by Jenine Stanley
How many times have you stood reverently in a convention as members of our military have brought the flags forward through the room? I never imagined that one day I would be one of those people. Thanks to my service in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, I have experienced this amazing opportunity and also have been able to share it with ACB members.
In November of 2011, my husband Kent and I were invited to the ACB of Maryland convention. In addition to presenting a workshop and selling my handmade jewelry and gift items, Kent was asked to present a workshop about volunteering for the Coast Guard Auxiliary. We asked convention organizer Cecilia Warren if they might also need someone to present the colors at their opening ceremony. She said yes, and we began to prepare.
Posting, or carrying in and setting up the flags during an opening ceremony, has a very specific sequence. Normally everything is done silently as the color guard has drilled previously in staying in step during their march to the front of the room. Since we did not have much time to practice, Kent called the cadence as we walked.
The flags can come in either together with the people marching side by side, or with the American flag first and the state flag following. This works well with narrow aisles.
As we are both guide dog handlers, we also had to teach our dogs to walk either beside each other or mine following his. The dogs had to ignore absolutely all distractions, including another dog lying on the floor in our path. Both dogs caught on quickly as we practiced at home on our driveway and then again in the hotel. Our dogs work with hand signals which we used in the ceremony to direct them and also command them to sit and stay.
Once the flags were at the front of the room, we halted briefly then walked to the flag stands and placed the poles into them. We then stood beside the flags. The American flag is always on the left side of the front stage area, as viewed from the audience, with the state flag on the right.
Since this was our first time posting the colors, we asked that volunteers stand next to the flag stands and assist us in placing the flags into their stands. This worked very well.
Who gets to salute during the Pledge of Allegiance? Any military personnel in uniform may salute during the pledge, but must not speak.
We stood silently, saluting as the pledge was recited by the crowd. Then we left the room as we had come in, Kent in the lead, counting the cadence. We turned at the door and saluted again before leaving the room. The torrent of applause both surprised and humbled me.
Next we were asked by the Florida Council of the Blind to post the colors and hold a workshop at its 2012 convention in June. This time we decided to do things a bit differently.
Prior to the presentation of the colors, Kent gave the audience a brief description of what would take place. Since we only had the American flag this time, Kent would be carrying it and I would follow and stand in the place where the state flag would go.
Kent also described our uniforms. We wore the Coast Guard Auxiliary tropical blue uniform which is a short- or long-sleeved shirt in light blue, similar to those worn in the Air Force, dark blue pants, or in my case skirt, and combination cap. We wore our shoulder boards with the "A" denoting Auxiliary and stripes denoting our offices, name plates and flotilla awards above each pocket. Our caps bore the Coast Guard Auxiliary symbol in silver. All medals and other insignia for the Auxiliary are in silver. Such insignia for the U.S. Coast Guard are always in gold.
At this convention we also deposted the colors. Deposting is the official term for taking the flags out of the room. Retiring a flag means that it is being disposed of; there is an entirely different procedure for that.
When deposting the colors, I did the description. We first had to march up through a room set up in banquet style, which proved to be challenging at times. Kent then took the American flag and we exited the room, turning again to salute at the door.
The pride I felt as I walked through both of those conventions cannot be adequately described. Being able to tell people who may never have known what goes on during the posting of the colors was very moving as well. Many people came up to tell us that they had never known what took place and were so grateful to now understand all of the symbolism in this ceremony.
As I write this article, it is Veterans Day 2012. My grandfather served and earned a Purple Heart in World War I. My uncles served in World War II and Korea while cousins served in Vietnam. A nephew and more cousins have served since, including the recent conflicts. I am lucky enough to have a job in which I can give back to those veterans by assisting them to obtain well-trained service dogs. My service in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, which could be the subject of many more articles, has given me an even deeper appreciation for our military, but also for the traditions that built our country: hard work, volunteerism, and pride in a job well done.
If you would like to learn more about the Coast Guard Auxiliary and how you can serve, please contact me via e-mail at [email protected] or visit our Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla's web site at http://a0821806.wow.uscgaux.info.