Tag Archives: color guard

Making Things More “Ceremonialer”

“Ceremonialer” is the term I created as I’ve watched members of the military, first responders (many who are veterans), and cadets perform movements that do not bring any more reverence or honor to what they are doing at ceremonies .

Similar terms would be:

When it comes to the American flag and rendering honors, never should anyone use the thinking, “It’s not specifically prohibited, so we can do it.”

While the following may seem like more of a personal pet peeve of mine (which they are) than anything else, there is reasoning behind why a team should not perform these movements and techniques.

The Head Bow

  • Description: During Casket Watch, the Watch Guards posted at the casket bow their heads until the Relief Watch Arrives for the changing of the guard(s). This is also applicable to other ceremonies.
  • Why not to do it: When at the position of Attention, Parade Rest, or Ceremonial at Ease, the head and eyes are straight forward. Period. Another reason not to do it is, communication. It can be very difficult to nearly impossible to communicate with posted Watch Guards during a memorial service. Communication is crucial during ceremonies and the Watch Commander needs to make eye contact with the posted Guards and those guards need to be aware of what is going on around them. I also highly recommend “unarmed” guards (no rifle, or fire axe)
Casket Watch Preferred Technique- Heads up. Courtesy of Today.com

The Colors Presentation

  • Description: the rifle guards spin their rifles in between positions or the team moves into a completely unauthorized configuration for a colors presentation.
  • Why not to do it: The Flag Code and a service drill and ceremonies manual/The Honor Guard Manual are the resources required for the color guard to perform its job properly. That’s it. Never add any flamboyant movement or team configuration. There is a reason for the minimal standards that are written in the guidance; less is more. Stick to that.
Spangdahlem Air Base (Germany) Honor Guard in France, 2010.

The Flag Fold

  • Description: Two team members march to the front of the room with an American flag, they unfold it, open it up fully, and refold it before presenting the flag.
  • When to do it: (with thanks to KM for his input) Military participation in ceremonies that bring discredit to the armed services or exist primarily to raise money. Civilian ceremonies that exploit the military for personal and financial gain would fall under this category as well.There are numerous occasions where individuals will need to fold a flag but the only times that require it to be performed as part of an official ceremony are Retreat and Military Funeral Honors…so if the organization is not doing one of the two, then they need to seriously ask themselves if they should be doing it at all.

    If the flag fold is not being conducted for a functional purpose, or mandated by-law then it is inappropriate. What constitutes a “functional purpose”? It would be storing the flag or giving it to another person or organization.

    Storage: during an official ceremony, Retreat, simply because you took the flag down for the evening and obviously you have to fold it. Mandated by-law: during a military funeral.

    In the AF, the presentation of the flag is mandatory for retirees. The presentation is mandatory, not the flag fold. The actual tradition is to present the flag in a shadow box. All the outlandish ceremonies over the last 20-30 years is a recent occurrence.

    So to summarize, “flag fold ceremonies” are performed all too often and their impact/meaning waters down the significance of folding the flag.

    Public Affairs organizations in all branches strictly control and attempt to prevent this from happening. Unfortunately, volunteers, and even installation honor guard units “approve” and take part in such events without them being vetted through their responsible PA office.

Long Island, N.Y. (Feb 05) – BM3 Allen performs flag folding honors for a funeral service held at the Calverton National Cemetery. PO3 Allen is assigned to the Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Center in Amityville, N.Y. which coordinates and provides funeral honor services to the Long Island region. U.S. Navy photo by PM1 Matthew J. Thomas

The Tilt During the Flag Fold

  • Description: Two team members march to the front of the room with an American flag, they unfold it, open it up fully and, instead of going directly back into refolding it (as they should), they tilt the flag toward the audience.
  • Why not to do it: While, technically, The Tilt is benign and may add some sort of emotional accent, the move is not in any flag fold guidance. There’s nothing “wrong” with it, but it is not authorized.

NOTE: The example picture below is not meant, in any way, to shame the cadets performing the technique.

The Tilt Example William Blount High School TN AFJROTC

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.

Protocol for the Thin Blue and Red Line Flags

FYI, this flag violates the Flag Code. 

Question: I am a funeral director and have recently made funeral arrangements for a retired police officer. He is not a military veteran, so the family would like to drape his casket with the thin blue line flag (the black and white flag with the blue line representing police officers). I know with the American flag being draped on the casket, nothing can be placed on top of the flag (ex: flowers, medals, pictures, etc.) Would this etiquette still be followed for a police officer thin blue line flag? I just want to make sure I am following the correct protocol and do not want to upset anyone regardless if they were military, police, firemen, etc. Any advice would help!

My Answer: What a great question! And, I love the idea of draping the Thin Blue Line flag on the casket. Very appropriate. Let’s create protocol right now since there really isn’t anything written, to my knowledge, to govern the use of the Thin Line flags.

We know that nothing goes on top of the following flags that can be draped on a casket: American, tribal nation, state, city. The Thin Line Flags could be treated the same since the flags represent the first responder family. Out of respect for what the flag represents, just like the others previously mentioned, I would say no to placing anything on any flag. I’m quite sure you are aware of a small table placed near the casket that serves to hold a picture and military paraphernalia. For this officer, you could do the same.

This is a good mourning flag. 

The one thing that sticks in my mind is that the flag comes in 3′ x 5′, but an interment flag is 5′ x 9′. Are you going to use something else to make up the couple of feet at each end of the casket or just center the flag? I don’t know how that would look.

Thank you for wanting to provide the very best for a fallen Thin Blue Line hero.

EDIT: There is a slippery slope here. Where does this end? As a friend of mine put it, do we have an apple flag for a fallen teacher (thanks, Glen!)? The American flag is for all members and veterans of the military. It is appropriate for first responders. What might even be more appropriate for first responders is the state, county, or city flag. 

As I write and say all of the time, Education is 🔑. Just like sounding Taps, there are standards to which we must adhere.   

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

Firefighting

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.