the night before can ruin your ceremonial day.


  1. Don’t lock your knees which restricts blood flow. Stand on the center of your feet, not your heels, which contributes to locking the knees.
  2. Eat well.
  3. Exercise often– aerobic and anaerobic.
  4. Get plenty of rest/sleep.
  5. Drink water. It takes three days to properly hydrate the body, which means that if you have ceremony after ceremony, day after day, your drinking water all day, every day.
  6. Train and practice. Practice standing for extended periods without moving. It will help.
Memorial Day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

This picture is courtesy of my friend Jari Villanueva, the Taps Bugler.

Walk Off before you Flake
While at Ceremonial at Ease/Stand at Ease, the signal is to move your right arm to your back, as in Parade Rest. That then signals whoever is at the rear of the formation to come and get you and you can then make a quiet exit without injury to you, your equipment, or anyone around you. No shame.

Creating a Casket Deck

Aspen Fire Antique TruckWhen a firefighter passes, many, if not all of the time an apparatus (fire truck) is used as a caisson. Whether it’s an antique or a modern apparatus, it is a fitting way to transport a fallen brother or sister.

The hose bed is emptied and used to transport the casket. There are a couple problems, however. The first problem is the casket marring the hose bed floor and the second, more serious problem is the casket not being secure. Both problems are now solved.

Before we get to the solution, I want to briefly outline the process of loading/unloading a casket on an apparatus.

Assuming the removable casket deck is inserted into the hose bed, here is the process. The number of firefighters who handle the casket, besides the six or eight pallbearers, depends on the height and type of apparatus used.

In this picture, the firefighters who were in training with me had a real funeral for a retiree to attend during our academy in Texas (2013). You can see the men staged on the tailboard and hose bed to receive the casket from the pallbearers. All three men  rode in the bed on the way to the church and cemetery ensuring the casket remained in place.

This is one of the pictures from the graduation ceremony later that same week. Here, the commander of the pallbearers, marches up, steps up onto the tailboard and ensures the casket is ready to move. He is executing an Air Force technique of dressing the flag before the pallbearers retrieve it. Notice the red metal step. This fire engine is an antique with a relatively high tailboard. I also know of portable platforms for pallbearers to step up onto that have room for all six pallbearers (I would appreciate any pictures, diagrams, and measurements to share with others).

Loading and unloading the casket is easier with more honor guard members at key places. Your specific procedures should be written and practiced at least once a quarter to ensure team members have a general idea of the procedures outlined.

The Casket Deck
The solution to our problems identified above is to create a removable casket deck that can fit into the hose bed that can also double for training. Here is how I created and installed the deck that I use.

I began with a higher quality plywood board that one of the members of Home Depot suggested. It has a nice wood for the outside layer. I then ordered the deck materials required for holding a casket:

  • Bier Pin (has a twist knob)
  • Bier Pin Plate (7 holes)
  • Bier Pin Stop (at rear of deck)
  • Bier Pin Stop Plate (1 -or 2-hole)
  • Glide Strips (a less expensive alternative to rollers, works extremely well)

I purchased all of my materials from the G. Burns Corporation, they have everything you need and are great at solving any problems one may encounter.

After using the glide strips now for a little while I have encountered one issue that I’ll call “Casket Play”. Casket Play is when you insert the casket, not so much when you remove it. Upon inserting a casket into a coach (the name used for the hearse around the family), the rollers will “grab” the casket and make it quite easy to load straight. The glide strips, however, tend to let the casket slide to either side while the casket is pushed onto the deck, especially if the ground on which the trailer rests is slanted to either side. If you want to completely avoid this, you can purchase rollers from this website and elsewhere.

I drilled and cut the holes after making the necessary marks, it was really quite easy. For the two bier pin plates I considered drilling each hole, but decided to drill each end for the plate and then cut a groove so that I could use each plate hole is necessary.

The stained end was a test for me- which a later regretted while I was staining the rest of the board, it didn’t blend. However, it wasn’t meant to be a family heirloom. At this step is probably where you, for adaptation onto the hose bed, would add a frame with supports running across every couple of feet underneath so that the bolts would not touch the bed.

Then came the stain (Minwax Read Oak), and the protective coats of polyurathane on both sides.

The next step was attaching the materials to the deck. Notice in this picture how the bier pin plates and glide strips are offset to the left, that is to make room in my trailer for the doorway so that the casket can easily slide in and out during training.

My frame was waiting for me in my trainer having built that out of furring strips.

Then came time to install the deck.

