The American flag is one of the most important symbols of Scouts BSA. At almost every Scouting campout, Court of Honor, and troop meeting, scouts will hold some sort of opening presentation that includes the American flag. That’s why, it’s crucial that you and your troop know how to hold a proper flag ceremony!
Why Hold A Scout Flag Ceremony? Presenting the colors before each Scouting event reaffirms the duty that we have to our country. It reminds us of the respect we should hold for our nation’s ideals, people, land, history, and future. By holding a proper flag ceremony, you’ll instill in your troop the values of contribution and citizenship.
PS. This article is based on the experiences and research of Eagle Scouts, Kevin A and Cole 🙂
Whether you’re hoisting, lowering, folding, or even just holding the American flag, there are strict guidelines that should always be followed. After all, our flag is a symbol of yourself, your community, and your country! So, in this article, I’ll be teaching you how to hold a successful flag ceremony, as well as how to properly handle the American flag!
The flag etiquette you’ll be learning in this article is sourced from official Scouts BSA resources. For a more in-depth dive into flag presentation, traditions, and the different types of flag ceremonies that are held, I’d recommend checking out Scouts BSA’s Your Flag and the BSA Troop Program Opening.
Before we jump into things, take a few minutes to watch this quick but informative video (1:57) below. In it, you’ll learn about the rich history of our American flag, as well as a few crucial flag etiquette practices!
Now that you know the importance of correctly conducting your flag ceremonies, let’s first go over a few ground rules to keep in mind during any troop’s presentation of the American flag. Following these 3 simple points will ensure that you always hold a reverent and inspiring flag ceremony that every scout will enjoy. 🙂
How To Properly Handle The American Flag In Scouting
A respectful mindset is essential to conducting a great flag ceremony. After all, our flag isn’t just any piece of fabric — It’s a dear symbol of our country! The following 3 points will help your troop and color guards (the scouts who hold the flags) to maintain a serious and proper atmosphere when raising and lowering our American Flag.
1. The American Flag Must Never Touch the Ground
One of the most important things to keep in mind when handling the American Flag is to never let it touch the ground. As our flag symbolizes the hard work and sacrifices of our forefathers, it should be treated with the utmost care and respect.
However, sometimes life happens and disaster strikes — maybe a new scout even drops the American flag!! 🙁 If this happens, rest assured that all is most likely not lost. A dropped flag likely won’t need to be retired, according to the American Legion, as long as it’s suitable for display. (This was a question we repeatedly discussed in my troop btw, lol).
Expanding upon that last point, the American flag you’re presenting should never be flown, if soiled, and should be cleaned periodically. It’s actually alright to have your flag washed or dry cleaned, given that the cleaning process is done respectfully. If the American Flag is dirtied to the point where it is unpresentable, it must be retired through proper procedures.
“The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”(Source: US Flag Code)
2. Scouts and Audience Members Should Salute/Acknowledge the Presence of the American Flag
During a flag ceremony, the American Flag will be presented before the audience, typically after it’s been raised or before it is lowered. At this point, the scouts and audience are supposed to acknowledge or salute its presence as a sign of respect to our nation and those within it.
If you’re an audience member during a flag ceremony, make sure you know when to salute, as well as how to do it correctly. Typically, the announcer who calls directions to the color guard will say, “Scouts salute.” They’ll then ask the audience to join them in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. This is your cue to salute correctly. Here’s how:
- For Scouts: Those who are in Scouting will salute with a modified “two” (Scouting’s 3-fingered salute) that rests against their forehead and looks like a standard salute.
- For Members of our Nation’s Armed Forces: Those who are in the military or are retired from the military will salute in the way they were taught.
- For Non-Scouts: Audience members who have no Scouting or military background will place their right hand across their chest, resting their open palm over their heart.
