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Color Guard of the 1st Naval Fusiliers of the French Navy at the 2008 Bastille Day Military Parade, Paris.

In military organizations, the Color Guard (or Colour Guard) refers to a detachment of soldiers assigned to the protection of regimental colors. This duty is so prestigious that the color is generally carried by a young officer (Ensign), while experienced non-commissioned officers (Colour sergeants) are assigned to the protection of the flag. These NCOs, accompanied sometimes by warrant officers (as is the case in several countries), can be ceremonially armed with either sabres or rifles to protect the color. Color guards are generally dismounted, but there are also mounted color guard formations as well.


Fight for the flag between French line infantry and Russian Guard cuirassiers at the battle of Austerlitz (1805).

As armies became trained and adopted set formations, each regiment's ability to keep its formation was potentially critical to its, and therefore its army's, success. In the chaos of battle, not least due to the amount of dust and smoke on a battlefield, soldiers needed to be able to determine where their regiment was. Flags and banners have been used by many armies in battle to serve this purpose.

Regimental flags were generally awarded to a regiment by a head-of-State during a ceremony and Colors may be inscribed with battle honours or other symbols representing former achievements. They were therefore treated with reverence as they represented the honour and traditions of the regiment. The loss of a unit's flag was not only shameful, but losing this central point of reference could make the unit break up. So regiments tended to adopt Color guards, a detachment of experienced or élite soldiers, to protect their colors. As a result, the capture of an enemy's standard was considered as a great feat of arms.

Due to the advent of modern weapons, and subsequent changes in tactics, Colors are no longer used in battle, but continue to be carried by Color Guards at events of formal character.

Current use

Britain and the Commonwealth

Colour guards in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth are also composed of the same members as in the American units, but tend to have a colour sergeant major behind the colours carrying a pace stick. So, the formation (when the colours are combined on parade) is as follows:

  • Colour Sergeants carrying rifles
  • Ensigns
  • Sergeant of the Guard
  • Colour Sergeant Major behind the colour

Since in the British Army, the Royal Air Force, the Royal Marines and the Royal Navy there are several types of colours, there are also colour guards for these colours and these colours and their CG's are as follows:

British Army (line and guards infantry, and other units save for rifle units)

Colour Sergeant of the Welsh Guards. Note the distinctive shoulder insignia.

  • Queen's Colour - Union Flag (Crimson with insignia and the honors for the Guards Division)
Colour Sgts. and Ensign
  • State Colour - Crimson with insignia and the honors and the Royal Cypher at the corners, used only for the Guards Division in ceremonies in the presence of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh
Colour Sgts. and Ensign
  • Regimental Colour - Union Flag on the canton with the Regimental Arms and honors
same as in the Queen's Colour
  • Combined Colour Guards (units)
Colour Sgts., Ensign, Guard Sergeant of the Colours, CSM

British Army (Cavalry)

In the cavalry, the Queen's Standard or Guidon and the Regimental/Squadron Standard or Guidon (for the light cavalry only) are the equivalents to the Queen's and Regimental Colours.

  • Queen's Standard - Crimson with the Royal coat of arms, the Royal Cypher and the regimental honors
Color Sgt./Corporal of Horse, Warrant Officers
  • Regimental/Squadron Standard/Guidon - Crimson or scarlet or other colours with the Royal Cypher, the Union Badge, regimental insignia and honors (only guidons are swallow tailed)
same as in the Queen's Standard/Guidon
  • Combined Colour Guards (units)
Colour Corporals/Sergeants, Warrant Officers, Guard Corporal of the Colours, Colours Corporal Major (Household Cavalry), Colours Sergeant Major (other cavalry and armor units)

Colour guards in the artillery units are technically the lead gun's crew and leader (except in the Honourable Artillery Company which uses both guns and Colours) and there are no colour guards in the rifle regiments (nowadays The Rifles), the Royal Gurkha Rifles (which use the Queen's Truncheon) and in the Royal Hospital in Chelsea.

Royal Navy

All of the RN's Queen's Colours are identical.

