Displaying a flag outside of your home or place of business is an excellent way to show your patriotism and appreciation for the nation and the U.S. military. Whether it's to recognize active-duty members of the armed forces or those who have served honorably their country, a military flag symbolizes bravery and courage.
But flying one isn't as simple as just hanging any old banner from your front porch; there are protocols—known as the military flag order—that must be followed when displaying these flags of pride.
In this blog post, we will discuss what you need to know about these orders, so that you can proudly display your military flag and comply with the military flag order with all due respect for its significance.
The Top of the Military Flag Order
The U.S. flag is more than just a collection of stars and stripes; it is a symbol of the nation's identity, unity, and freedom. Therefore, it is essential to understand the U.S. Code that governs the U.S. flag.
The code is a set of guidelines that govern how the flag should be treated and displayed. The Code lays out instructions on how to present the national flag in various situations and also provides guidance on how to handle the military flag order, which is used to denote the order of precedence among the different military branches.
Following the U.S. Code and displaying the national flag in a respectful way is based on understanding how it should be respected and how it can best demonstrate the symbols that so many respect. In short, all flags flying on the same pole with the U.S. flag will be subordinate to the U.S. flag.
POW/MIA Flag in the Military Flag Order
The question frequently arises about what flag has precedence to be flown directly beneath the U.S. flag and above any other flag in the military flag order. There is no precise answer or established protocol codified in law to address this issue.
The POW/MIA flag is considered a federal banner and some, not all, veteran groups, fly the POW/MIA flag under the U.S. flag on a pole given its status as a federal flag. They believe it has precedence over all other flags flying on the same pole beneath the U.S. flag. Therefore, in a line of march, the POW/MIA flag is carried to the immediate left of the U.S. flag.
State/Other Flags in the Military Flag Order
Other veteran groups believe that state flags are next in the order of precedence in the military flag order since the U.S. Code specifically identifies state flags as next in the military flag order and not the POW/MIA flag. Remember, the flag’s U.S. Code is a set of guidelines not enforceable law.
After state flags are city/county/or local flags that are next in order of precedence per U.S. Flag Code. Following those are organizational flags. The U.S. Flag Code does not offer precedence of display for organizational flags.
After state, local and organizational flags, there is guidance (there’s that word again) from the National Security Commission that states that the POW/MIA flag, considered an organizational flag, be given status as the first organizational flag of precedence due to the symbolism it represents.
Military Flag Order for Service Flags
Normally, when military branch flags are displayed, their order of precedence is Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force and Coast Guard. These are in order of precedence based on the year that the service branch was founded. All service flags are considered organizational flags by the U.S. Flag Code.
Therefore, the military flag order according to the U.S. Code is the U.S. flag, state flags, organizational flags including the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Space Force, and the U.S. Coast Guard flags. While the Coast Guard is technically a part of the U.S. military, it is under the command and control of the Department of Homeland Security and falls under U.S. Navy control only when mobilized for Defense Department missions. That is why the U.S. Space Force flag comes before the Coast Guard flag.
The flags are displayed in the military flag order listed above, when facing the flags, from left to right.
Military Flag Order Conclusion
Many of us have a special connection to the American flag and what it represents. It's a symbol of freedom, bravery, and democracy and the American flag is a powerful symbol of our country and those who have sacrificed to protect it.
Remember, the military flag order, based on guidance in the U.S. Code, states that at the top of any flag pole in the United States, or on American sovereign soil overseas, the U.S. flag must be at the top. All other flags, as outlined in this blog post, must be second and then follow the military flag order.
If the flags are positioned in flag stands, on a stage, for example, the U.S. flag will be to the far left, and all other flags, according to the military flag order, will be to the right of the U.S. flag if the viewer is looking at the stage head-on. In other words, all other flags will be to the U.S. flag’s left in military flag order.
Many veterans are well-versed in the military flag order. If you see a mistake, point it out to someone responsible for posting the colors. Mistakes happen and as veterans we should ensure we educate the public about the military flag order.
Lastly, remember, even though instructions on how to show the U.S. flag are included in a U.S. Code, those stipulations are guidelines, so be flexible and remember, most people are simply trying to be patriotic and any unintentional violation of protocol should be managed accordingly. It is better that Americans want to fly the flag, than not.