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The “Silver Brass” of the Silent Drill Platoon

In the late 1970’s, the number one rifle inspector
with the Marine Corps Silent Drill platoon passed on his
brass, or the buttons and emblems from his uniform, to his
successor. The brass continued to be passed on, and over
time, the cleaning and polishing turned the once gold-colored
brass silver.

“Being able to wear the silver brass and to be
privileged to fill the prestigious roll of rifle inspector is
an honor,” said Cpl. Tyler Dutton, the number one rifle
inspector for the SDP. “It took a lot of hard work and
dedication over the past three years to get to this point.
My time will soon be up and it’ll be my turn to pass on the
brass.”

Dutton isn’t the only Marine to display the coveted
silver brass. Each member of his inspection team, or the
Marines that perform during the rifle inspection, display
the brass in their own unique way. The first Marine in the
inspection, or the “single,” has silver slip rings on his rifle.
The next Marine, known as the “throw out,” has a silver
gas tube on his rifle. The last Marine in the inspection, or
the “double,” has a silver charging handle on his rifle. The
inspector himself wears silver buttons, emblems, waist plate
and screw posts.

“Being on the drill team is an honor. Being on the
inspection team is a privilege,” said Dutton. “My team put in
a lot of time and hard work to make it. Knowing the amount
of responsibility they have, they practice every day after
everyone else is done to make sure they are at their best.”
This year was a memorable one for the SDP.

Captains Ted Hubbard and Matt Smith, previous and current
parade commanders, familiarized Col. Christian G. Cabaniss,
commanding officer of the Barracks, with the tradition.
Shortly after, Cabaniss brought it up with Gen. James F.
Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, who then officially
presented the silver brass back to the SDP, reviving the
retired tradition.

When crowds flock to the Marine Corps War
Memorial in Arlington, Va. or pack the seats at the Barracks
for a parade, a sense of history and tradition is clear. What
isn’t are the little details, practices and traditions Marines
cherish most.

“I will never forget the time I have spent on the
platoon with my brothers,” said Dutton. “The silver brass is
the platoons; I’m just the lucky one who gets to wear it.”

From Pass in Review, Apr-Jun 2013, WWW.BARRACKS.MARINES.MIL

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

A Reading Plan for JROTC Instructors and Cadets

Drill Team TechniqueFor many years now, I’ve received requests from JROTC instructors, especially those recently retired and new to the program, and some highly motivated cadets as to where to begin when teaching/learning drill.

For regulation and color guard drill:
  • Army- Training Circular (TC) 3-21.5. 
  • Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard- Marine Corps Order (MCO)P5060.2
  • Air Force*- Air Force Manual (AFMAN) 36-2203 and TC 3-21.5

*AFJROTC cadets are to use the TC for the manual of arms since cadets use the M1903 rifle almost exclusively (if your unit uses the M14, use the MCO). For color guard, however, beginning and ending positions must look like the AFMAN pictures.

Supplement those with:
 For all exhibition drill applications:
  • Exhibition Drill For The Military Drill Team: Among other information, this book contains a complete foot drill-only routine, albeit quite basic. You can put together the moves listed and explained  into a routine that would contain variety and floor coverage. The armed or unarmed movements are left to you to create.
  • Exhibition Drill For The Military Drill Team, Vol II: More information to help in the creative process in armed and unarmed
  • Training For Military Drill Teams, Color Guards & Judges:  This book replaces the Filling in the Gaps series of books creating a specifically targeted book that includes every article on the DrillMaster Website from 2011 to February 2017, but organized into categories for better study.
  • Exhibition Drill For The Military Drill Team, Vol III, Unarmed Drill Movement: Coming in 2018!
Drill Meet competition judges are not trained, they are briefed. And, it’s not anyone’s fault. Even the judges for Nationals receive a great couple days of briefing, but there is no time to train for any competition, the training needs to be accomplished by each potential judge.
Both of these books are a wealth of knowledge not only for the judge, but for drill team coaches and team members.
  • The World Drill Association Adjudication Manual and Rule Book: This is the professional standard set for judging military drill. This manual is an adaptation of the Winter Guard International Adjudication Manual (with permission) adapted for the Military Drill World.
  • Continuing Education For The WDA Visual Adjudicator: This is a continuation of the training received by judges for Drum Corps International, Bands of America, Winter Guard International, and practically every state pageantry adjudication organization. It’s not just for music judging, it’s for all judging.
If you and your cadets are interested in more advanced applications of their training, I suggest obtaining the following
  • The Honor Guard Manual, Second Edition, spiral bound: An adaptation of the USAF Honor Guard Standard, this manual covers
  • The Honor Guard Manual, Volume II, spiral bound: scheduled for release in early 2018. This book covers specialized ceremonies (ex. dignified transfer of remains at an airport) and elaborates on many details covered in the first volume.

Using Colors Cases

JROTC color guards compete throughout each school year and part of the color guard competition is uncasing and casing the colors. It’s a very technical process involving and adaptation of Sling Arms, the uncasing sequence, an adaptation of Tighten Slings, and casing sequence. Not only that, but the team must spend several minutes executing precision movements in a box no bigger than 50′ x 50′. During the performance, the cases for the colors must be precisely folded and then stored in the ceremonial/web belts during the routine. For a ceremony, however…

A ceremony is entirely different and the cases really should be stored in a preparation room or the team’s transportation. I’ve witnessed both cadets and adult teams march around with the cases tucked in the colors harnesses or the belts. Not good. Tucked cases do not present a professional nor ceremonial image, please do not use them.

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.