My Brothers and Sisters,
I’m Rob “bees” Butler, your VP of Members, here with another update from your PGR board of directors. The focus of this update is sure to prompt lots of comments and conversation:
PGR Flag line Guidelines.
Our mission, to honor the service and sacrifice of those that have stood in harm’s way to protect our freedom and way of life and to shield and protect those families is paramount in all we do. Although many of us have served, we are not a military organization. We represent all Americans who wish to show respect and honor for our Service men and women. All are welcomed that share this mission.
It is not about us, but the families we serve. We only get one chance to get it right.
What we do with flags and how we hold and display them has long been a debated topic within the PGR. The US Flag Code and the various TMs or military training manuals cover almost every conceivable use and display of our flag, except for what we do. There just aren’t rules for a flag line or rules for flags on motorcycles or rules for sheltering a family at a grave site because for the most part we are the only ones that do what we do. Because of this lack of specific information there has been some confusion. It’s time to be clear, once and for all about what the Patriot Guard Riders Flag Guidelines are.
These guidelines are very simple and should be used as a reference. They will be easy to find in the future as there will be a link to this guidance as well as other policy documents to the front page of the main site. If situations arise which would require further clarification this document will be updated. Please ask your RC or State Leadership if you have questions as they determine overall state policy within these guidelines. ‘
PGR Flag Holding Guidance:
1. Do not allow the flag to touch the ground
2. Do not hold the flag upside down or backward
3. Do not wear or drape the flag over oneself as if it is a garment
4. Carry the flag straight up and down as you walk to and from the flag line
5. Unroll and roll the flag up at staging area, not walking to or from the flag line.
The flag code is specific on this point and it’s easy to remember. The Flag should be on the viewers left.
If, for example there is a static display at the front door of a funeral home or church, then the US Flag would be on the viewers left. If there were a service flag or other flag such as a POW flag it would be on the right as you would walk through the door.
This would be the same if you fly flags on your bike during an escort. If you fly two flags, the US Flag would be on the left as viewed from the front of the bike, the viewers left. From the riding position then the US Flag would be over your right shoulder.
If you fly three flags then the US Flag should be in the center and higher than the other two if practical. If one of the remaining two flags is a Service flag, then that flag would be on the viewers left.
Flag line Guidance and General Flag line Etiquette
This is the one area that causes the most discussion. Remember that we are standing in a flag line. We are not an honor guard nor are we in a marching formation. The key is for all members of the flag line to hold the flag in the same manner and in the same hand. The PGR Board of Directors has done a great deal of research on this issue over a couple of years. We have read and re-read the US Flag code, Army TM 840-10, FM 3-21-5 and the Flag Guidance from The American legion and consulted with many former and current Senior NCOs and Officers.
It is recommended that the flag should be held in the left hand.
Holding the flag in the left hand:
1. Is not in contravention with current guidelines.
2. Allows our Veterans to render a hand salute without having to shift the flag from one hand to the other. They have earned this right
3. Allows flag line members to greet visitors and acknowledge the thanks of the family with a hand shake without having to reach around the flag or shift the flag to the other hand. Your State Captain will provide final guidance.
Flag lines are sometimes physically demanding. Standing in one place for an extended period of time is not easy. All are welcome in our flag lines. If a small stool, wheelchair or other aid is necessary or if the flag cannot be held in the designated hand then every accommodation will be made for that member. The RC should be sure that breaks are taken as necessary and members stay hydrated. Watch your brothers and sisters, if you see someone that appears to struggle, do something and say something immediately. If you need a break hand your flag off, walk away from the flag line, if practical to the staging area, and relax for a few minutes.
Again, we are not an honor guard. Rendering honors or saluting either by hand salute, hand across the heart or in some states or by coming to attention while holding the flag is an important part of what we do. It is the ultimate sign of personal respect.
Honors are rendered at the arrival or departure of a hearse, anytime the casket is moving and during Military honors. Typically the RC or someone he asks will call the group to attention and present arms and then order arms at the proper time. It is a compliment to any vet to be asked to “Call it”.
