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Department of Defense - 1 (U.S.)


Last modified: 2020-12-26 by rick wyatt
Keywords: defense | departmental | united states | secretary |
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Unofficial Flags

There is no official Department of Defense flag, just the flags of the executive-level officials.
Joe McMillan, 4 April 2003

I can safely report that DOD flags do in fact exist, I own two. One made by the Paramount Flag Co. of San Francisco and one made by Annin & Co. I have been told they may not be de jure, but they are de facto DOD flag. I was told by Annin & Co. that they were made for the DOD for internal use. The Paramount flags are auto size.
Jim Ferrigan, 7 April 2003

I have also seen the unofficial flags for the Dept of Defense. The National Capital Flag company has made ones that are DOD blue field with the DOD seal centered. Typically they were made for use in displays of a number of departments or agencies together. Of course, the requestors were civilians, since a member of the armed forces would know better. The same request often comes for a Dept of State flag. The compromise is to put the seal on the flag, since it isn't appropriate to use either the SecDef or Sec of State's personal flag. Perhaps they should officially create a flag for the department like the dept of Treasury and others and continue to use a secretary flag as well.
John Niggley, 7 April 2003

Here is an image of a DOD flag - recognised as unofficial.
Valentin Poposki, 19 September 2005

I show all the flags below in naval proportions (~7:10). They also exist as 52 x 66 inch colors with fringe, cord, and tassels, as well as in other Army standard sizes.
Joe McMillan, 27 December 2002

Just in my work inbox this morning, from the Director of Administration and Management of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). It clarifies the rules for who in OSD gets to use a positional flag and provides the only official authority I know of for the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense flag.

October 31, 2003
Memorandum for [All senior officials of OSD, by title]
Subject: Positional Flags for Senior Civilian Officials in the Office of the Secretary of Defense

Positional flags are authorized for civilian officials in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) who occupy positions to which they have been appointed by the President, with Senate confirmation.

OSD civilian positional flags and the officials for whom they are authorized are shown on the attachment to this memorandum. These flags are purchased with federal funds and, as such, are the property of the U.S. Government. They shall be displayed only in the office of the person to whom they are issued, or at official ceremonies when the principal serves as host. The use or display of civilian positional flags by individuals not listed on the attachment is prohibited.

For honors and ceremonial occasions, the Military Departments and the Combatant Commands shall follow their respective regulations for displaying OSD civilian positional flags in concert with the flags of their respective organizations.
Raymond F. DuBois, Director

The memorandum extends the use of the Assistant Secretary of Defense flag--white with the DoD eagle and four red stars--to several additional officials not previously known to use it: the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, and the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs).

One other point: there are two kinds of Deputy Under Secretaries of Defense--those who are Presidentially-appointed/Senate-confirmed and those who are appointed by the Secretary of Defense. The first paragraph of the memorandum makes clear that only the first group are entitled to use flags.
Joe McMillan, 4 November 2003

Secretary of Defense

[Secretary of Defense] image by Joe McMillan, 27 December 2002

Secretary of Defense - Officially "medium blue" but actually a lighter shade close to B-, with the central device of the Department seal and four white stars. Approved by the President, 1947. Spread eagle finial, medium blue and white cord and tassels, white fringe.
Joe McMillan, 24 August 1999

Deputy Secretary of Defense

[Deputy Secretary of Defense] image by Joe McMillan, 27 December 2002

Deputy Secretary of Defense - Same as SecDef but white with medium blue stars and fringe. Approved by President, 1949. Spread eagle finial, medium blue and white cord and tassels.
Joe McMillan, 24 August 1999

Under Secretaries of Defense

[Under Secretaries of Defense] image by Joe McMillan, 27 December 2002

Under Secretaries of Defense - Medium blue with a dark blue triangle throughout, central device of Department seal on center and four white stars across the top. Approved by SecDef 1959. Spread eagle finial, medium blue fringe, medium blue and white cord and tassels.
Joe McMillan, 24 August 1999

