Military parade

The Grenadier Guards on parade outside Buckingham Palace, London
Parade at the Victory Day (Zafer Bayramı) in Istanbul
United States Presidential Inaugural Parade held in Washington D.C.
U.S. Military Academy cadet color guard on parade

A military parade is a formation of soldiers whose movement is restricted by close-order manoeuvring known as drilling or marching. The military parade is now almost entirely ceremonial, though soldiers from time immemorial up until the late 19th century fought in formation. Massed parades may also hold a role for propaganda purposes, being used to exhibit the apparent military strength of one's nation.


The terminology comes from the tradition of close order formation combat, in which soldiers were held in very strict formations as to maximise their combat effectiveness. Formation combat was used as an alternative to mêlée combat, and required strict discipline in the ranks and competent officers. As long as their formations could be maintained, regular troops could maintain a significant advantage over less organised opponents.

Although the firepower of breechloading rifles and machine guns long ago rendered close formations in battle suicidal, modern armies still use parades for ceremonial purposes or in non-combat environments for their efficiency, ease of organization and encouragement of discipline. Roughly synonymous are "drill" and "march". The English word "drill" is of Middle Dutch origin, dating from the 16th century drill of the Dutch army of prince Maurice of Orange, which was widely copied throughout Europe at the time.

Drilling increased in importance when men stopped fighting as individuals and began to fight together as units. Drilling as a vital component of a war machine further increased with the increases in the size of armies, for example when Phillip II of Macedon disciplined his army so they could swiftly form the phalanxes that were so critical to his successes as a general. Military drilling later was used by the Roman Army to maximise efficiency and deadliness throughout their long history. After the fall of the empire, and the Dark Ages set in Europe, most feudal lords more heavily relied on peasant levies and their wealthy knights to fight their wars, the knights for the most part reverting to fighting as individuals. Massed military drilling was used mostly by only the foremost armies and nations, such as the Normans.

The U.S. drill is based on the contributions of Baron von Steuben, a Prussian Army officer who served as a volunteer in the Continental Army. During the winter quarters in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, von Steuben taught a model company of 100 soldiers musket drill. These soldiers, in turn, taught the remainder of the Continental Army.

The oldest, largest and most famous regular military parade in Europe is the Bastille Day Military Parade which is held each 14 July, on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, during France's national day celebrations.[1][2]


A military drill is memorizing certain actions through repetition until the action is instinctive to the soldiers being drilled. Complex actions are broken down into simpler ones which can be practised in isolation so when the whole is put together the desired results are achieved. Such is necessary for a fighting force to perform at maximum efficiency in all manner of situations. However, depending on the army and the drills it adopts drilling may destroy flexibility and initiative in exchange for predictability and cohesion.

Recruits in most modern militaries are taught drill to teach them how to work and move as a team. In addition, formations are still used in riot control, where mêlée combat is still the norm.

Four directions

Parades consist of four directions:

  1. Advance
  2. Retire
  3. Left
  4. Right

The Advance is the primary direction of movement, regardless of which direction the soldiers are actually facing (similar to a ship's bow.) On a parade square, the advance is determined by the position of the dais or flags. When these are not present, the direction of the drill commander is the advance.

The Retire is opposite to the advance, against the primary direction of movement (similar to a ship's stern.)

The Left is to the left of the Advance (similar to a ship's port.)

The Right is to the right of the Advance (similar to a ship's starboard.)

If the Advance is changed, then all other directions are changed to be based on the new Advance.

There is only one person in charge of a parade at a time. Changing this person is very ceremonious. This is to make it obvious to the soldiers who is currently in command and therefore to whom to pay attention.