3. Utmost Respect is Required Throughout the Entire Ceremony
The presentation of the colors is a brief but incredibly important part of any Scouting event or camp. Therefore, the scouts attending a flag ceremony should always take the event seriously and encourage the same from their peers. Seriously, if you and your fellow scouts hold each other accountable, you’ll have a spectacular flag ceremony!
With these three central tips in mind, you’re prepared to participate in a great flag raising or lowering ceremony. However, here are some final things to note so that your troop presentation of the colors can be as respectful and impactful as possible:
- Silence should be maintained throughout the entire presentation, outside of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Any discussions can wait until afterward.
- When placed on a stage or podium, the American flag should always be positioned to the speaker’s right side,
- Humor or improvisation should be avoided during a proper flag ceremony.
- Any hats or other forms of headgear should be removed during a flag ceremony, especially while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance
- When flying a flag at half-staff in the wake of a tragic event, be sure to raise it to its full height first, before lowering the flag to its halfway point. Also, raise the flag to its full point before lowering it.
- Don’t fasten a flag or tie it back, always allow it to fly free.
- Never fly a torn, tattered, or visibly dirty American flag.
Example Boy Scout Flag Ceremony
Now that you know to properly act around the American flag, it’s time to learn how an actual flag ceremony is run! Typically, there are 2 parties during your standard presentation of the colors:
- Color Guards: These are the scouts who hold and post the flags. There are typically two color guards during most Scouting flag ceremonies.
- The Announcer/Leader: This is the scout who calls the commands for the color guards. Their role is also to lead the audience in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Announcers must project their voices loudly so that everyone can clearly hear what’s happening.
Keep in mind that your troop might run its flag ceremonies a bit differently based on your location, audience size, and type of flag you have. Regardless, it’s always a good idea to understand how a standard flag ceremony is run so that you can adapt it within your troop, if necessary. 🙂
Now, are you ready to see an example flag ceremony? Great! Watch the clip below. Although my troop did some things differently (and yours probably will too) this short video (2:20) provides an excellent general example of how a presentation of the colors should be run.
(Note: A troop or state flag should be placed in its stand first. The troop (or state) flag bearer and other guards salute it and step back into their previous position. The U.S. flag is then posted, ideally at a higher level. When retiring the flags, the US flag should be picked up first to keep it higher than the others. Source: BSA)
Got a general idea of how a flag ceremony should be run? Awesome! At this point, it’s time to check out the official instructions for a flag ceremony adapted from the Scouts BSA Handbook:
- Two Scouts Stand at the back of the room, each holding a flag; the Scout with the American flag stands to the right (the observer’s left). The leader/announcer of the ceremony often stands behind them
- The leader says “Color guard, attention” and “Audience, please rise for a presentation of the colors.” The two scouts raise their flags so the poles are near a 45-degree angle, with the American flag being held slightly higher.
- The leader says, “Color guard, forward march.” The Scouts holding the flags march in unison toward the front of the room.
- When they near the front, the announcer says, “Color guard, halt. Color guard, post the colors.” The Scout with the American Flag crosses in front (on the side closer to the audience) of the other Scout. They place the flags in their stands, then step back and salute.
- After the flags have been posted and saluted by the color guards immediately afterward, the announcer should say, “Scouts salute. Please join me in the Pledge of Allegiance.” They’ll then lead the audience in reciting the pledge.
- Afterward, the leader will say, “Two,” and everyone will drop their salute.
- The leader will then say, “Color guard, regroup.” At this time, the flag carriers will return to the spots they were standing before they posted the colors (step 4).
- “Color guard retreat.” The flag carriers at the front of the room walk back to their starting positions at the back of the audience.
- Finally, the announcer will say, “Color guard, dismissed. Camp at ease.” and “Please be seated.” The program for the event will then continue as planned.
To get a better idea of what a proper Scouting flag ceremony might look like in action, here’s a nifty diagram. By following along with each cell’s numbers, you can see how the color guards move to the front of the room, cross, post the colors, and then retreat. Before any flag ceremony, I’d highly recommend rehearsing these key steps in your head.
