On July 17, Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper provided guidance to senior leaders and commanders on the public display or depiction of flags in the Department of Defense.

He acknowledged that “flags are powerful symbols,” particularly in the military community where they can “embody common missions, common histories, and the special, timeless bonds of warriors.”

Esper then specified that any flags displayed inside or on the grounds of a U.S. military facility must accord with the military imperatives of good order and discipline – treating all members of the DOD community with dignity and respect, and rejecting divisive symbols.

In addition to the American flag – an “honored symbol of the nation both authorized and encouraged for display” – the secretary provided a list of other emblems or representational banners that service members and civilian employees can use to promote unity and esprit de corps. Some of the obvious ones include, but are not limited to, official state flags, the colors for each service branch, the POW/MIA banner, command flags and unit guidons, and the emblems of other nations in joint environments or during diplomatic visits.

The all-service message gave no specifics about which flags are unauthorized. The secretary placed the responsibility on commanders to “take reasonable, necessary and lawful measures to maintain law and order, and to protect installation and reservation personnel and property.”

Commanders have the authority to order the removal of any symbols, flags, posters or other displays from areas under their control “that they determine will adversely affect good order, discipline or morale within the command.” According to the message, leaders may not – solely for the purposes of complying with the directive – inspect or remove materials from barracks rooms or living quarters, lockers, desk or cabinet drawers, or private automobiles. Objectionable items in those cases may not be in public view.

Museums also are exempted from the new DOD policy, giving them the leeway to present material from a “neutral, historical or educational perspective.”

Esper noted that he remains committed to fielding the most powerful military force the world has known by strengthening the bonds of its most valuable resource – people. Community members can find the new guidance memo and other information about efforts to promote diversity across the U.S. military at www.defense.gov.