Pentagon tells service members to stop displaying giant US flags at major events
Stars and Stripes February 27, 2023
The Defense Department has a message for the service members being cheered on as they unfurl giant American flags horizontally at the Super Bowl and other major events: You're not following the rules.
In a Feb. 10 memo to its public affairs offices, the department said that having service members carry the U.S. flag horizontally or land it on the ground after a parachute jump is no longer acceptable.
The department's leaders have expressed concern over proper flag protocol and alignment with Title 4, United States Code, more commonly known as the U.S. Flag Code.
The code, which is referenced in DOD regulations, provides guidance on how to properly display the American flag, including rules about its size, placement and handling. It states that the flag should be treated with dignity and respect.
“In recent years, some sporting events have asked military members to hold large, horizontal flags during events, and some military units have carried them in parades,” Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman, a Defense Department spokeswoman, told Stars and Stripes in a statement Monday. “While many, including service members, find these events moving and patriotic, according to the code, the flag should never touch the ground or be carried flat or horizontally.“
The memo also generally bans the flying of flags by military parachutists, because the Flag Code states that “the flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water or merchandise.”
The exception is when the U.S. flag is used to cover a casket during funeral honors, so long as it isn’t lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.
While some may see the policy as limiting their ability to show patriotism, the department's leaders say the restriction is necessary.
It prohibits uniformed service members from participating directly in the “unfurling, holding, and/or carrying of giant horizontal U.S. flags” and bars DOD jump teams from incorporating the U.S. flag in their demonstrations if it “cannot be caught reliably and handled respectfully by ground personnel.”
“I encourage public affairs officers to work with sponsors of community events to develop other ways to showcase the patriotism and capabilities of our military that comply with DoD policy,” Chris Meagher, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, wrote in the letter.
The memo drew criticism from some commenters on the popular Amn/NCO/SNCO Facebook page, where it was posted Thursday.
“If we're following flag code for the reasoning for this stupidity, the objects used for these events aren't technically flags, they're banners,” one commenter wrote Friday.
The Pentagon’s leaders have been concerned with flag protocol in recent years, addressing troops on the issue in previous memos.
In 2020, DOD issued a new policy that banned the display of unauthorized flags on military installations, buildings and vehicles. The policy was seen as effectively banning Confederate flags and other controversial banners without spelling out which flags were undesirable.