Sergeant Stripes says ... 'Know your flag!'

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kevin Allen
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
As a resolution for 2007, a noncommissioned officer is taking it upon himself to broaden the horizons of Team Offutt when it comes to Air Force customs and courtesies.

The first offering from Sergeant Stripes, our resident expert on everything Air Force, or at least where to find the info, deals with our nation's flag, how and why we fly her, and proper etiquette when dealing with the symbol of our great country.

Half staff
We began the new year by mourning the loss of President Gerald Ford, and Sergeant Stripes has overheard some questions regarding flying the flag at half-staff. When a president or former president passes away, the flag will be flown at half staff for 30 days.

The flag will fly at half staff for 10 days from the date of death for the vice president, the Chief Justice or a retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The honor of a half-staff flag is also warranted for the passing of other leaders of federal and state government, albeit in different time intervals, which can be found in US Code, Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 7.

The flag is also flown at half staff until noon on Memorial Day, and is then raised to its full display height for the remainder of the day. Other days for half staff include Peace Officers Memorial Day (May 15), Patriot Day (Sept. 11), National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (Dec. 7), and in honor of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service, usually the first Sunday in October.

With the half-staff question answered, our seasoned NCO now turns to the next question: what flags are flown on base.

Which flag?
If you've seen the base flag pole at the parade grounds lately, you may have noticed a smaller U.S. flag flying there... and for good reason. According to Air Force Instruction 34-1201, Protocol, there are six flags authorized for base use, the largest of these being the installation flag. At almost nine feet in width by 17 feet in length, this huge symbol of our country is only displayed in fair weather, which rules out Winters at Offutt.

During inclement weather, the all-purpose flag is flown on the installation flagstaff. There are two versions of the all-purpose flag, and the 9.5 foot by five foot version is the flag used in less than stellar weather. The other all-purpose flag is three feet by four feet, and it's commonly used for presentation at retirement ceremonies.

Are all our flag questions answered? Maybe, but if you're like the good sergeant here, you're always up for some fun flag facts. All alliterations aside, here are some interesting tidbits regarding "Old Glory" that our average reader may not know.

It's a fact
-- The flag has gone through 26 changes since the new union of 13 states first adopted it. The 48-star version holds the record for the longest time the flag has gone unchanged at 47 years. The current 50-star version will tie the record if it is still in use on July 4, 2007.
-- On the admission of a new state into the union, one star shall be added to the union (blue field) of the flag. OK, that makes sense, but did you know the star gets added to the flag on the next Fourth of July following admission?
-- When the flag is used to cover a casket, it should be so placed that the union is at the head and over the left shoulder. The flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.
-- The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.
-- The union of the flag (blue field with 50 stars) can be flown on its own at the bow of a warship when anchored, and is called the US Union Jack (not to be confused with the flag of the United Kingdom of the same name.)
-- The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning. Throughout America, volunteer organizations commonly carry out this duty as an act of community service, destroying old, worn, tattered, frayed, and/or faded flags in private ceremonies.