To ensure that the casket would not move at all, I cut small squares out of each side of the deck and installed large eye bolts into the frame. With these eye bolts, I use a cargo strap that I crank down to keep the casket safely in place. You can see one of the eye bolts below.

The project finished. My deck is 8’4″ by 3’1″.

I hope you find this helpful.

The First Responder Ceremonial Uniform

A short time ago, I was sent a uniform question by an Assistant Fire Chief regarding creating the unit’s new ceremonials for the honor guard members. I thought it would be a relatively quick answer. It turned into three days of research and ten pages of text and images. I didn’t mind it a bit, thanks Chief!

My uniform, in the picture at right, is a firefighter or law enforcement Class A uniform from Lighthouse Uniform Company that has a great uniform creator on its website. (  It was a basic uniform and I added the aiguillette and the stripes around each sleeve with matching stripes down each trouser leg. I had the option of several types of buttons, I chose generic gold colored.I have 1/8th inch sewn creases at the front an back of the trouser legs, front and back of the sleeves, and down each quarter panel of the blouse which helps the material lay flat when I’m “bloused” wearing a ceremonial belt.

The same with the service cap (cover), I added the gold ceremonial chin strap with the blood red stripe for the front and a buckle chin strap in the back which is the one that goes under my chin when working colors.

Due to costs involved, my suggestion to first responder units is to take the standard Class A uniform that the department wears and make it distinct. This seems like the route you may be taking. Even so, creating an entirely different ceremonial uniform say, a Marine Corps styled tunic as opposed to the department’s double-breasted Class A uniform.

Another suggestion is to have the whole team dressed alike except for awards and rank. This includes the color of uniform stripes, buttons and covers. If you choose to have the team wear a shoulder cord, there are different types from which to choose.

Shoulder Cords
An inexpensive and even temporary way to create a distinct uniform is to attach a shoulder cord. If you choose to have the team wear a shoulder cord, there are different types from which to choose.

Single cord, button loop shoulder cord

The circle braid cord

The single strand cord

The wide braid cord

The knot loop citation cord

The aiguillette

The ornate dress aiguillette that has a separate attachment

The citation cord

The double cord shoulder cord

While not a cord, there is also a shoulder knot

Cords that separate- useful when the epaulet button is only decorative

Images courtesy of

There is a difference between where the shoulder cord fits on the shoulder, whether it sits on the outside of the shoulder (usually due to no epaulet) or if it attaches to the epaulet button located more toward the neck.

Shirt Color

Blue seems to be more of a work uniform color; although nothing says that the blue dress shirt would not be acceptable. White may be the best choice for your team. I highly recommend a short sleeve shirt like the Army Service Uniform Shirt, pictured below. Get the sleeves altered so that they do not bunch up inside your blouse. Image from


Many female first responders wear the male tie instead of the tie tab. Still, here are some options. Along with a necktie, you will need to keep it in place. Tape works well (no one can see it) however, a tie pin, clasp, is an option – keep in mind that if there is any depth to the device that you use, it may cause a slight bulge in your blouse which is something to avoid. Uniform neckties come in Black and navy blue and male neckties come in two lengths.

Standard Necktie

Ladies Crossover Necktie (Navy-style)

Velcro Tab Necktie

Ladies Tie Tab (Army/AF-style)

Other images from

A properly fitted tie should have the tip centered, top to bottom, on the belt buckle, like the picture below. That is the goal but coming within one inch is fine. After all, you will be wearing your blouse.

Picture courtesy of

Instead of a necktie, the Bib Scarf or Ascot is something to consider for your uniform. I’m not a huge fan of them simply because they do not present a finished appearance. They do allow for movement (see the USAF Honor Guard Drill Team). Plus, depending on shirt color, the darker colored scarves can show through. Picture courtesy of

Double- or Single-Breasted Blouse?
Blouse defined: a loose upper garment that does not get tucked in. An upper garment that is tucked is called a shirt. A coat, for our definition, would be a long garment worn to keep warm.

Law enforcement agencies seem to go for the single-breasted style.

The traditional style for firefighters seems to be double-breasted, however, that is merely anecdotal as I have seen many firefighter ceremonial units with the single-breasted blouse. Note: the ceremonial units have single-breasted, while the Class A uniform might be the double. My suggestion is that, if you want to use a ceremonial belt for certain formations, a single-breasted blouse will be your best look with a ceremonial belt.



