Tag Archives: color guard training

Color Guard: Two Guards, American Flag, and…?

The standard color guard has four members:

  1. Right/Lead Guard
  2. American Flag Bearer
  3. Other Flag Bearer
  4. Left/Trail Guard

Guards
The guards are always armed (except in a chapel, at the discretion of the pastor). The weapons the guards may carry are:

  1. Ceremonial-style rifle (M1, M14, M1903)
  2. Modern automatic rifle (M16, etc., not as nice looking)
  3. Shotgun (fairly standard for law enforcement)
  4. Ceremonial Fire Ax (standard for firefighters)
  5. Ceremonial Pike Pole (not as usual nor as recognizable)
  6. Guards should NEVER carry swords or sabers, nor should rifles have mounted bayonets

Two guards are standard. I’ve seen teams with one guard due to a team member falling ill, and even teams without guards at all- that’s just not how to present the colors at any time.

American Flag Bearer
Always next to (marching right) or directly behind the Right/Lead Guard, NEVER in the middle or anywhere else.

ENSURE ALL FLAGS ARE THE SAME HEIGHT!

“Other Flag” Bearer
A question arose a few days ago the question arose from a fire department team about what flag should march next in line. Since the team usually marches three flags, US, State, Local or Organizational, and now they can only march two flags, which one should be next?

For us in the military the answer is always taken care of for us; the other flag for a color team is always the service color when marching two colors. When overseas, many teams march three colors by default: US, Host Nation, and Service Color (when on “American soil” US installation, American cemetery), or Host Nation, US, and Service Color (when on “foreign soil”, anywhere else).

For first responders, the state, local, or organizational flag is just fine. For JROTC and other cadet organizations, your first choice should be your service color, but your unit color is appropriate.

Click here read about the position that should never be used for color bearers!

Education is Key!
Please review your service manual or The Honor Guard Manual to have that knowledge as fresh as possible for when you need it.

Raising and Lowering the Flag

Across the country,  JROTC units receive requests to perform duties several times each year and Memorial Day is no different. Unfortunately, what the cadets are requested to do can create concern. Here is an example.

Recently a CMSgt JROTC instructor wrote to me seeking guidance since his cadets had practiced and practiced a certain way (read: properly, as the Chief had learned during his career and taught his cadets), but the request included some quite odd requirements. One requirement was to take the flags that would already be at half-staff, raise them, and lower them back to half-staff for the ceremony.

My reply: Going from half-staff to half-staff is improper.

Just like when a base or first responder honor guard receives a request for a ceremonial element for a performance- you are the ceremonial expert, not the requesting party (Education is Key!). You are the ones who dictate what happens to follow proper protocol based off the Flag Code and your service manual or The Honor Guard Manual. The requesting party may request slight variations to the norm and that may be OK, but you, as the ceremonial element that will provide the performing members, must be well educated in proper procedures.

Going to Half-staff
One of the two halyard bearers attaches the American flag to the clasps, the flag bearer only unfolds the triangle folds, and holds it in his arms. On the first note of music, the two team members on the halyard, briskly raise the flag while the one pulling counts the number of times he’s pulling the flag up. Once at the top, lower the flag half of the number of pulls using the same arm reach. Secure the halyard. All three members look straight forward the whole time. Once the flag leaves the flag bearer’s hands, that individual renders the hand salute. See also The American Flag at Half-Staff.

A ceremony for Raising and Lowering the American Flag.

Two Flags Going Up
Use one team member for each flag. Attach the American and attach the other non-national flag (POW/MIA, state, etc.). Do not raise the flags any higher the the halyard bearer’s head; attach both flags and bunch them in your arms until raised unless you are working with a crank and internal halyard. DO NOT LOOK UP. Follow the technique outlined above.

Members of the 63rd RSC raise the flags during a ceremony at the Veterans Services Office in Santa Clara, Calif., on May 27, 2017. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group)

Do not look up, like these Soldiers are doing.

