Q: Why do some military color guard flags have different things at the top of the pole?
A: This is a great question! And here is the answer:
Each service has specific requirements, whether service members know it or not. All services are required to use the 2-part light ash (wood) guidon flagstaff in three heights: 8′ for a guidon, and 7’ 9” or 8’ 5” for indoor colors or ‘small’ occasions and 9′ 6″ (the standard) all other times. Read, All about the Flagstaff for more info.
The ornament is also a requirement: all services must use the spear, more commonly called the Army Spade except for the Navy and the Coast Guard. NTP 13 (see Downloads) states that all color teams (guards) must use the (gold) battalion lance or the more common name, battle-ax. There are other situations where the ornament is changed due to the rank of the officer/official who is on board a Navy vessel. The Army Spade comes in silver (Army, MC and AF and, when in joint service situations, Navy and CG).
“Civilian” or Civil Service
I put that in quotes, because firefighters, law enforcement officers and emergency medical service personnel are not in the military, but they are no necessarily 100% civilian either. The only standard that “civilian” color guards should follow is the US Army’s guidance.
A color team does not carry a “spread eagle” ornament. This ornament is for mounted, permanently posted flags and use with the President only.