All of the United States military service branches have an official drill team part of their respective service Honor Guard. The service academies have drill teams, as well as many college and university ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) and high school JROTC (Junior ROTC) units. Additionally, many community-based organizations such as the Army Cadet Corps, Naval Sea Cadets, Young Marines, and Civil Air Patrol maintain military drill teams.
Each military branch has its own Honor Guard: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, and Navy. Most state National Guard units have a ceremonial guard as well. The official Honor Guard of every branch is based in Washington, D.C., though nearly every military installation will have its own Honor Guard for local ceremonies and events.
A primary purpose for the Honor Guard is to provide funeral honors for fallen comrades and to guard national monuments. An Honor Guard may also serve as the "guardians of the colors" by displaying and escorting the national flag on ceremonial occasions at official state functions. Military Honor Guards may also serve as ambassadors to the public, presenting a positive image of their service, and assisting with the recruiting effort – color guards can be seen at many sporting events, parades, and even marathons.
In addition to being selected by way of try-outs, there are several criteria that must be met before an individual is considered for Honor Guard service. The primary requirement is minimum height: 6 feet for males, 5’ 10” for females. It is a general requirement for all Armed Forces Honor Guard members because it provides uniformity among all five Joint Service platoons.
Other criteria considered include the ability to gain a security clearance for White House jobs, any health problems that would prevent long periods of standing or marching, and any visible tattoos and markings.
United States Army Honor Guards
The 3rd U.S. Infantry is traditionally known as "The Old Guard," and is the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the United States Army, serving the United States since 1784. The Old Guard is the pre-eminent Honor Guard, being the Presidential Guard - the Old Guard is the Army's official ceremonial unit and escort to the president, and it also provides security for Washington, D.C., in time of national emergency or civil disturbance.
The Old Guard conducts memorial affairs to honor fallen comrades, and ceremonies and special events to represent the Army, communicating its story to the Nation's citizens and the world.
The Old Guard’s Specialty Platoons:
Caisson Platoon - Seven horses, four Soldiers. They have the honor of carrying a comrade for his last ride to Arlington National Cemetery, where he will rest in peace with other honored dead. The caissons were built in 1918 and used for 75mm cannons. Their original equipment was removed and replaced with the flat deck on which the casket rests.
Continental Color Guard - The United States Army Continental Color Guard’s mission is to showcase the U.S. army’s precision nationally and internationally. A five-man unit is comprised of two armed Guards and three color ensigns, who carry the National Color, the U.S. Army Color, and the Color of their parent unit, the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard.” This unit wears replica uniforms of the 1784-style infantry uniforms worn by The Old Guard’s predecessor, the First American Regiment.
Fife and Drum Corps - The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps is the only unit of its kind in the armed forces, and the musicians of this unit recall the days of the American Revolution as they perform in uniforms patterned after those worn by the musicians of General George Washington's Continental Army.
Presidential Salute Battery - Equipped with ten M5, 75mm antitank cannons mounted on the M6 howitzer carriage, the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) Presidential Salute Battery fires cannon salutes in honor of the President of the United States, visiting foreign dignitaries, and official guests of the Unites States. The battery also fires in support of memorial affairs for all military services in Arlington National Cemetery. Also the battery fires for ceremonies and special events throughout the National Capital Region. The Presidential Salute Battery is the only unit of its kind in the Army, and its busy schedule includes more than 300 ceremonies each year.
Tomb Guard Platoon - Originally a civilian watchman was responsible for the security of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Then, on March 24, 1926, a military guard from the Washington Provisional Brigade (forerunner of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington) was established during the daylight hours. In 1948, the 3rd U.S. Infantry "The Old Guard" assumed the post following the unit’s reactivation in the nation’s capital. Members of the 3rd Infantry’s Honor Guard continue to serve on this distinguished duty today. These billets do not require a specific MOS and are open to female soldiers.
United States Army Drill Team - The U.S. Army Drill Team is a precision drill platoon with the primary mission of showcasing the U.S. Army both nationally and internationally through breathtaking routines with bayonet-tipped 1903 Springfield rifles.
Additionally, members of The Old Guard escort the deceased service members to their final rest in Arlington.
United States Air Force Honor Guards
The mission of the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard is to represent Airmen to the American public and the world. The men and women of the Air Force Honor Guard represent every member, both past, and present, of the Air Force.
