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Pentagon asks troops to stop displaying huge US flags at sporting events and more, find alternatives

U.S. Navy parachute team over the Army-Navy Game in Philadelphia (Liz George/American Military News)
February 27, 2023

The Defense Department has urged military service members to stop using the U.S. flag in popular patriotic demonstrations that are nonetheless violations of the national flag code.

A memo issued Feb. 10 said it is no longer acceptable for troops to carry the U.S. flag horizontally, such as on the field at sporting events, or for the flag to land on the ground after flying behind a parachutist, Stars and Stripes reported.

The memo bars uniformed troops from directly participating in the “unfurling, holding, and/or carrying of giant horizontal U.S. flags.” It also prohibits military jump teams from using the flag in their performances if it “cannot be caught reliably and handled respectfully by ground personnel.”

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“In recent years, some sporting events have asked military members to hold large, horizontal flags during events, and some military units have carried them in parades,” DoD spokesperson Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman said in a statement. “While many, including service members, find these events moving and patriotic, according to the code, the flag should never touch the ground or be carried flat or horizontally.“

Title 4 of the United States Code, also known as the Flag Code, specifies that “the flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.” That section also states that “the flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground.”

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The new memo was sent to military public affairs offices. Chris Meagher, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, encouraged “public affairs officers to work with sponsors of community events to develop other ways to showcase the patriotism and capabilities of our military that comply with DoD policy.”

The Pentagon also revisited flag rules in 2020, when Secretary of Defense Mark Esper issued a military-wide policy specifying which flags can be flown at military installations, buildings and vehicles. That policy was seen as prohibiting the flying of Confederate flags without specifically naming them, as reported by Stars and Stripes.