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The casing ceremony -- an Army tradition

An event marked by tradition, honor, respect and sacrifice

Capt. Matthew Diaz and 1st Sgt. David Bouchat case the unit guidon on for an upcoming deployment. Photo credit: Missy Bouchat

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As a military spouse, I thoroughly enjoy learning about the history and traditions of the U.S. Army. It may seem extraneous to some that we constantly play our nation's anthem before a movie or event, pull over on the side of the road on base at 0630 and 1700 for "Reveille" and "Retreat," or hear the "Army Song" at the end of every ceremony, but it is because of these traditions that the Army and its soldiers are united together. One such tradition, the Casing of the Colors, is demonstrated during a unit's deployment ceremony as the soldiers prepare to deploy.

For a spouse, family member or guest attending such an event, it is important to understand this tradition, and to do so we must first understand what the unit colors represent. The practices and usage of military flags date back to the Revolutionary War and have evolved in American military history ever since. The colors symbolize a unit's lineage, its honors and its identity. The colors represent all soldiers past, present and future, and the colors stand as a silent reminder of the past glories as well as an inspiration for future endeavors.

During the casing ceremony, it is customary for the unit's flag, or its colors, to be properly stored prior to the unit's deployment. As with all proper military ceremonies, the event is opened with a benediction by the chaplain followed by the National Anthem. Traditionally, the unit's senior non-commissioned officer stands before his soldiers, similar to a change of command ceremony. As the soldiers are placed at the position of "parade rest!", the unit's senior commanders speak of the upcoming mission, provide words of wisdom, and wish the soldiers well.

After the speeches, the unit's senior non-commissioned officer brings his unit to the position of attention and relinquishes the formation to the commander. As the crowd sits silent, the colors are presented to the audience with the command of "present, arms!" It is only now that the colors are cased by the soldier entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the unit's heraldry, the command sergeant major, or in the case of a company deployment, the first sergeant. When the casing is completed, the commander lowers the colors with the command of "order, arms!" After the senior non-commissioned officer retreats to the rear of the formation, the commander closes the ceremony with nothing other than the I Corps March and the Army Song. Following the loud and triumphant expression of pride, the commander salutes his senior commander and declares "sir, the unit is trained and ready to deploy!"

"Deploy your unit!"

Such a deployment ceremony marks the beginning of a difficult time for families, having to say goodbye to their soldier for an extended period of time to embark on often dangerous missions. For me, the traditions I witness during such ceremonies makes me feel united as well, and proud of my soldier and my family.

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