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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.
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.
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.
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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