Deputy Under Secretaries of Defense

[Deputy Under Secretaries of Defense] image by Joe McMillan, 27 December 2002

Deputy Under Secretaries of Defense - Same as Under Secretary with colors of field reversed. Same accoutrements. Don't know approval date, but displayed currently in DUSD offices.
Joe McMillan, 24 August 1999

Assistant Secretaries of Defense

[Assistant Secretaries of Defense] image by Joe McMillan, 27 December 2002

Assistant Secretaries of Defense - Same as SecDef but white with "Old Glory" red stars and fringe. Approved by President, 1949. Spread eagle finial, Old Glory red and white cord and tassels. Same flag is used by Department of Defense General Counsel.
Joe McMillan, 24 August 1999

DOD Inspector General

[Inspector General] image by Joe McMillan, 28 December 2002

The DoD Inspector General's flag is like the Assistant Secretaries but with Old Glory blue stars and fringe and Old Glory blue and white cord and tassels.
Joe McMillan, 24 August 1999

Detail of Seal

[Assistant Secretaries of Defense] image by Peter Krembs, 10 May 2002

Display of flags within Defense Department

On 16 June 2020, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper distributed a memo to the Department of Defense providing guidance about what flags (or representations of flags) may be displayed at Defense Department facilities and in the work spaces of Defense Department employees, including uniformed military personnel, civilians, and contractors. The press release about the memo can be found on the Department's website at, with a link to the actual memo. According to the press release and the memo, this guidance was provided to the Department in an attempt to promote unity and "reject divisive symbols." The memo lays out categories of flags (or their depictions) that are permissible within the Defense Department.

"In addition to the American flag, Service members and civilian employees are authorized to display or depict representational flags that promote unity and esprit de corps, including:

* Flags of U.S. States and Territories and the District of Columbia;
* Military Service flags;
* Flag or General Officer flags;
* Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed civilian flags;
* Senior Executive Service (SES) and Military Department-specific SES flags;
* The POW/MIA flag;
* Flags of other countries, for which the United States is an ally or partner, or for official protocol procedures;
* Flags of organizations in which the United States is a member (e.g. NATO); and
* Ceremonial, command, unit, or branch flags or guidons."

Flags that do not fall in the above categories are now prohibited from being displayed within the Defense Department. A strict reading of the memo would seem to indicate that this prohibition includes flags like the rainbow flag for LGBTQ+ rights, flags of sports teams, flags of political movements, and commemorative flags.

The memo further clarifies:
"This guidance applies to public displays or depictions of flags by Service members and civilian employees in all Department of Defense work places, common access areas, and public areas, including, but not limited to:

* Office buildings, facilities, naval vessels, aircraft, government vehicles, hangars, garages, ready rooms, conference rooms, individual offices, cubicles, storage rooms, tool and equipment rooms, workshops, break rooms, kitchens/galleys, recreational areas, commissaries, Navy and Marine Corps and Army and Air Force exchanges, and heads/latrines/restrooms--including property and buildings off installation leased by the Department;
* Sensitive compartmented information facilities and other secure facilities;
* Open-bay barracks, berthing areas, and common areas of barracks and bachelor quarters;
* School houses and training facilities; and
* All spaces or items in public or plain view, such as the outside areas of any Department of Defense buildings and government-operated or public-private venture housing (e.g. parking lots, yards, gazebos, or porches)."

The memo does also provide limited exceptions for the display of the prohibited flags:
"The public display or depiction of unauthorized flags in museum exhibits, state-issued license plates, grave sites, memorial markers, monuments, educational displays, historical displays, or works of art, where the nature of the display or depiction cannot reasonably be viewed as endorsement of the flag by the Department of Defense, is not prohibited."

Again, the press release at the link above leads to a copy of the memorandum if you care to read it for yourself in its entirety.

Randy Young, 26 July 2020