As an example, in one state the flag is held in the left hand. This allows the member to render honors by placing the right hand across the chest on the heart or if a veteran, render a hand salute. Just next door in another state, flags are held in the right hand and honors are rendered by coming to attention. Let me be very clear, BOTH OF THESE ARE ACCEPTABLE and do not violate any flag code. Should you visit another state, please comply with that states protocol. As mentioned above, State Leadership should select one to be used across the state.
If the flag line or part of the flag line is moved inside because of weather or at the request of the family and you are wearing a hat , you should continue to wear it. If holding a flag at the graveside it may be removed during prayer as an additional sign of respect and is acceptable in most states.
Our job is to stand in silent honor, the flag line is often the family’s first exposure to the Patriot Guard. We have been invited to share perhaps the most difficult time in their lives. They will never forget what they see and hear. We only get one chance to do it right, remember that. Most states allow a quiet conversation in the flag line but when the family is close by or guests are leaving or arriving, remain silent. Disruptive behavior of any kind is not acceptable and those involved will be asked to leave.
As a best practice, the flag should always be straight up and down. When in the flag line, the flag pole should be near the small toe portion of your boot or shoe. Rest the pole in the inside of your shoulder and let your arm hang naturally at your side while holding the pole lightly with your hand. This is far more comfortable than any other method, and allows you to shift your weight as you stand without the flag moving around and gives you the best control of the flag especially in very windy conditions. Do not lock your knees! Keep your knees bent, shift your weight often and try to relax. Be sure to check your area as the flag line breaks down for water bottles or other items. Leave it like you found it. Many states provide flags and also use static flags placed around the funeral home or church. Remember to help pick these flags up as well as you return to the staging area.
Recently there has been an explosion of photos taken and posted on social media and frankly this does not do us credit and has gotten out of hand.
These are solemn occasions, not social events and it is disrespectful for a family to see us posing for pictures. Think about how you would feel if you were a family member and saw people taking pictures of themselves at their loved ones funeral. Although positive intent is assumed, it is not up to us to record these events and to do so makes it about us and not the families we serve.
National guidance is:
1. Once the mission begins, no photos should be taken.
2. No pics should ever be taken of the casket or the family.
3. Do not take pictures in or of the flag line, the mission has begun at that point.
The only exception to this would be if the family requests that we make family to make a photo record. If you get this request, convey it to RCIC as soon as possible and he or she will make that determination and designate a person to take pictures. It goes without saying that the RC should never be that person.
Most states allow pictures in the staging area and this is acceptable. Posting mission photos on social media is discouraged but such an expectation is not realistic. If you must post on social media such as Facebook, please think carefully about the photo you select and the impact that it may have. Please also consider the number of photos posted and what message that conveys. Remember that once it’s out there, it’s out there. If you have questions at a mission, ask your RC and follow that guidance.
Mute your phone or better still leave it in your car or on your bike. Do not text, check your mail or take a call in the flag line, its disrespectful. If you must use your phone, hand your flag off and step away from the flag line and out of earshot.
Don’t smoke anywhere near a flag line. If you must smoke, hand your flag off and step well away from the flag line. The same applies E-cigs or vape devices.
Many of these guidelines are in place across the country but hopefully this will clarify general policy and answer some questions that you may have.
Our mission remains critical and we have much work left to do. Please remember that having the opportunity to make a difference in the life of another person or family is a rare privilege and we owe it to those that entrust this to us to do the very best we can. We owe no less to those that have gone in harm’s way to protect our way of life and our very freedom.
Words like duty, honor, respect, patriotism and freedom are bandied about by many in our country and used at their convenience. The true meanings of these can be found in each flag line, each escort, each tear that you shed behind your dark glasses standing at a graveside and each time you look a family member in the eyes and say: “It’s my honor”. They are found when it doesn’t matter to you if you’re cold or tired or have to go in the rain. I told you last time and I will keep saying it: What we do is important, Its right and it matters. Thank you very much for all you do.