During parades, unless explicitly told otherwise, soldiers have restricted movement, meaning they can move only exactly when they are told, and then doing only exactly what they are told to do. In most stances, any movement at all is disallowed and is held to such an extent as to have soldiers fainting on parade, although fainting under any conditions short of plural hours standing still in the hot sun is considered a sign of medical disability.[3]

American usage allows the service member to be at four states of alert:

  1. Attention: standing straight, eyes forward, chest out, knees straight but not locked, feet together at a 45-degree angle.
  2. Parade Rest: A modified position of attention in which the left foot is moved to shoulder width (typically measured as exactly 12 inches) and the hands are placed in the small of the back with the right hand placed inside the left with all fingers together and pointing rigidly straight.
  3. Stand At Ease: Same as Parade Rest, but the soldier may look at the speaker.
  4. At Ease: The service member is allowed to move around all but the right foot, but must remain silent.
  5. Rest: Service member may talk, smoke (if command authorized) and may move as long as their right pivot foot remains grounded.

A formation must be brought to the position of attention before it can go to a higher state of alert.[4][5]

Commonwealth of Nations countries allow four states of alert:

  1. Attention: standing straight, eyes forward, heels together, feet at a 30-degree angle (540 mils). The hands are held in tight fists with the thumbs aligned with the seam of the trousers.
  2. At Ease: a modified position of attention in which the left foot is moved to shoulder width and the hands are placed behind the back with arms fully extended. The right hand is placed inside the left. U.S. military usage is "Parade Rest."
  3. Stand-Easy: Legs remain in the At Ease position, arms are brought to the sides to a more natural standing position. Member may relax their muscles and make minimal movements. U.S. usage is "At Ease," however a common mistake in U.S. military practice confuses "At Ease" with "Rest" (below).
  4. Relax: Legs remain at position at ease, member may make more significant movements or look around. Members may not move the feet. If the troops are not being addressed by a commander, they are generally allowed to talk quietly. U.S. usage is "Rest."

Common parade commands

Alignment commands

Commonwealth version

Royal Military College of Canada cadets drill in Military parade square, in front of Stone Frigate 1880s

American version

Rest positions

Marching with weapons/saluting



Compliments and Saluting

Saluting on the march

In the Commonwealth countries, the following saluting on the march commands are ordered with a preparatory command of 'Saluting on the march...'. For example, 'Saluting on the march, to the front Salute' and always called on the left foot.

In British Corps, the drill movement for saluting to the front is the following. One, two, three, one.

This is done while looking to the right, except the right marker, who must stay looking to the front, to keep the flight, squad, platoon, etc. staying straight.
This is done while looking to the left, except the left marker (as they are the front most of the saluting flank), who must stay looking to the front, to keep the flight, squad, platoon, etc. staying straight.

In the United States, the command for saluting on the march is "Eyes, RIGHT/LEFT." The parade leader and other officers execute the hand salute, while everyone but the right file or left file in either case turns their heads to the right." The command for recovery is "Ready, FRONT." If the command does not have rifles, they will salute if given the command present ARMS. The arms will be lowered back to their normal position on the commands Order ARMS. They can also salute if given the command Hand SALUTE. The salute is raised when the parade leader finishes saying "salute", and is lowered in after being held for the same amount of time elapsed between the words "hand" and "salute."

Compliments on the March

This is done while looking to the right, except the right marker, who must stay looking to the front, to keep the flight, squad, platoon, etc. staying straight.
This is done while looking to the left, except the left marker, who must stay looking to the front, to keep the flight, squad, platoon, etc. staying straight.

Saluting at the halt (static)

In the United States, salutes at a halt are given on the command "Hand Salute". They are lowered in the same amount of time elapsed between the two words. The command "present arms" will cause the command to salute if the command is not given rifles for the ceremony, but the salute will be held until they are ordered to lower it with the command "order arms".

Colour commands

Marching with colours

Colour commands at the halt (static)

Turning motions at the march

Turning motions at the halt (static)

United States Armed Forces:

Commonwealth of Nations

Marching motions

Main article: Military step
  • This is a U.S. march pace. It is at the same tempo as Quick Time, but instead of 30 inches, the step is 15 inches.
  • There is also a Canadian and Commonwealth version of this, used for when the front file/rank is getting too far ahead of the rest of the flight, squad, or platoon, it means that front file/rank should make their steps smaller, to allow for the rest of the flight, squad, or platoon, to get back into proper dressing.

