The Color Guard is an important ceremonial unit in the United States Army that is responsible for carrying and protecting the national and regimental colors during official events. While every military branch has its own Color Guard, the Army’s is one of the most prestigious and recognizable. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the Army Color Guard, including its history, duties, training requirements, and role in military ceremonies.
What is the Army Color Guard?
The Army Color Guard is a specially trained unit whose primary mission is to carry and escort the national flag and other ceremonial flags during official military events. The national flag, also known as the colors, is a visible symbol of the United States and the Army. Protecting and displaying the colors is considered one of the highest honors in the Army.
The Army Color Guard traditionally consists of four soldiers. Two soldiers are Color Bearers who actually carry the flags. They are unarmed to show they are dedicating all their effort to protect the colors. There are also two Armed Guards who escort the Color Bearers with ceremonial rifles. Their role is to protect the flag with their own lives if necessary.
In addition to the national flag, the Army Color Guard may also carry and protect:
- Regimental colors – Flags representing different Army regiments
- Guidons – Smaller flags used to represent Army companies, battalions, and squadrons
- Standards – Flags representing mounted and cavalry units
History of the Army Color Guard
The use of flags and banners to identify armies dates back thousands of years. Carrying the colors into battle allowed soldiers to know where their regiment was located amidst the chaos of combat. Loss of the colors often meant defeat for the whole unit.
The United States Army first established official regulations regarding the use and protection of the national flag and regimental colors in 1834. All infantry regiments were ordered to have flags made with their unique symbols and mottos. The creation of a designated Color Guard to protect the flags came shortly after.
During the American Civil War, the Army Color Guard played a critical role on battlefields across the country. Despite the introduction of more modern weaponry, carrying and protecting the regimental colors during charges was still incredibly dangerous. Losing them could devastate morale.
The establishment of the Official United States Color Guard at the United States Military Academy in the 1920s help standardize training and protocols across the Army. In 1956, the 3d US Infantry Regiment was designated as the official Army Color Guard and oversees all training and ceremonies today.
Duties and Responsibilities
The primary duty of the Army Color Guard is to properly present and carry the national flag and other ceremonial flags during official military events and ceremonies. They must handle the colors with precision, dignity, and devotion.
The main responsibilities of the Color Guard include:
- Carrying and escorting the US flag and other regimental colors in parades, reviews, wreath laying ceremonies, burials at Arlington National Cemetery, changes of command, retirements, assemblies, sporting events, and other official events
- Performing ceremonial drill maneuvers and movements with the colors
- Protecting and securing the colors in their quarters when not on display
- Ensuring the flags are handled with proper protocol and respect
- Maintaining uniforms and equipment to the highest standards
Army Color Guards may also be involved in special events such as state funerals, Presidential inaugurations, lying in state ceremonies, and events with foreign dignitaries or heads of state.
Training and Requirements
Serving on the Army Color Guard requires intensive training and attention to detail. Soldiers wishing to join must pass a competitive selection process. Minimum requirements include:
- Enlisted member in the ranks of Private First Class through Sergeant
- Hold an excellent service record with no disciplinary issues
- Possess a professional military appearance
- Be physically fit with stamina to carry out ceremonies
- Expertly drill and handle a rifle
After selection, members undergo several weeks of highly structured classroom and hands-on training to learn Color Guard history, protocols, movements, and weapon handling. Some specific areas of training include:
- Color guard maneuvers – Precise coordinated marches and other movements with the flag
- Flag handling – Correctly grasping, carrying, posting, and dipping the colors
- Rifle spins and tosses – Learning ceremonial rifle handling and tricks
- Uniform and equipment – Proper wear and maintenance of specialty Color Guard dress
- Physical training – Intense conditioning to build strength and endurance
Even after initial training, Army Color Guard members have frequent practice drills and refresher training to maintain skills and synchronization. Their movements must be perfect every time they present the colors.
Uniform and Equipment
The Army Color Guard wears distinct dress uniforms and carries specialized equipment to distinguish their unique role. Standard components include:
- Dress blue uniform – Formal uniform with light blue pants or skirt, dark blue coat, white accessories, and light blue beret
- White gloves – Worn by all members
- Ceremonial belt – A wide white ceremonial belt around the waist
- Combat boots – Shined black boots
- M1 rifle – Carried by Armed Guards with fixed bayonet
Flags, finials, slings, and other specialized equipment is maintained by the Color Guard. The national flag and others are treated with the utmost care and protocol.
Color Guard in Ceremonies
The Army Color Guard plays a visible role carrying the flag at a wide range of military and civilian ceremonies. Some examples include:
- Changes of command – The passing of unit control from one commander to another
- Retirements – Farewell ceremonies for retiring soldiers
- Promotions – Ceremonies promoting soldiers to higher rank
- Wreath layings – Placing memorial wreaths at monuments or graves
- Burials – Providing funeral honors at Arlington National Cemetery and elsewhere
- Parades – Marching in formations on holidays and commemorative events
- Sporting events – Presenting the colors before games
The Color Guard’s movements are intended to be highly visible yet incredibly precise. Their drill and flag handling draws attention to the colors and adds extra meaning and dignity to events.
Famous Army Color Guards
Some of the most prestigious Army Color Guards include:
- 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) – Stationed at Fort Myer, they are the official ceremonial unit for the Army and handle all high-profile events in Washington, D.C.
- 1st Cavalry Division Horse Cavalry Detachment – One of the last mounted color guards, they carry colors on horseback.
- West Point Color Guard – Cadets from the U.S. Military Academy who perform at school events and funerals at West Point Cemetery.
- Army Reserve Ambassador Color Guard – Travels around the country presenting the colors at local schools, events, and veterans gatherings.
These elite color guards represent the highest standards and traditions of the Army. Their polished drill, immaculate uniforms, and solemn dedication serve to honor the flag and inspire American patriotism.
Table: Army Color Guard Facts
|Carry and protect the national flag and other ceremonial flags at official events
|Typically 4 members – 2 Color Bearers and 2 Armed Guards
|Enlisted Army soldiers from grades E3 to E5
|Intensive classroom and hands-on training in history, drill, maneuvers, protocol, uniform, equipment, rifle handling, and physical conditioning
|Formal blue uniform with light blue accessories
|Changes of command, retirements, wreath layings, funerals, parades, sporting events, and other military and civilian events
The Army Color Guard is a highly distinguished unit entrusted with one of the most sacred duties in the military – protecting and presenting the American flag and regimental colors. Its members are some of the most elite soldiers who undergo rigorous training to perform flawless drill and ceremonies. Whether marching in a parade, posting the colors at a football game, or solemnly escorting the flag for a funeral, the Color Guard represents the honor and history of the Army and the United States.