Tag Archives: color guard

American First Responder Joint Service Order

Is this a “thing”? Possibly, my reasoning for the research and writing this article is to provide information that may be necessary for certain situations for American First Responders.

For the US military, we have our joint service order or military order of precedence:  Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. The order is based on the creation of the service and, in the case of the Navy, whether that service was continuous from that date.

For first responders (law enforcement, fire and EMS), there is a similar creation date here in the USA. In my research (wikipedia, unfotunately), I found the following information. Now, I understand that different agencies began in different areas at different times, my focus was on the first instance, the first paid positions in the US for that entity. If you have additional information, please let me know, I welcome it.

For joint service work, the order, in general, is: Law Enforcement, Fire, and EMS. This means that a color guard would look like this:

First Responder Joint Service Order
First Responder Joint Service Order

In the image above, you can see:

  • Right/Lead Rifle Guard- Law Enforcement Officer
  • US Flag Bearer- Law Enforcement Officer
  • State Flag Bearer- Law Enforcement Officer or Firefighter
    • In the military joint service color guard, pictured below, the Army has the honor of right rifle guard, carrying the American flag and then the Army flag and then each service flag after that. A state or other flag is never carried. So, my suggestion is to share the wealth, so to speak, for this position.
  • Law Enforcement Flag Bearer- Law Enforcement Officer
  • Firefighter Flag Bearer-  Firefighter
  • EMS Flag Bearer- EMS
  • Left/Trail Axe Guard- Firefighter
Military Joint Service Colors Order
Military Joint Service Colors Order

Here are the dates of inception that I found.

Law Enforcement

  • The first Sheriff, 1626 in NY
  • The first Police 1751 in various cities
  • Marshal 1789 establishment of other federal police (Parks, Mint, etc.) followed
  • Border Patrol, 1924


While people have been fighting fires on their own or with neighbors since there has been things to protect, I found that the first paid firefighters came into existence in 1678. Having said that, I do not want this to be contentious as far as volunteers and paid firefighters.

Emergency Medical Service

The first EMS service came into existence in 1865.


The Honor Guard and the Suicide

Image courtesy of www.fox46charlotte.com

It’s been years since I was part of an Airman’s Active Duty (full honors) funeral who committed suicide (early 1990s). During the preparation for that funeral I remember some of my fellow guardsmen voicing their opinion as to whether the Airmen deserved full honors or even a flag on his casket. Suicide is looked upon as shameful; less so now, but the stigma of shame is still there.

I recently received a phone call one morning from the commander of a newly-established firefighter honor guard that I trained with a question about rendering honors for a Fire Chief who served 33 years, retired, and five years later, committed suicide. The commander already had specific ideas on how to handle this sensitive situation, but wanted an opinion from an experienced ceremonial guardsman.

Side note: There are many articles published across the web, see this article on Cumulative PTSD and also this article on The Secret Sadness of Retired Men.  Whether this Fire Chief had either one of these issues is immaterial to the honor guard.

My response to the commander was that we, in the ceremonial world, represent all members, past and present (the reason why we do not wear name tags), of our service and render honors to all regardless of how they passed away. For us in the military, a court martial and the type of discharge may have an affect on whether the honor guard is authorized to render military honors, but for everyone who served honorably, there are the three types of funeral: 1. Full Honors Funeral; 2. Standard Honors Funeral; and 3. Veteran Honors Funeral. Each of the three funeral types has a written standard that Active Duty, retirees, or veterans must meet. That’s it. When the deceased meets any of those three funeral standards and has served honorably, nothing else matters.

As a member of a ceremonial unit, you are not yourself, you are a ceremonial guardsman (one is not an “honor guard”, the unit is the honor guard) and one’s thoughts on a certain subject are immaterial- you have standards to follow, which is why those standards were written in the first place. To highlight this point think of it this way: on the service honor guards in DC you are there to do a job regardless of who the President is and whether you voted for that person or not. The saying goes, “POTUS is POTUS” (POTUS = President of the United States). The method of demise is not an issue, we render honors for honorable service.

Now, having said all of that, for First Responder community, whatever the honor guard is going to do is up to what the family wants. Casket watch, colors, escort, pallbearers, apparatus caisson, and 2-/6-man flag fold (whatever your team is ready for), can all be offered through the family liaison and the family can choose.

Semper ad Honorem

Always for Honor

The Burial at Sea

Burial at Sea is a long standing maritime tradition and, just like a committal service on land, there are certain procedures to follow. Picture courtesy of navaltoday.com.