High Collar


Images courtesy of

A must-have is a set of proper fitting gloves. Snap-close gloves or gloves that do not have a snap and just a slight gap do not present a finished ceremonial image at all. Flag bearer gloves present a terrible image with theit Velcro strap that wraps around the wrist. The best gloves to get are what calls Honor Guard Gloves. Before slipping them on, fold the excess wrist material down twice to the thumb (see below). Get the gloves lined, unlined, plain, or with a non-slip coating (like chicken skin).

Honor Guard Gloves

Snap Gloves

No, No, No, No, No

Flag Bearer Gloves

Absolutely no!

Properly folded honor guard glove

Images from and

Inclement Weather Gear

Depending on where you live, you will need to add to your uniform rack and add an overcoat and a raincoat. Below are images from Marlow White. The overcoat the offer comes in double-breasted and comes with excellent directions on how to convert it to single-breasted. The overcoat replaces the ceremonial blouse in winter weather. The belt is not worn (replaced with the ceremonial belt) and the belt loops removed, the same goes for the raincoat.



To Top it Off…
There are several covers from which to choose: bell cap, military service cap, cowboy hat, and the sheriff’s hat. For firefighter ceremonial units, the bell and military service caps are the standard choice.

Eight Point Cap

Bell Crown Cap

Pershing/Modified Pershing

Army/Air Force Style

Sheriff’s Hat

Campaign Hat

Trooper Winter Cap

Clear Rain Cover

Solid Color Rain Cover

Clear Rain Cover including bill

Front Chin Straps

Rear Buckle Chin strap

Images courtesy of,,, and

My cover, as an example

Accent Colors
The colors that are usual for the uniform stripes, shoulder cords, and covers for law enforcement, blue, gold/yellow, or white, and for firefighters and EMS personnel, red, gold/yellow, or white. This is not to say that another color would not be appropriate for your unit. It’s completely your choice.

Keeping it All Together
There are several types of straps that lock onto your socks and pull your dress shirt down.

Shirt Lock

This garter clamps to your shirt and fits around your foot

Images courtesy of

The Travel Uniform
No one wants to wear their ceremonials in the car on the way to the ceremony. By the time you arrive, your blouse would look terrible. In steps the travel/practice uniform. Replace your blouse with a lightweight jacket for traveling and practicing when you arrive at the ceremony site. There are two advantages to this: 1. your blouse remains clean and wrinkle free, and, 2. No one mistakes your practicing for the “real thing” sending others into a panic (it happens). The picture at right is of my USAF ceremonial travel uniform worn by all honor guard members; the blouse is replaced by the lightweight jacket and the rain cap cover is worn to protect the cover. The jacket and rain cover really mute the ceremonial uniform, while presenting a professional image. Note: now, all Airmen on the honor guard now have the embroidered USAF logo as shown below, something that your unit may want to use, or even sew a unit patch there.

But Wait, There’s More!
Now that we have looked at each item of the uniform (see Shoes for the Driller), we need to carry that uniform around. Look to for garment bags (Wally Garment Bags are great), gear bags (check out SKU 1190), and cover (hat) bags.

Images courtesy of

The DrillMaster Practice Ceremonial Fire Axe

I thought the name, DrillMaster iAxe or iAx, (like the DrillMaster iDrill Rifle, because you, “I” make it) might just look weird, so I went with the longer name. Still, it works.

The ceremonial fire axe is the usual weapon of choice for firefighter colors teams. However, firefighters are paramilitary and some teams do use the traditional rifle. Other units use a real fire axe, which is really quite heavy. Still others use the lightweight brushed aluminum ceremonial fire axe. The axe that I own is from However, they do not sell it anymore. You can, however, can get them from I much prefer the look of the axe for a color team as the pike pole is a bit nondescript. Pike poles can be great for other ceremonial applications.

What you probably do not want to do is use your fairly expensive ceremonial axe during training. Using performance equipment equals wear and tear, dents, scratches, etc. Introducing the DrillMaster Training Ceremonial Fire Axe.

I’m not a woodworker, nor do I play one on TV, or anywhere else, really, but the 20 that I made fill the requirement just fine. Here is how I made them.

After ordering the wax finish hickory handles from Ace Hardware (Item no: 7020555 | 025545100954), I traced the ceremonial axe head that I had, marking where the handle inserted into the head. The wood I used was 2×6 pieces of pine for the heads.

I used a band saw to cut the heads after tracing them. It took me two lengths of board to lay up and trace 20 heads.

I also thought of tapering the pick and blade ends, but it just seemed to be too much work for being practice axes. You can see the practice axe head (lower left) that I used to see if a taper was worth it.

