Military Flag Protocol

Military flags call for their own protocol.

The U.S. flag has specific protocol for display and ceremony. Protocol also applies to military flags such as the Army or Air Force flags, especially when flown alongside the U.S. flag. Each branch has its own rules and regulations for its flags. Understanding all the differences can help maintain proper protocol and not disrespect military flags.

1 Order of Precedence

Military flags have a specific display order when grouped. The United States flag is always displayed first. Afterward, military flags are displayed in order of the branch’s establishment: Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and then Coast Guard. All flags should be of equal or similar size and displayed at equal levels. When military flags are flown at military installations, the respective branch’s flag will be flown just below the U.S. flag. When the National Anthem is played and the Honor Guard is carrying the flags, all military flags must be dipped while the U.S. flag remains raised.

2 When to Fly

There are also certain days when it is most appropriate to fly military flags on their own. Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Flag Day are among them. It is also appropriate to fly military flags on the anniversary day of the branch’s establishment. For example, the Air Force’s anniversary is September 18.

3 Army Flag

U.S. Army regulations permit the Army flag to be flown above designated Army posts. The Army Ceremonial flag is considered the senior flag, according to Army Regulation 840-10 Chapter 4, and has precedence over all other Army flags. It’s authorized to display streamers representing all 173 U.S. Army campaigns; for inclement weather, up to 33 streamers may be represented. The ceremonial flag should be displayed in all parades and reviews that have Army representation

4 Air Force Flag

The Air Force Flag, according to Air Force Instruction 34-1201 Chapter 2, must be displayed with the eagle’s head facing the staff on both sides. This is an important denotation because the Air Force lettering is legible on both sides of the flag. Although the full-sized flag (4 feet 4 inches by 5 feet 6 inches is authorized to have streamers, smaller versions of the flag are not.

5 Navy Flag

The Navy flag is presentable at official ceremonies, parades and during official Navy display occasions. It may also be flown when Navy officials are at public gatherings. The Secretary of the Navy may also authorize other occasions for display. The Navy flag, however, cannot be displayed on permanent fixtures outside. Cords and tassels are also not authorized for the Navy flag. Battle streamers up to 4 feet in length are authorized.

6 Marine Corps

Marine Corps flags are to be made of nylon, as noted in section E of the Marine Corps Flag Manual. The fringe around the flag must be hand-knotted. Flags will also have scarlet and yellow streamers, with tassels at each end. Type III, Class 2 Organizational flags are for use by the non-fleet Marine Force, while Type III, Class 3 flags are for the Marine Corps Reserve.

7 Coast Guard Flags

The U.S. Coast Guard has two official flags: the Standard and the Ensign. The Ensign is identified by vertical red stripes, while the standard has a white field with a blue eagle. The Ensign is used by Coast Guard law enforcement for official use only, while the Standard is available for ceremonies and parades. The Coast Guard may approve a temporary loan of the Standard flag for official functions, but cannot donate or sell the flags.

Paul Bright has been writing online since 2006, specializing in topics related to military employment and mental health. He works for a mental health non-profit in Northern California. Bright holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of North Carolina-Pembroke and a Master of Arts in psychology-marriage and family therapy from Brandman University.