The Air Force Honor Guard consists of:
The Colors Flight, which displays and guards the Nation's flag, U.S. Air Force flag and flags of the many visiting dignitaries' native countries.
The Body Bearers Flight, which participates in U.S. Air Force, joint service, and state funerals by carrying the remains of deceased service members, their dependents, senior or national leaders to their final resting places at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Firing Party, which performs the firing of three volleys (commonly, but incorrectly, referred to as the "21-gun salute") during a funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Training Flight, which provides comprehensive training support and standardization for the rendering of military honors for the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard and base Honor Guards worldwide.
The Drill Team, which is the traveling component of the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard. The team performs drill movements with a fully-functional M-1 rifle in intricate, constantly changing formations.
United States Coast Guard Honor Guards
The United States Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard represents the United States Coast Guard through ceremonial operations held before world leaders and dignitaries, and to lay to rest with proper military honors, dignity, and respect the remains of fallen shipmates. The Honor Guard performs in over 1,100 ceremonies annually.
The Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard consists of three separate teams:
The Coast Guard Silent Drill Team. In addition to drill routines, the members of the Drill Team have double duties in the Honor Guard. Their first duty is to the Honor Guard to serve in capacities to include: Firing Party, Body Bearing Team, and Colors.
A parade unit, which participates in parades (a gimme, I know).
A color guard, which displays and guards the Nation's flag and U.S. Coast Guard flag.
United States Marine Corps Honor Guard
The United States Marine Corps Battle Color Detachment is comprised of three performing ceremonial units:
The United States Marine Corps Drum & Bugle Corps – traditionally known as "The Commandant's Own," this unit is comprised of 85 Marines recruited from various civilian drum corps', marching bands and other musical units within the Marine Corps.
The United States Marine Corps Color Guard – a unique unit. The Color Guard includes the National Colors, carried by the Color Sergeant of the Marine Corps and is the only official Battle Color of the United States Marine Corps. The Battle Colors bear the same 50 streamers authorized for the Marine Corps as a whole - these streamers represent U.S. and foreign unit awards as well as those periods of service, expeditions, and campaigns in which the Marine Corps has participated, from the American Revolution to today. The Color Guard section has three teams and often participates in more than 1,000 ceremonies annually, regularly two-to-eight per day.
The United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon is a highly disciplined infantry platoon. It is actually a 24-man rifle platoon that performs precision movements for crowds around the world. These men are stationed at the USMC Oldest Post - The Marine Corps Barracks at the intersection of 8th and I Street.
During the Spring / Summer seasons, the Silent Drill Platoon performs Sunset Parades along with the Marine Corps Band. They are a historical unit and very much the pride of the Marine Corps in the center of Washington, D.C.
United States Navy Honor Guard
Established in 1931, the United States Navy Ceremonial Guard is the official ceremonial unit of the Navy. The Navy Ceremonial Guard's primary mission is to represent the service in Presidential, Joint Armed Services, Navy, and public ceremonies in the nation's capital. The Navy Ceremonial Guard also serves as the funeral escort and conducts all services for Navy personnel buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
The U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard Company B is comprised of:
1st Platoon - Casket Bearers — Casket Bearers participate in several variants of last rights ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. In teams of six, Casket Bearers deliver the remains of deceased service members to their final resting places within the Arlington National Cemetery.
2nd Platoon - Firing Party — Teams of seven Firing Party riflemen participate during every Navy Funeral at the Arlington National Cemetery, executing the final salute in three separate and clean volleys of seven rifles firing at the same exact moment, as though three cannon rounds were fired.
The U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard Company C is comprised of:
1st Platoon Drill Team — One of the specialized elements of the Ceremonial Guard, members of the Drill Team, are experts in the art of close order drill, coordination, and timing. The drills utilize the standard 1903 Springfield rifle with 10" fixed bayonet.
2nd Platoon Color Guard — The Colors Platoon performs in numerous Joint Service and Navy ceremonies throughout the National Capital region each year. A standard color guard is comprised of 4 members--a left rifleman, National Color, Navy Color, and a right rifleman. The Navy Color is carried on a 9-foot staff with a battle ax topping ornament. The U.S. Navy Color is decorated with 30 battle streamers representing all of the wars and conflicts in the service's history.