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A colour guard detachment during the opening ceremony for the North Atlantic Council and Military Committee SEA Day Exercise.

In military organizations, a colour guard (or color guard) is a detachment of soldiers assigned to the protection of regimental colours. This duty is so prestigious that the colour 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 colour. Colour guards are generally dismounted, but there are also mounted colour 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 colours 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 colour guards, a detachment of experienced or élite soldiers, to protect their colours. 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, colours are no longer used in battle, but continue to be carried by colour guards at events of formal character.

Current useEdit

Commonwealth of NationsEdit

The old colours of the Royal Regiment of Canada are marched off by colour guards, during the presentation of new colours to the regiment.

Colour guards are used in the military throughout the Commonwealth of Nations, including Australia, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. A colour guard unit typically consists of the standard-bearer, who is of the rank of second lieutenant or equivalent (pilot officer or sub-lieutenant), positioned in the centre of the colour guard, flanked by two or more individuals, typically armed with rifles or sabres. A colour sergeant major typically stands 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

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

United KingdomEdit

As the British Army, the Royal Air Force, the Royal Marines and the Royal Navy have several types of colours, there are also colour guards for these colours and these colours and their colour guards are as follows:

British Army (infantry)Edit
Colour Sergeant of the Welsh Guards. Note the distinctive shoulder insignia on the upper arm.
  • Queen's Colour - Union Flag (Crimson with insignia and the honours for the Guards Division)
    Colour Sergeants and Ensign
  • State Colour - Crimson with insignia and the honours 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 Sergeants and Ensign
  • Regimental Colour - Union Flag on the canton with the Regimental Arms and honours
    same as in the Queen's Colour
  • Combined Colour Guards (units)
    Colour Sergeants, Ensign, Guard Sergeant of the Colours, Colour Sergeant Major
British Army (cavalry)Edit

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 honours
    Colour Sergeant/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 honours (only guidons are swallow tailed)
    same as in the Queen's Standard/Guidon
  • Combined Colour Guards (units)
    Colour Corporals/Sergeants, Warrant Officers, Guard Corporal/Sergeant of the Colours, Colours Corporal Major (Household Cavalry), Colours Sergeant Major (other cavalry and armour 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 NavyEdit

All of the RN's Queen's Colours are identical. Within the RN a colour guard unit consists of:

  • Queen's Colour - White Ensign defaced with the Sovereign's cypher and inscribed with honours
    Ensigns and Escorts
  • White Ensign
    Same as Queen's Colour
  • Combined Colour Guards
    Escorts, Ensigns, Guard Sergeant of the Colours, CSM
Royal MarinesEdit
  • Queen's Colour - Union Jack with the Sovereign's cypher and the RM emblem and motto with the "Gibraltar" battle honour
    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 ForceEdit
Colour guard for the Royal Air Force.
  • Queen's Colour - Royal Air Force Ensign with the Sovereign's cypher and the RAF roundel
    Ensign and Armed escorts
  • RAF Ensign
    Same as Queen's Colour
  • Squadron Colour - Air Force blue with the unit insignia and honours
    same as Queen's Colour
  • Combined Colour Guards (units)
    Colour Sgts., Ensigns, Guard Sergeant of the Colours, CSM


Colour guard of the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

In the Chinese People's Liberation Army, colour guards composed of

  • One ensign holding the flag of the People's Liberation Army as the national colour domestically or the flag of China abroad
  • Two officers or senior NCOs assisting the ensign holding rifles

In the parades of the 1950s, this configuration was present in every unit of the PLA up to the parade of 1959.

Since 1981, the PLA has continued a tradition of the colour guard detail with the PLA flag leading the Beijing Garrison Honor Guard Battalion in military parades. In December 2017, the Beijing Garrison Colour Guard Company of the People's Armed Police, which is present during flag ceremonies in Tiananmen Square in Beijing carrying the national flag, was officially attached to the honor guard battalion.[1]


A mounted French colour guard

French colour guards are composed of:

  • One ensign holding the flag of France as the national colour
  • Two non-commissioned officers assisting the ensign
  • Three enlisted personnel behind to guard the colour

The colour guards of France's military academies tend to wear swords; those of NCO schools, other educational institutions and active units carry rifles instead. This design is used in other countries with Francophone populations.

French colour guards render honors on the command of present arms (présentez arme). On command, the 2 NCOs and 3 enlisted will execute present arms, whether it be by presenting their sabre vertically or by putting the right hand over the handle of their weapon while the ensign lowers the national colour/unit colour somewhere close to their legs. On some occasions, the flag is not lowered unless the guard is in the presence of a dignitary (such as the President of the Republic) or a military leader (such as the Chief of the Defence Staff).


Pasukan Penjaga Panji-Panji/Pataka/Tunggul is the Indonesian term for a colour guard unit in the Indonesian National Armed Forces, the Indonesian National Police and the Municipal Police Units. These are modeled on the former Dutch practice and are led by a colour sergeant (massed colour guards are led on parade by a junior officer). Panji-Panji means "Service Colours" in Indonesian. The Colour guard uniform in Indonesia is all-white uniform with a white ceremonial combat helmet similar to the M1 helmet and white boots. If in the Armed Forces and the National Police, the escort personnel carry the M1, M-16, FN FAL or Pindad SSD-1 rifle while the colour officer carries his/her sabre.