In my research, I cannot find specific guidance for having two flags at half-staff on the same pole/halyard, the American and the POW/MIA, for instance. However, the Flag Code’s guidance is only for the American flag and that could be taken as flying another flag underneath it is not appropriate, but that is only conjecture. It is up to you as to what you find is the most appropriate way to honor our flag and our nation.

The POW/MIA flag goes directly beneath the American, then the state flag. That may seem strange, but its guidance from the Flag Code.

Also read: Guidance for Multiple Flags on a Single Pole

Coming From Half-staff
The flag(s) is raised briskly to the top and lowered all the way down slowly and ceremoniously.  While the flag(s) is lowered, the flag bearer(s) renders the hand salute looking straight forward the whole time (do not look up to see if you need to get the flag!). Use your peripheral vision and  glance at the ground to see the flag’s shadow to gauge when it is getting closer. Once the flag comes into your field of vision – looking straight ahead – drop your salute and proceed to the flag to gather it. If lowering two flag, each team member must gather their own flag while the halyard bearer detaches it from the clasps.

Difference Between Staff and Mast
The word, Mast, is a nautical term used by the Marines, Navy and anyone else associated with water. The term, Staff, is used by the Army and Air Force. Color guards use Staffs and flags are flown outside on a Pole, but “Half-pole” sounds silly.

Distance Between Flags
When flying two flags on a single mast and halyard (there are double-halyard masts), to my knowledge, there isn’t any guidance on the distance between flags except for the USAF. The USAF protocol manual states that the bottom flag must attach to the halyard far enough below the American flag so that the American does not touch the lower flag when at rest.

So, unless you are on an Air Force base,  you may place the second flag where you feel it is most appropriate. I must admit that the USAF standard of having a large space can look quite strange.

See also: When to Raise and Lower the American Flag | Folding Multiple Flags When Taken Down |

Just Don’t Do It…

The picture below was taken as an example.

While there are issues with the rifle guards’ salutes, the main problem here is the color bearers’ salute.

  1. The salute pictured here executed by the color bearers is only executed in the Marines, Navy and Coast Guard by armed (rifle or guidon) individuals when not in formation when approaching or being approached by an officer. Never in formation. The Army used to use this technique, but discontinued the practice decades ago (the 1960, I think).
  2. The American flag never salutes. Ever.
  3. The flags should be tucked between the right arm and the staff (not the staff and the torso).
  4. Everyone should be wearing ceremonial/web belts and the color bearers should wear colors harnesses- even if the harnesses are not used.

Let’s say the ceiling is too low, the colors cannot fit in the harnesses. Trail Arms is appropriate and going to Present is for the non-national color. That color dips slightly forward (this position is called Angle Port) while the American remains vertical.

If you are on an honor guard/ceremonial unit, follow the techniques outlined in The Honor Guard Manual which differ slightly from those stated above.

How to Halt from Right/Left Step

With me spending 27 years associated with Air Force drill and ceremonies, the Marine Corps style of D&C has always been unusual to me. Having said that, I’ve studied the MCO several times and have worked with a couple of Marines who have been a great help for me.

Not long ago, A Navy Master Chief NJROTC instructor had a very good questions for me.

Question: USMC Drill Manual Right/Left Step.
I have been a NJROTC instructor for many years. To this day we argue about the proper way in which to command HALT during right/left step march. Some say the entire word “platoon” is given as the heels come together…which is counter to every other command of “platoon” while on the march which is broken in two….Pla on one foot, toon on the other.

Others say Pla is given when the heels come together, and toon as the heels are separated. I say it’s Pla heels together, toon heels together, halt as the heels come together.

The problem is that the manual uses the word Squad as a reference where of course it would not be broken in two. Can you help? A reference would be great to settle the debate.

Answer: Master Chief, I most definitely help! My reference is the MCO. While it doesn’t specifically explain this situation, it does infer what you were talking about where the word platoon is always separated which gives us a clue to separate it in this instance. That eliminates the possibility of saying the whole word on one count, the Army and AF technique.