In the picture above, you can see my stellar routine job for the handles. I did know how to use the router, so I learned the hard way, but it was fun to learn and I patched several gaps in the heads later on. My original marks for the handle placement in the head helped me line up the handle so I could trace it for a routine guide. The routed holes are about an inch deep

I sanded each head so that each one was smooth and also lightly sanded each handle to remove the wax coating to prepare it for the stain that I had planned.

During some of the cutting and sanding, some splits occurred so I used a tiny amount of Titebond Ultimate Wood Glue and wrapped the area with a rubber band.

I cut about a half inch off of the end of the handles that fits into the heads. I held each handle in the routed hole while I drilled the holes for the wood screws – on one side I drilled toward the front and then toward the back on the other side. I put a generous amount of glue in the routed hole, inserted the handle and screwed it in place. I needed a couple more hands, easily.

Next came the wood filler and another learning process. While I probably didn’t have to do this, I wanted each axe to present a solid image. It worked out well, I used a Dremel with a drum attachment and then fine sandpaper. You can see waves on the bottom of the heads in the above picture, I didn’t have the patience or the proper tools to create a smooth edge with a slight angle to it.

My plan was to stain them in pairs which mostly worked. More lessons learned: I brushed on some stain and used a cloth for the darker stain and then wiped off some of the darker stain right away with another cloth (makes it lighter). The

I used four Minwax stains from my local Ace Hardware:

  1. Gunstock 231 (really light red I used a coat of Red Oak over it)
  2. Red Oak 215 (fairly dark)
  3. Sedona Red 222 (quite dark)
  4. Jacobean 2750 (very, very dark)

In this picture you can see the different finished stain colors and the first coat of polyurethane drying.

For each coat, I worked on the heads first, let them dry for a couple of hours with a fan on them, leaving them in the position in the picture, and then I worked on the handles and either rested each axe on its head or hung them from the rafters in my garage while the handles dried.

The finished product! I store them in the training casket that I have. They are comparable in weight to a brushed aluminum ceremonial fire axe. The first firefighters to use them during one of my academies was The Woodlands Fire Department Honor Guard. They seemed to like them.

Back to Basics

lombardiVince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers football team, never liked to lose a game. The team lost one particular game that Mr. Lombardi thought they definitely should not have. The game was lost due to the team making several mistakes on the field. On the bus ride to the airport the coach said nothing. On the plane ride home again, he said nothing. The next day at practice, the coach gathered the team around him on the field, reached into a canvas bag, and said to the team, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” The team then proceeded to go through all of the basics of the game of football.

I few years ago, I was hired to work with a prestigious military college drill team. The team had been showing poor results for several years and a member of the staff thought it was time for a change. That staff member and I spoke at length through email about the issues he felt the team had and from that discussion I formulated a plan for a weekend’s worth of rigorous training. By the end of the weekend, I took the team through regulation and color guard drill according to the Marine Corps Order under which most colleges drill. I had also written a two-minute sample exhibition routine that I taught them.

That drill season, the team did better than the previous years, but there was still one big issue that had to be addressed – attitude. The definition that best describes this term in this instance would be, a “truculent or uncooperative behavior; a resentful or antagonistic manner”. It not only came from the older members (juniors and seniors) of the team, but also from alumni who got wind of my presence at the school and wondered why I was taking the team through regulation drill. For them, what I really should have concentrated on was perfecting the exhibition routine that had been marched year after year after year with poor results. I encouraged the cadets to concentrate on the task at hand and to hopefully take and “run with the ball” of training this refresher course offered. It didn’t happen completely. (Insert the music, Tradition!, from Fiddler on the Roof.) With continued concentration on and respect for the principles that the cadets received throughout the season, the weekend would have had a much bigger impact.

It’s not just that your team revisits the fundamentals of your service’s drill and ceremonies manual, it’s that you help your team realize that it is extremely important to keep those fundamentals with you, to understand that fundamentals have a great impact on what you do in a performance. For instance, we would never take a new cadet and put him/her on an exhibition drill team during the first week of school and expect a solid performance. Nor would we take a new member of the fire department ceremonial team and expect perfection without a solid grounding in the fundamentals of ceremonial drill.

High school cadets would do well to revisit their service drill and ceremonies manual yearly, is not each semester. The same goes for first responder and military honor guard units, a yearly (at least) review  of the manual, would be a great refresher to keep those fundamental facts fresh.

Training and Education for Drill Teams and Honor Guard Units

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