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“Guard, Fix the Flag”

JROTC Colors savananow-comIt’s a windy day. Your JROTC color guard is up next for the competition. You move into position on the drill, colors at Carry and rifles at Right Shoulder, pad and give the order to go to Present Arms. The rifles guards execute the Present Arms position, the American flag is flying in the breeze, and the spade at the top of the staff for the state flag, while it is being pushed forward, catches the American flag at the corner and the flag wraps around the point on the spade. If you notice in time, you realize that if either of the flags move independently, the American flag, made of nylon, will have a nice rip, or at least, a run that will render the flag useless, requiring the purchase of a new flag. What should happen next?

Fix it! The color team commander, the bearer of the American flag (only, no one else is ever the commander), must give an informational command to have the right or left rifle guard proceed to fix it. If need be, bring the staffs out of the harness cup/socket, proceed with whatever needs to be fixed and then carry on with the performance like nothing happened. The impression left on the judge/audience will be much better then if a disaster is left to happen.

You have been trained to execute the sequence and, just like exhibition Drillers who must practice on how to recover from a drop or hit, your team should make sure they are prepared to handle a mishap or accident without breaking their bearing. Handle it in a professional manner and everyone will remember your stellar performance.

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Firing Party: Stop Taking Aim!

The Nellis AFB Honor Guard Firing Party
The Nellis AFB Honor Guard Firing Party

A Firing Party fires a ceremonial Three-Volley salute using modern or traditional rifles (military), shotguns, or pistols (law enforcement). It is not the 21-Gun Salute, that is fired by guns (canons) and only in the Army and Navy.

Members of the Navy Ceremonial Guard fire a 17-gun salute in honor of Vice Adm. Robin R. Braun during the Chief of Navy Reserve, Commander, Navy Reserve Force change of command at the Washington Navy Yard.
Members of the Navy Ceremonial Guard fire a 17-gun salute in honor of Vice Adm. Robin R. Braun during the Chief of Navy Reserve, Commander, Navy Reserve Force change of command at the Washington Navy Yard.

The Numbers: Anywhere from three to seven members firing with a commander. The smaller amount of members on the team does not mean that more shots are fired. Alaska State Troopers with the M16

The Rifles: Traditional rifles are the M1 Garand and, used most often, the M14. The reason for these two rifles being used is the charging handle. The M1903 has a bolt and is awkward to operate smoothly when loading each round. Modern rifles are the M16 and variations of it. Pump action shotguns provide a similar action as the M1 and M14 when loading the rounds.


A firing party from Co. C, BSTB, 2nd ABCT, 1st Inf. Army photo
A firing party from Co. C, BSTB, 2nd ABCT, 1st Inf. Army photo

The Stance: Neds to be solid. Do not bend at the waist and do not bend your knees. You can see both of these in the Soldiers in the picture below.


“Fires” is the keyword in the first paragraph. The team fires the Salute, it does not “shoot”. Shooting requires taking aim to hit your target. The Firing party does not have a target, it is firing blanks for the Salute and not going to hit anything. The Indiana State Police Jasper Post Firing Party. The Indiana State Police Jasper Post Firing Party.

While this is a non-standard stance for the Indiana State Police, you can see their use of shotguns for the team.

Army Firing Party
The Old Guard Firing Party at Arlington National Cemetery

I understand the natural position of taking aim when having a rifle or shotgun in your hands a getting ready to fire the weapon. However, training must involve breaking this habit. It’s a ceremony and must be treated as such. There is a time to take aim and shoot and a time to fire. “Ready, Aim, FIRE!” A seven-man firing party conducts a rifle volley during a ceremony A seven-man firing party conducts a rifle volley during a ceremony

In the picture above, you can see how some of these Soldiers are taking aim while using a more modern rifle to fire the volleys.

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Military Drill Experts

Basic MarchingIn the military, we do not mass-produce experts in drill and ceremonies (we do have some experts in D&C, but relatively few). That is not a goal. We produce experts in different specialties with some of those specialties having civilian equivalents and some specialties only appropriate for a military application.  After all, civilian companies do not need a sniper or someone from Field Artillery, but those companies do need the intangible skills of leadership, attention to detail, etc.

In the Air Force (my service) aircraft maintenance crews on the flight line always have the T.O. (technical order) open when they are doing their work on an aircraft. It’s a must to get it right and those in aircraft maintenance, to name just one career field, must adhere strictly to the TO’s standard where every minute detail is outlined; lives depend on that level of adherence to the standard. It is not the same for marching in the military, you will not see the drill and ceremonies manual open to the move that the platoon or flight is currently learning. It’s just not as crucial.

Military marching is a way to move a unit from point A to point B in a timely and professional manner.

Basic Trainees Marching stackflikrcomWe know that drill instills teamwork, leadership, followership, response to commands and a host of other attributes that trainees learn when attending Basic or Boot Camp. Those trainees receive their training from a Drill Sergeant, Drill Instructor or Training Instructor, depending on the branch of service, who is well versed in the service drill and ceremonies manual, of which there are three: 1) Training Circular 3-21.5 for the Army; 2) MCO P5060.20 for the Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard and; 3) AFMAN 36-2203 for the Air Force. These manuals are not meant to create drill experts in any branch of the military. Each branch of the military has a different manual for different levels of drill (i.e. honor guard manuals).

