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What Is a Military Color Guard?

A military color guard is a ceremonial unit, often part of the armed forces, that proudly displays and escorts the national flag and other flags appropriate to its position and organization during official events. Comprising highly trained service members, the color guard adds solemnity and reverence to parades, funerals, and ceremonies. Curious about their precise roles and history? Let's delve deeper.
Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins

A military color guard is used in many ceremonies that involve the posting of flags, not just of the nation, but also of state and individual units. This centuries-old tradition varies slightly, depending on the branch of service performing it; however, the basic procedure is uniform. It involves a caller ordering a marching unit to where the flags will be posted, saluted and left for all to see.

When colors are presented, it should be done by fully uniformed members of the military, either active duty, reserve or retired. The U.S. flag bearer is in the center of the line, surrounded by the state and unit flag bearers, if present. Capping each end of the line are guards, who often carry rifles and must know the proper way to salute while carrying one.

When a military color guard addresses the colors, the flag bearer backs up two steps, performs an about-face, and salutes.
When a military color guard addresses the colors, the flag bearer backs up two steps, performs an about-face, and salutes.

A caller, typically the highest-ranking member of the color guard, is the first to take action in a military color guard. He or she walks purposefully to where the flags will be posted and stands at attention, with the body erect, hands stiffly at the sides, and heels touching. He or she then tells the color guard to prepare to present the colors and then orders them to attention after a short pause.

Once a military color guard is halted at attention, facing the caller, its members are ordered to post the flags.
Once a military color guard is halted at attention, facing the caller, its members are ordered to post the flags.

Using a different tone, with less authority and more like a request, the caller asks those in attendance to stand after ordering the color guard into place. Returning attention to the guard, the caller moves the bearers and guards in an orderly column to where the colors will be posted. The column starts walking with the right foot. A range of commands will be used to perform this task, such as "left face," "right face," "forward march" and "ready, halt."

Once the military color guard is halted at attention, facing the caller, its members are ordered to post the flags. While the guards and caller salute, the flag bearers move forward to the flag pole base where the flags will stand. They insert all the flags at the same time, as uniformly as possibly.

Just after posting the flags, the caller commands, "Color guard, address the colors," at which point the flag bearers retreat two steps, perform an about-face to face the U.S. flag, and salute. During most ceremonies, it is at this point after the posting of colors by a military color guard, that those in attendance recite the Pledge of Allegiance, led by the caller. With the command, "Regroup," the military color guard reassembles in line to be led away.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the primary purpose of a military color guard?

The primary purpose of a military color guard is to present and protect the national flag and the flags of the unit during official ceremonies and functions. This ceremonial duty is a symbol of respect and pride for the nation and the military service. The color guard also represents the service members, past and present, and their commitment to duty, honor, and country.

What are the typical components of a military color guard?

A typical military color guard consists of four members: two rifle guards and two flag bearers. The flag bearers carry the national flag, also known as the "colors," and the unit flag, while the rifle guards flank them to provide protection and to symbolize the readiness to defend the flags. The precise composition can vary depending on the specific military branch and the occasion.

How is a military color guard different from a civilian one?

A military color guard is distinct from a civilian one primarily in its composition and the nature of its duties. Military color guards are composed of trained service members and are involved in official military ceremonies, where they display a high level of discipline and precision. Civilian color guards, on the other hand, may participate in community parades or school events and often include members who are not in the military.

What kind of training do military color guard members undergo?

Military color guard members undergo specialized training that focuses on ceremonial drill and protocol, flag handling, and the use of ceremonial rifles. This training ensures that they perform their duties with the utmost precision and respect. Members must also learn to work as a cohesive unit, maintaining uniformity in their movements and appearance during ceremonies.

Are there any competitions for military color guards?

Yes, there are competitions for military color guards where teams from different units or branches of the military demonstrate their proficiency in drill and ceremony. These competitions are judged on factors such as precision, timing, uniformity, and overall presentation. They serve as an opportunity for color guards to showcase their skills and for units to foster esprit de corps.

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Discussion Comments

Lostnfound

Watching a well-trained color guard is fascinating. I was in JROTC in high school and our color guard worked hard to train to present the colors in the right way. You have to listen to the squad leader and be able to march at the correct tempo, as well as learn to post the flags in unison. It's not nearly as easy as it looks.

A good color guard also respects what they are doing. They understand the solemnity of their task. In the military, often only those persons with the best conduct and service records are chosen for the color guard. It is an honor in and of itself.

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    • When a military color guard addresses the colors, the flag bearer backs up two steps, performs an about-face, and salutes.
      By: C Barhorst
      When a military color guard addresses the colors, the flag bearer backs up two steps, performs an about-face, and salutes.
    • Once a military color guard is halted at attention, facing the caller, its members are ordered to post the flags.
      By: zonch
      Once a military color guard is halted at attention, facing the caller, its members are ordered to post the flags.