  • Queen's Colour - White Ensign defaced with the Sovereign's cypher and inscribed with honors
Ensigns and Escorts
  • White Ensign
Same as Queen's Colour
  • Combined Color Guards
Escorts, Ensigns, Guard Sergeant of the Colours, CSM
Royal Marines
  • Queen's Colour - Union Jack with the Sovereign's cypher and the RM emblem and motto with the "Gibraltar" battle honor
Ensigns and Escorts
  • Regimental Colour - Union Jack on the canton and dark blue with HM King George IV's cypher and the unit name, and the Sovereign's cypher on the other corners
Enisgns and Escorts
  • Combined Colour Guards for the RM
Escorts, Ensigns, Guard Sergeant of the Colours, CSM

Royal Air Force

Ensign and Armed escorts
  • RAF Ensign
Same as Queen's Colour
  • Squadron Colour - Air Force blue with the unit insignia and honors
same as Queen's Colour
  • Combined Colour Guards (units)
Colour Sgts., Ensigns, Guard Sergeant of the Colours, CSM

Honors for and to the colour guard

Aside from presenting arms and sabres British and Commonwealth colour guards are expected to lower their flags to the ground in full and regular salutes in ceremonies and parades. Civilians are urged to stand at attention during such times and soldiers are expected to salute them when not in formation.

United States

In the military of the United States, the color guard (where the word color is referring to the national flag) carries the National Color and other flags appropriate to its position in the chain of command. Typically these include a unit flag and a departmental flag (Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, or Coast Guard). In addition to the flag bearers, who are positioned in the center of the color guard, there are two or more individuals who carry rifles and or sabres. This is a symbol that the flag (and its nation) will always be protected.

Composition of the US color guard

Pershing Rifles color guard

Horse-mounted color guard from MCLB Barstow

In the U.S., traditionally, the unit's sergeant major is responsible for the safeguarding, care, and display of the organizational colors. The sergeant major is also responsible for the selection, training, and performance of the members.[1] The color guard consists of enlisted members and is commanded by the senior (color) Sergeant, who carries the National Color and gives the necessary commands for movements and rendering honors during drill exercises or parade ceremonies.[2]

Being assigned to the color guard is considered an honor due to the fact that these individuals present and carry the symbols of their unit and country. Depending on the circumstance and subject to the orders of their commander, members may wear full dress or less formal uniforms. It is mandatory for all members of the color guard to wear headgear, for example, a garrison cap, beret, or service cap. On occasion, certain color guards can be horse-mounted.


United States Federal Protective Service color guard (with another flag incorrectly to the right of the National Colors).

The color guard is formed and marched in one rank at close interval (shoulder-to-shoulder). Since the National Colors must always be in the position of honor on the right,[3] the color guard must execute a special movement to reverse direction. It does not execute rear march, nor does it execute about face. Rather, it performs a maneuver derived from the standard countercolumn command, generally known as counter march or colors reverse march, in order to keep the precedence of flags in order.

Other drill movements performed by the color guard include presenting arms, left and right wheel (turns) marches, eyes right (upon passing the reviewing stand during a parade), casing/uncasing the colors, and fixing/unfixing bayonets (by the arms bearers).

Rendering honors

United States Marine Corps color guard during the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner". Note that the national flag does not dip.

By the color guard

The color guard renders honors when the national anthem is played or sung, when passing in review during a parade, or in certain other circumstances. In these cases, the unit and departmental flags salute by dipping (leaning the flag forward). However, with the exception of a response to a naval salute, the United States national flag renders no salute. This is enshrined in the United States Flag Code and U.S. law.

To the color guard

In the U.S. military, individuals or units passing or being passed by uncased (unfurled) colors render honors when outdoors. Individuals who are not part of any formation begin the salute when the colors are six paces distant and hold it until they have passed six paces beyond the colors.[4]

Civilians are expected to stand at the position of attention with their right hand placed over their heart for the same period, and the salute applies to the uniformed organizations as well (especially the Scouts). Since recently, veterans are expected to salute the colors too, like their military counterparts including personnel not in uniform.

Other countries

The Swedish military rank of fänrik (and the corresponding cavalry rank of kornet) was originally intended for the holder of the company flag. This duty was so prestigious that an officer was necessary to carry it out, but it required no officer training. Today, it is a regular officer rank. The Dutch armed forces have similar ranks of vaandrig and kornet (aspirant officers who have not been sworn in yet).



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