This approach also works if your color guards are standing together in the middle of the room, with the audience on either of their sides! Once you get the hang of how to run a basic flag ceremony, you’ll be able to hold a dignified presentation of the colors wherever you go — be that on a campout, at a school assembly, or even during a town meeting. 🙂
How Scouts Should Fold, Position, Hoist, And Lower Flags on a Flagpole
You might have seen flagpoles used during scout camps, as it’s tradition to raise your flags in the morning, and lower them in the evening. However, did you know that when using flagpoles to fly American, state, or even troop flags, there are actually specific guidelines that should be followed?
How To Fold A Flag
Before you even begin to think about taking a flag out of its protective casing and raising it, you should first know how to properly fold and stow it in a respectful manner. The American flag is halved and folded into sections, to be stored in a triangular shape. To see a great tutorial on how to correctly fold our flag, check out the video (1:05) below:
Positioning Multiple Flags Properly on a Flagpole
Another thing you’ll need to consider before raising a flag is the types of flags you’ll be flying. For instance, if you’re hoisting the American Flag alongside any flags from other nations, both flags must be flown at exactly the same level (flag code section 7g).
However, if you’re flying the American Flag alongside any non-nation flags, such as state or patrol flags, the American Flag should be flown higher than any of these other flags. In either case, the American Flag should also be raised first and lowered last when presented alongside other flags.
Another thing to remember is that the American Flag should be positioned in front of any other flags flown with it. If this isn’t possible, it should be put in the position of honor, (located to the flag’s own right) as the right-hand side is often the most important.
Raising the Flag During a Troop Ceremony
- With preferably at least two scouts, bring the flags to the flagpole. The American Flag should be folded up until it is needed to be attached to the halyard.
- Unfold the flags and attach them to the halyard, ensuring the American Flag never touches the ground
- Proceed to raise the flags. Ensure that the American Flag is raised first. Remember to raise the flags at a brisk, steady rate while keeping the line tight
- Once the flags reach their predetermined heights and are flying freely, have one person stand back and salute the American Flag while the second person secures the American Flag and any other flags raised
- After all of the flags have been secured, have the second person salute with the first person. Recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
- Have all helpers fall back into ranks after the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance
Lowering the Flag During a Troop Ceremony
- With preferably at least two scouts, approach the flags on the flagpoles. The second person should salute the American Flag until all flags have come down and the American Flag is within reach
- Proceed to lower the flags, ensuring that the American Flag is lowered last after all of the other flags. Remember to lower the flags at a steady pace, keeping the line tight
- Once the American Flag is within reach, the second scout should gather the flag and from the halyard while the first scout ties the halyard. Ensure that the American Flag never touches the ground
- Fold the American Flag properly
- Have all helpers fall back into ranks after the proper folding of the flag
Great work! By now, you should know the basics of how to raise and lower flags, as well as how to hold proper flag ceremonies in your own troop! With enough practice and repetitions, you’ll know these skills like the back of your hand. 😉
Remember to always include the American Flag in any troop flag presentation. To reiterate its importance, here is a quote from your Scouts BSA handbook that talks about what the American Flag really means:
“The flag of the United States is much more than just a red, white, and blue cloth. As the symbol of America, it stands for the past, present, and future of our country. It represents our people, our land, and our many ways of life.”
With that quote in mind, run each flag presentation with as much reverence as possible. Countless American citizens have sacrificed everything to preserve the freedoms you enjoy today. Our flag is one way we honor them. Thus, a flag ceremony is more than just a presentation: it’s a commemoration to your troop, your state, your community, and your country!
I hope this article helps you and your troop to put on some fantastic and impactful flag ceremonies in the future. Thanks for reading! If you liked learning about our country’s flag, you might love earning the American merit badges too. There are 4 in total, so check out my article to learn which is best for you!