An Indonesian Army colour guard

Composition of the Indonesian colour guard unit

  • Colour officer
  • Lead squad carrying the unit colour or national flag
    • One colour sergeant/ensign
    • Two non-commissioned officers escorting the colour
  • Relief squad
    • One replacement colour sergeant/ensign
    • Two non-commissioned officers
  • Rear guard squad of three enlisted personnel (2 squads of 3-4 in the Indonesian Marine Corps)


In Mexico, an Escolta de la bandera or Escolta is used to describe colour guards and flag parties in the Spanish language. In Mexico these formations are made up of seven individuals: the flag party commander and the escort proper of around 6, following the French practice. In the Mexican Armed Forces, National Guard and Federal Police the escort squad is made up of:

  • Ensign carrying the Flag of Mexico as National Color (Infantry and other units)/National Standard (Cavalry and Artillery (the latter in the Army only))
  • 2 Escorts
  • Rear section of 3 escorts


The Dutch armed forces have similar ranks corresponding to a colour guard, the vaandrig and kornet (aspirant officers who have not been sworn in yet).

Russia and Commonwealth of Independent StatesEdit

Colour Guard of the 154th Preobrazhensky Independent Commandant's Regiment at the 2010 Victory Day Parade in St. Petersburg.

Russian colour guards are composed of:

  • Colour officer
  • One ensign or senior NCO holding the flag of Russia as the national colour or the unit colour
  • Two enlisted personnel assisting the ensign

Active units, military academies, and guards of honor carry sabers in the colour guard, if needed, rifles may be substituted. The same design is used for colour guards in countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). If there are multiple colour guards marching in a parade at the same time, one guard is required to march directly behind the first guard. During the Soviet era, the Soviet flag was never allowed to be paraded by a military colour guard, with military and regimental flags only being paraded in colour guards. On occasion during the Soviet era, the Victory Banner was also used in colour guard teams, with the last known occasions being in 1975, 1977, 1985, 1987 and 1990.

As former Soviet republics, the customs of colour guards in the Turkmen Ground Forces, and the Armed Forces of Ukraine, is similar to the other armies of CIS member states. However, colour guards from these services dip their flags as a salute. Turkmenistan has been an associate member of CIS since 2005, while Ukraine was formerly an associate member of CIS from 1993 to 2014.[note 1]

This procedure also used in Mongolia, given the historical relationship between the two countries.


Given a shared heritage with Austria and Turkey plus its own traditions, the modern Serbian Armed Forces maintains a colour guard component. Every unit of the Armed Forces has a colour company that is made up of:

  • Colour company commander
  • Colour guard
    • One ensign
    • 2 armed senior NCOs serving as colour escorts
  • 2 honor guard platoons guarding the colour from the rear


Swedish ceremonial colour guard at the opening of the Riksdag in 2011.

In Sweden the colour guard can be composed in three distinct manners: Greater colour guard, smaller colour guard and an officers guard. Each regiment, or military unit that carries a colour, in Sweden sets up its own colour guard. 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 considered so prestigious that an officer was necessary to carry it out. Today, it is a regular officer rank.

Greater colour guardEdit

This is composed of two commissioned officers, called fanförare (carriers of the colour) and eight enlisted soldiers. This stems from the time of king Gustavus Adolphus and the Thirty Years' War when all Swedish regiments had eight battalions. Each battalion contributed one soldier to the common colour guard.

Small colour guardEdit

This is composed of one commissioned officer and four enlisted soldiers.

Officers guardEdit

This is composed of three commissioned officers.

United StatesEdit

In the military of the United States, the color guard (where the word color is referring to the national flag) carries the national colour 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 guardEdit

A color guard detachment from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment in full dress. Color guards of the U.S. Armed Forces typically wear full-dress, or less formal attire.

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.[2] 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.[3]

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.

A US color guard is made up of a "Color Sergeant" carrying the National Colors and serves as the unit commander, a unit or command "Color Bearer", and two "Color Escorts" carrying rifles and/or sabres. If multiple colors are carried, multiple color bearers may be needed.


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,[4] 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 honorsEdit

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 guardEdit

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 guardEdit

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 hand salute when the colors are six paces distant and hold it until they have passed six paces beyond the colors.[5]

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

See alsoEdit


  1. ^
  2. ^ FM 22-5, Section 9, Paragraph 43 (e) Archived 2007-06-14 at the Wayback Machine (United States Department of the Army)
  3. ^ FM 22-5, Section 9, Paragraph 45 (a) Archived 2007-06-14 at the Wayback Machine (United States Department of the Army)
  4. ^ Morrow, JoyceE.; Schoomaker, Peter K. (July 2003). "FM 3-21.5 (FM 22-5) Drill and Ceremonies" (PDF). Center of Military History. United States Army. p. K-3. Retrieved 28 October 2014.
  5. ^ FM 22-5, Section 9, Paragraph 43 (c) Archived 2007-06-14 at the Wayback Machine (United States Department of the Army)


  1. ^ Ukraine largely ceased participation with the organization in 2014, and withdrew its representatives from all CIS bodies in 2018 as a result of the annexation of Crimea by the Russia.

External linksEdit