Tag Archives: flag fold

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

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.

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.

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.