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What is the Honor Guard?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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An honor guard is a group of individuals who act as ceremonial guards in situations like parades, funerals, and events for foreign dignitaries. Most militaries around the world have honor guards, with each branch usually having its own guard, and some civilian organizations have similar groups who perform a ceremonial function when required. As a general rule, members of an honor code must be able to meet very stringent and specific requirements.

Members wear full dress uniforms, and observe ceremonial protocol. They can include color guards, which are responsible for bearing the national flag along with other flags and standards, or they can act as pallbearers, people who accompany coffins to burial, and riflemen, individuals who fire rifles in ceremonial salutes. The cordon also includes support personnel who ensure that the members of the guard always look their best.

At events when heads of state, important foreign dignitaries, and high-ranking military officials will be present, the honor guard is usually sent to represent the military and the nation. These groups also patrol military cemeteries and other military monuments, and they are present at military funerals, parades, and other events which involve the branch of the military they serve in. Members of the guard also interact with the public, acting as public relations officers to promote positive views of the military.

In order to join the honor guard, a member of the military must generally display exemplary behavior and a commitment to duty. Honor guards are also chosen on the basis of physical aptitude, including the ability to execute tricky maneuvers while on parade. Because these guards represent past, present, and future members of the military along with the nation, fumbles and lack of attention to detail are viewed as shameful, as they cast aspersion not only on the individual guard, but on the principles he or she represents.

In some cases, an honor guard may be on foot, marching ceremonially and following very precise protocols when it comes to turning and reversing. Mounted guards are also not uncommon, and the cordons may also utilize ships, aircraft, and vehicles to travel when necessary, usually remaining in position and at attention as a mark of respect.

One of the most famous roles of the military honor guard is at graveside services conducted for members of the military. A member of the honor guard classically folds the flag for presentation to the family of the deceased, and the guard also fires ceremonial salutes and may render other honors as required.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By ZipLine — On Nov 23, 2014

How long do honor guards or ceremonial guards train for? I heard that it takes them years of training and practice to take on this duty. Is this true?

I saw the British honor guards (called the Queen's Guard) in London last summer. I saw the guards change too. It's all very serious business and very interesting to watch.

By SarahGen — On Nov 22, 2014

Honor guards exist in every country. They often take part in official ceremonies, for things like Independence Day. In some countries, official ceremonies are also held to commemorate leaders and heads of state. These ceremonies may involve a walk to the leader's office or the place of burial. Often times, the ceremonies are also for the public and parents can watch the honor guards with their children.

These traditions are actually about patriotism and they're also about making sure that we don't forget the people who did so much for us.

By ddljohn — On Nov 22, 2014

I have never seen honor guards in real life. I have seen them countless times on TV though. They do a difficult job, but also a very important and respectful one. The service they provide reminds those in attendance the discipline and dignity of the military and also the nation. Honor guards at a funeral for example, represent the respect for the man or woman who served the nation and also to their grieving family.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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