In your question, you state that another suggested technique is to separate the command beginning with “Pla” when the heels are together, “toon” when the heels separate, and then “Halt” the next time when the heels come together. This technique does not allow for the pause that is present in every other halt command.

The proper technique, as presented to me by my friend, GySgt Aaron Calderone, the Drill Master at Marine Barracks Washington and former DI, is to not only separate the command, but also to give the one-count pause before calling halt and allowing for the customary two-counts after the halt command to execute the halt.

NOTE: This technique is only for the Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard. The Army and Air Force give Platoon/Flight when the heels are closed and Halt the next time the heels are closed.

What a mouth full. Here is a diagram to better explain the actions.

Why is Close Order Drill Necessary in the Armed Forces?

A question from India: Why is drill necessary in the armed forces?

There are three types of drill: Regulation Drill (RD), Exhibition Drill (XD), Ceremonial Drill.

Drill, mainly XD, is life for some, but what about those basic trainees coming into the military. Why do they drill unarmed and even armed?
Close order drill, what we call, RD, instills discipline, timing, teamwork, esprit de corps*, confidence, teamwork, leadership, followership, communication (when teaching), listening, camaraderie, satisfaction in accomplishment, achievement, self-confidence, a certain amount of honor, respect, and it also helps trainees react immediately to commands, all qualities that a Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman, and Coast Guardsman needs to accomplish the mission. Adding a rifle into drill helps the trainee become very familiar with that piece of equipment on which their life may rely at some point. The more familiar one is with their weapon, the better able they are to use it.

Drill is very necessary in initial training and as a refresher throughout one’s career.

*It is French for “spirit of the body”, the “body” being an organization or, in this case, a military service and it’s subordinate units.

First Night Jitters

One’s first performance can be a little stressful. Here are some words of wisdom to remember for just that situation.

I’ve been associated with many performance ensembles over the years and one of the best pieces of advice has been: for that first performance in front of an audience, when you first go out, you will feel adrenaline coursing through your body, you’re going to want to give your performance that much more effort, but don’t. More effort will result in variation, something we do not want. Rely on your training. For each practice, you’ve put forth a great effort, performing just like it’s the real thing. Friday night is no different, it’s another performance just like all of the practices and dress rehearsals we’ve accomplished.

People need to know how to handle the adrenaline and the good stress of the moment. What a great learning experience!

This is dedicated to the Marines of Marine Corps Barracks Washington who are going to perform their Sunset Parade for the first time this Friday.

Semper Fi

Last-Minute Performance Advice

Drill Team TechniqueI am consistently asked about last-minute advice whether it be for a competition the next day the next week or even the next month. Most of the time the request for advice comes a bit too late to fix any major issues.

What what a team can work on at the last minute is uniforms and haircuts, etc, but teams and individuals are really looking for ways to make improvements in in their performance right before they go to a competition. But that’s really not possible. Muscle memory is the culprit.

Muscle memory is part of what creates a great performance and, when there is poor or incorrect muscle memory, it is the problem with last-minute changes. You are most likely not going to change a certain “fault” the night before a competition, although it is possible. Repetition with the new technique to change the muscle memory is the key.

Nothing replaces proper training and consistent long-tern practice to prepare for a performance.

However…

Where to Concentrate


The Mistake
. Make sure that everyone on the team looks like they know what they are doing 100% of the time. Every answer to a question and every movement while marching the regulation, color guard, and exhibition routines must have a look of complete knowledge and authority. If not, the judges will see the kink in the armor and start looking deeper. Did a team member make a mistake? Odds are that if he or she did not “broadcast” the mistake, no one noticed it.

Warm up. Going into a performance, especially an armed solo,

Focus. Leave out everything else. Concentrate on what you are doing right here, right now.

Envision your Performance. Close your eyes and see yourself going through the performance. Click here to read The Seven Parts of an Exhibition Drill Routine. Go through each segment and picture how you are performing.

Release Tension. Put your energy into positive Focus.

Have a plan. Ultimately, being prepared is best, but there are some things that one can do.