Melee weapons and unarmed combat

The most familiar form of melee weapon and unarmed combat drill in the modern world is the Kata and the Hyung in Eastern martial arts. However, there were once similar drills in the martial training of warriors in all cultures worldwide. They all had exactly the same purpose, to make instinctive an appropriate reaction to an attack or opening by conditioning the mind and body, through repeated and constant repetition of a series of actions (building up muscle memory). Probably one of the last survivors of such drills in the Western martial tradition are the reaction drills and rhythm exercises in the modern sport of fencing.

Musket drill

The 18th century musket, as typified by the Brown Bess, was loaded and fired in the following way:

  1. Upon the command "Prime and load". The soldier will bring the musket to the priming position, with the pan opened.
  2. Upon the command "Handle Cartridge". The soldier will draw a cartridge. Cartridges consist of a spherical lead bullet wrapped in a paper cartridge which also holds the gunpowder propellant. The bullet is separated from the powder charge by a twist in the paper.
  3. The soldier should then bite off the top of the cartridge (the end without the bullet) and hold it closed with the thumb and index finger.
  4. Upon the command "Prime". The soldier should pour a small pinch of the powder from the cartridge into the priming pan. He should then close the frizzen so that the priming powder is trapped.
  5. Upon the command " 'Bout" (About). The butt of the musket is then dropped to the ground by the left foot with the trigger guard facing to the rear and the soldier having just poured the rest of the powder into the barrel. Once all of the powder is poured into the barrel, the soldier should have stuffed the paper and the ball into the barrel, the paper acts as wadding to keep the gunpowder in the barrel and also packing it down.
  6. Upon the command "Draw ramrods". The soldier should draw his ramrod from below the barrel. First forcing it half out before seizing it backhanded in the middle, followed by drawing it entirely out, while simultaneously turning it to the front and placing it one inch into the barrel.
  7. Upon the command "Ram down the cartridge". He should then use the ramrod to firmly ram the bullet, wadding, and powder down to the bottom followed by tamping it down with two quick strokes.
  8. Upon the command "Return ramrods". The ramrod is then returned to its hoops under the barrel. Then the musket is returned to the shoulder arms position.
  9. Upon the command "Make Ready". The musket is brought to the recover position (held vertically in front of the body with the trigger guard facing forward) and the cock (hammer) is drawn back to the full-cock position.
  10. Upon the command "P'sent" (Present). The musket is brought up to the firing position in anticipation of the command "Fire".

Cavalry drill

Cavalry drill had the purpose of training cavalrymen and their horses to work together during a battle. It survives to this day, albeit in a much diminished form, in the modern sporting discipline of dressage. The movements sideways or at angles, the pirouettes, etc., were the movements needed for massed cavalrymen to form and reform and deploy. Of the proponents of classical dressage from which modern dressage evolved, probably the best known are the Lipizzaner Stallions of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police's Musical Ride gives an inkling of what massed cavalry drill at speed would have looked like.

Other drills

Other tasks may be broken down into drills, for example weapons maintenance, the British army used the rhythmic, poetic almost, "naming of parts" as a memory aid in the teaching and learning of how to strip, cleaning and reassembly of the service rifle.

Modern era

Drill is used to demonstrate discipline and cohesion in a modern militant force.

See also


  1. "Champs-Elysées city visit in Paris, France - Recommended city visit of Champs-Elysées in Paris". Retrieved 2011-07-27.
  2. "Celebrate Bastille Day in Paris This Year". Paris Attractions. 2011-05-03. Retrieved 2011-07-27.
  3. Srivastava, Vikram. "Drills and Parades" (PDF). Police Drill Manual. Bureau of Police Research and Development, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. Retrieved 21 February 2013.
  4. 1 2 FM 22-5, Drill and Ceremonies, Headquarters, Department of the Army, 1986
  5. 1 2 NAVMC 2691 Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies Manual, Headquarters, United States Marine Corps, 1981
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