By Airman 1st Class Mercedes Muro
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Military ceremonies have com-ponents that differentiate themselves from each other. Change of command ceremonies have specific, ritualistic components that show how authority is passed from one hand to another.
The customs within change of command ceremonies have roots that have been modernized into the formal ceremonies that take place today.
“In the past, military units had colors that designated their respective unit and located their leaders,” said Bob Oldham, 19th Airlift Wing chief of protocol. “Soldiers could look in front of them and see the flag and know where their leaders were leading them. If something bad happened to their leader, the soldiers would know because the flag would be given to a new leader. Even though the ceremony wasn’t formal, soldiers knew who was in charge and who to report to.”
However, there were times in the field where soldiers didn’t know who was their commander. Formal command ceremonies were held to establish the new chain of command.
“In modern formal ceremonies, the enlisted guidon bearer hands the guidon to the outgoing commander,” said Oldham. “The outgoing commander grasps the guidon with each hand above each of the guidon bearer’s hands. The outgoing commander then hands the guidon to the presiding official, formally relinquishing command. The presiding official hands the guidon to the incoming commander, with the new commander grabbing the guidon with their hands below those of the presiding official. The new commander then hands the guidon to the enlisted guidon bearer.”
The outgoing commander says he/she relinquishes command before taking the guidon from the guidon bearer, and the incoming commander says he/she assumes command after handing the guidon to the guidon bearer.
Once the guidon is passed to the new commander, the change of command is complete and the new commander accepts all responsibilities of the unit and its Airmen. Even though the key players in a change of command ceremony are officers, the ceremony is for the Airmen. A ceremony of color and pageantry is symbolically portrayed for Airmen to witness a transfer of total responsibility, authority and accountability.