Just because one graduates their service’s Basic Training does not mean they are an expert in drill or that they know how to judge military drill. When trainees graduate their service Basic Training course, they are at a basic level of military knowledge, understanding, and application. Application, there’s the rub.

The application of marching determines the level of expertise.

There are drill masters for each service. They are the extreme few in each service who train those who train the incoming trainees or work directly with the service honor guard drill team. Few DIs, DSs or TIs are experts specifically in drill for our needs (competitive drill). They know drill and it’s application for their service trainees and that’s all they are required to know since they have so much more information that they need to pass along. Then there are members of the service honor guard.

Installations and National Guard (NG) units have honor guards whose members perform ceremonial duties each day of their time on the team. The same goes for the Presidential Honor Guard units. While the installation and NG teams strive to achieve a certain level of ceremonial drill application, the Presidential teams maintain and even surpass the application level for each ceremonial element on a daily basis. However, there are only a certain number who could be considered experts, again, for our purposes. The general population are extremely good at the specifics of what they do, but would not be considered experts in the general sense.

It takes education, training, and practice to march. The same goes for teaching marching and that goes without saying that it is the same for judging. One does not learn how to do something and run off and become an instructor immediately. Likewise for judging. It just doesn’t happen that all the sudden you can teach or judge.

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Avoiding Flag Fold Problems

Here are two ways to avoid potential problems

Cutting the First Stripe
The method of “cutting” the first stripe, used when a flag has been folded many, many times and is now stretched out to where it will not end up positioned properly for the tuck at the end, creates a very small initial triangle helping create more cloth for later folds.

Cut First Stripe

Here is what the flag looks like before the triangle folds. The small fold to the left is only to show the two horizontal folds.

Horizontal Folds


Pulling the Inside
At the last fold into the blue, which should look like the picture below, if the tip does not fall into the space within the two lines, it may be difficult to tuck at the end of folding.



If the tip does not fall in between those lines, back up one fold, pull the inside folds forward and continue. If the tip comes nowhere close to the blue, as pictured below right, accomplish the same procedure, without backing up a fold.



After finishing the triangle folds, make the last fold at an angle to give the right corner a little more cloth to tuck. It works very, very well for most every flag.




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Distance and Alignment Training

Do You Even Align BroThis is the best way that I know how to train a team to consistently maintain alignment and distance.

When the platoon/flight falls in, they should always “dress and cover” without command. This is standard and if you are not doing this and relying on the commander to give commands, you are not falling in properly- this goes for every formation (drill team, color guard, etc.). The team members raise their left arms to get their distance to the left, alignment to the right and their distance to the front. When obtaining their distance to the front, each member must add six inches of space between the back of the person in front and their fingertips (squad/element leaders need only do this in line formation). When dressing to the right, each team member at the front (first element or element leaders- depending on the direction the team faces) must touch the fingertips of the member to their right and get their cover. Once the team achieves distance and alignment, they individually drop their arms assuming Attention.

In training, when marching the formation, every time you stop, always give the informational command, “dress and cover”. This is not the command to execute Dress Right, Dress, where everyone leaves their arms up, it is an informational command that requires every team member to obtain their distance and alignment. You must do this every single time the team halts- make it a habit. Eventually, the team members will have to move less and less as they begin to maintain proper alignment, and eventually, you will not need to tell them to dress and cover. It may take a while, depending on how often you practice and the team member’s experience, but the team will march at their proper distance all the time once they develop their visual memory. Visual memory (spatial relations) is just like muscle memory which enables you to repeat a movement almost exactly the same each time, but in the case of visual memory and for our purposes, you maintain your proper distances from other team members.

See also, Is it “Tall Tap”, “Tall or Tap”, or What?

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Flag Fold “Helps”

In my theology degree studies, I use several books and online resources that are all called “helps” and they are extremely helpful. Well, we all need “helps” in all kinds of situations and folding the American flag is definitely one of them.

Here is one of the videos I made explaining how to fold the flag using just two people. In this particular video, I try to go in-depth to help you understand what I have found to be the best technique.

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The Triangle Folds

The picture below is for reference. You can make the second horizontal fold come to match the first or, to make the traingle folds a little more sturdy, you can bring that second fold up to the top (the flag’s far right edge in the picture).

Horizontal Folds

Now I have a couple of pictures to share with with you. The first one is in regards to the first triangle fold to land in the blue field. First, the tip of this fold should land around the first row of stars. If it does not fall within this area there are a couple things you can do. First, take care of the excess or shortage of material at the tuck at the end and the other is described below.

Into the Blue1

Sometimes, with a flag that is stretched out from many folds or a poorly-made flag, that first fold into the blue doesn’t quite make it or the fold that should go into the blue completely falls short and you have a flat end right at the edge of the blue field, as pictured. The way around this dilemma is to pull the flag out of its fold as indicated, which will help take up some room so there will be an appropriate amount of flag to tuck at the end.

Flag Fold Techniques Pull Out

Below, is the standard finish that many of us who have folded an American flag remember accomplishing. There is nothing wrong with it and it can work very well. When at this point, it is best to fold the point at the far right onto the material to be tucked so that there is less material to tuck- this then may create a thicker flag.

Standard Tuck

You may find that tucking the remaining material as pictured below makes the final tuck a little easier.

Last Fold to Tuck