It’s not just military members, Coast Guard or Merchant Mariners, there are also law enforcement and firefighting departments that have water-dedicated sections and burial at sea for the members of those sections would be appropriate.

Ceremonial Elements
The elements for a land-based full honors funeral are the body bearers (pallbearers), color team, firing party, and troop escort. See also The Graveside Sequence for Funeral Directors Part 1 , Part 2, and Part 3 for explanations of the different arrangements for funerals.

Being at sea is a bit different. The six or eight body bearers are there whether there is a casket or cremains and the firing party is there. The color team is replaced by the flag(s) flown at half mast aboard ship. It depends on the size of the deck as to whether there is room for a formation (the troop escort).

US Navy Ceremonial Guardsmen personnel carry the cremains of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong during a burial at sea service aboard the USS Philippine Sea (CG 58), Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Also, because the committal service is on a boat or ship at sea, standing at attention with your feet together is not necessarily the most stable position. Keeping your feet apart is probably going to be the better technique to maintain stability, no matter the position for the rest of your body. Notice the picture here of Neil Armstrong’s burial. All of the Ceremonial Guardsmen are at Attention even though their feet are apart.

Atlantic Ocean (May 19, 2004) – Sailors commit to the sea the body of Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Nathan Taylor during a Burial at Sea ceremony conducted from one of the ship’s aircraft elevators aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65). U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Rob Gaston

Casket, Urn, or Shroud
It all depends what the deceased wants or what the family wants for the deceased. If a metal or wood casket is used, weights are added and large holes drilled to help it sink quickly. If the casket does not readily sink, the casket must be retrieved, weight and/or holes are added and the casket is then sent into the water again.

Central Command Area of Responsibility (May 01, 2003) — Sailors aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) honor six former U.S. military members during a burial at sea ceremony. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Journalist Alan J. Baribeau.

For cremains (cremated remains), there are a couple of different ways that the cremains enter the water. Due to environmental concerns, placing a plastic urn into the water is not done anymore. Metal and ceramic or good, but biodegradable urns are preferred.

An alternative to placing the urn in the water is to open the urn and the plastic bag that is inside and then dump the cremains (some ashes, but mostly bone) into the water.

The burial shroud can be sail material or this interesting shroud the is specifically made for sea burials and yet is appropriate for viewing the deceased in the funeral home.  It is the Atlantic & Pacific Sea Burial Shroud. It is pre-weighted with canon balls in a separate compartment at the bottom.

Atlantic Pacific Burial Shroud

The Firing Party
The team fires the Three Volley Salute out over the water without taking aim.

For complete details, click here to download NAVPERS 15555, Navy Military Funerals, or from the Downloads page.

Fair Winds and Following Seas

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. (http://catalog.lighthouseuniform.com/ems/illustrator.php)  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 and 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. 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 is just fine, but can be very expensive.

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 marlowwhite.com.


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 lighthouse.com

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 army.mil

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 paradestore.com.

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


Single, double or no vent?

My blouse does not have a vent, but it does have a vent of sorts centered on each side of the blouse that have brass zippers built in. I really appreciate the options that the zippers and the vent positions give me, although I rarely have used them.

Single and double vents were originally created to avoid wrinkling a coat while riding a horse. Suit jacket single vents are mostly American, double vents are mostly British, and jackets without vents are predominantly Italian.

Vents offer some freedom of movement. My blouse offers almost no freedom whatsoever, but that is not an issue due to the manufacturer, but rather my listening to a seamstress who did not know what she was doing.

My suggestion is to go with double vents, especially if you are going to wear a ceremonial belt. The vent positions allow for blousing (a rolled tuck) of the blouse without the material bunching up.

Image courtesy of http://www.realmenrealstyle.com

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 paradestore.com 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 paradestore.com and marlowwhite.com

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 paradestore.com, siegelsuniforms.com, lighthouseuniform.com, and paradestore.com.

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 paradestore.com

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 paradestore.com for garment bags (Wally Garment Bags are great), gear bags (check out SKU 1190), and cover (hat) bags.

Images courtesy of paradestore.com

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 paradestore.com. However, they do not sell it anymore. You can, however, can get them from planoamerica.com. 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.

2016 Operation Honor Guard Day of Giving

operation honor guard

“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.”

-Rich Darby

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.

operation honor guard
Rich Darby, OHG Director, and a veteran honor guard member

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.