ⓘ Flags of the United States Armed Forces


ⓘ Flags of the United States Armed Forces

The several branches of the United States Armed Forces are represented by flags, with the exception of the U.S. Space Force which has yet to adopt any. Within the U.S. military, various flags fly on various occasions, and on various ships, bases, camps, and military academies.

In general, the order of precedence from viewers left to right when displaying flags together in a military context is to display the U.S. national flag also known as the "colors" or "national colors", followed by the flags of the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Coast Guard. However, in any period, such as in wartime, where the U.S. Coast Guard is operating as part of the Department of the Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard flag would precede the U.S. Air Force flag.


1. Maritime flags

Many maritime flags have been used in the United States.

All maritime vessels and naval warships belonging to the United States with a few exceptions such as U.S. Coast Guard vessels fly the ensign of the United States, which is identical to the national flag of the United States though originally was a design similar to the Grand Union Flag. All documented U.S. vessels, and all U.S. vessels in international or foreign waters, are required to display this ensign between 08:00 and sunset. Conversely, vessels of the U.S. Coast Guard display a unique ensign as a demonstration of its authority to stop, board, search, and conduct arrests and seizures aboard vessels subject to United States jurisdiction. Historically, the ensign displayed has changed as the flag of the United States has changed. Similarly, vessels of the Continental Navy flew many varied ensigns due to a vague standard set by the Continental Congress, the arrangement of stars and pattern of stripes being left to the commanders interpretations.

Vessels of the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Military Sealift Command, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration display the jack of the United States from the jackstaff. Originally the First Navy Jack was displayed, a design containing the thirteen red and white stripes; while some maintain that it was superimposed by an uncoiled rattlesnake and the motto Dont tread on me ", reminiscent of the Gadsden flag. It was later changed to a blue canton with white stars, the "Union Jack", and updated as each state entered the Union. However, all warships were directed to fly the First Navy Jack, including the disputed rattlesnake and motto, since the duration of the War on Terror in 2002. On February 21, 2019, the Chief of Naval Operations directed that U.S. Navy warships fly the U.S. jack again beginning on June 4, 2019.

A Commissioning or Masthead pennant is flown from the masthead and represents the commission of the captain of the ship and thus of the ship itself. Additionally, a Church pennant may be flown during religious services. This pennant, white with a blue cross or blue tablets and Star of David for Jewish services, is the only flags authorized to be flown above the national ensign, and only when at sea. In addition, hospital ships display the Red Cross.

Ships and units ashore may also fly burgees displaying unit citations. Flags can also be used for signaling.


2. Personal flags

Officers with certain offices or billets, as well as all generals and admirals, have a personal flag assigned to represent their authority and/or command; thus why they are often referred to as "flag officers". Ashore, they are usually displayed within the owners office or raised on a secondary flagstaff near the unit colors; while they are flown aboard ship according to rank. The appearance consists of a number of stars equal to the officers rank insignia, the colors determined by service: red with white stars for the Army and Marine Corps, blue with white stars for Naval commanders and Air Force. Certain staff and non-line officers have unique colors: white with blue stars for non-command Navy admirals, while Army chaplains and medical generals use ecclesiastical purple and maroon backgrounds, respectively.

Unique flags are given to the President due to his position as Commander-in-Chief, Vice President, Secretary of Defense, Deputy Secretary of Defense, Under Secretaries of Defense, and Assistant Secretaries of Defense, each of the Secretaries of the Military Departments, Under Secretaries of the Military Departments, and Assistant Secretaries of the Military Departments, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Senior Enlisted Advisor of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the chief of the Military Services. An admiral, acting commodore, or Convoy Commodore aboard a ship each may fly a flag from their flagship.

In addition, the Navy will display the flag of the Secretary of State when he or she is embarked as the representative of the United States. Other diplomatic personnel are also afforded a consular flag when embarked. The Coast Guard, being part of the Department of Homeland Security, will utilize the Secretarys flag much like the Navy will utilize the SecDefs.


3.1. Others American Revolution

Not having made an official design until 1777, a numerous distinct flags were carried into battle by American forces. Even after, the vague wording of the Flag Resolution of 1777 led to many designs.

  • The 2nd Canadian Regiment, not being American, carried their own flag into battle when fighting for the Continental Army.
  • The Bedford Flag was one of the first battle standards of the American military.
  • Legend holds that the Betsy Ross flag was the first version of the current American flag, and is depicted in artwork featuring General George Washington.
  • Several versions of the Flag of New England were carried by New England militias, especially noted at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
  • The most commonly carried pre-1777 flags was the Grand Union Flag, resembling closely the flag of the British East India Company.
  • The Francis Hopkinson version is also claimed to be the first flag carried into battle by American troops.
  • The Flag of the Green Mountain Boys was the battle color of the Green Mountain Boys and the Vermont Republic prior to its admission to the Union.
  • The Pine Tree Flag found some limited use as a jack by early Naval vessels and boats.
  • The Guilford Courthouse flag was carried by the North Carolina militia at the Battle of Guilford Court House.
  • The Serapis ensign was flown from the captured HMS Serapis due to the loss of the standard ensign during the Battle of Flamborough Head.
  • The Cowpens flag was depicted as being carried by the 3rd Maryland Regiment at the Battle of Cowpens while proven that the unit was not at Cowpens, the name and pattern remained popular.
  • The Brandywine flag was carried by the 7th Pennsylvania Regiment at the Battle of Brandywine.
  • The Bennington flag is commonly held to have been carried by American troops at the Battle of Bennington.
  • The Commander-in-Chiefs Guard carried a unique banner while they protected General Washington.
  • The Gadsden flag was created from a political cartoon, it was first seen carried into battle by Continental Marines.


3.2. Others Others

  • The Star Spangled Banner Flag or Great Garrison Flag was flown over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write the poem "The Star-Spangled Banner". It ultimately became the U.S. national anthem.
  • Recipients of the Medal of Honor also receive a flag based upon the design of the ribbon.
  • The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary uses a flag based on the flag of the United States Coast Guard.
  • "Dont Give Up the Ship", words on the battle flag of Oliver Hazard Perry aboard the brig USS Niagara in 1813.
  • A flag proclaiming "Come and take it", in reference to a cannon the Mexican Army was attempting to seize, was fashioned by Texans at the battle of Battle of Gonzales.
  • The POW/MIA flag became a symbol of concern about military personnel taken as prisoners of war and missing in action.
  • The brief existence of the Confederate States of America yielded the creation of several flags used by the Confederate Army and Navy.
  • The Air National Guard uses a unique flag in addition to the Air Force flag.
  • The Fort Sumter Flag gained significance for its unique canton and its lowering at the Battle of Fort Sumter.
  • Old Glory gained fame in the story of Captain William Driver keeping it safe from Confederate capture and eventually became the nickname for the Flag of the United States itself.
  • The United States Armed Forces are the military forces of the United States of America. It consists of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force
  • The flag of the United States Navy consists of the seal of the U.S. Department of the Navy in the center, above a yellow scroll inscribed United States
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