By Halle Thornton
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Change of commands are rooted in rich military history, dating back to the 18th century.
At that time, flags were developed with color arrangements and symbols unique to each unit, and served as a rallying point and reminder of allegiance to their leader during battle.
“The tradition of the change of command goes back to the time of the Roman Legions where the passing of the commander’s baton occurred in front of the troops to signify the leader who would take them into battle,” said James Mesco, historian for the 50th Space Wing. “The Continental Army in the late 18th Century resumed the tradition in the U.S. These actions occurred even before the Air Force became a separate service for the air arm of the military.”
Mesco said the change of command tradition dates back hundreds of years, and the Air Force adopted the ceremony from the U.S. Army.
According to the Air Force Instructions 14.5.1, “The primary purpose of a change of command ceremony is to allow subordinates to witness the formality of command change from one officer to another. The ceremony should be official, formal, brief and conducted with great dignity.”
The AFI also stresses the importance of the flag/guidon exchange, stating, “The flag/guidon is exchanged during the change of command as a symbolic gesture providing a tangible view of the command authority being transferred from one commander to the next.”
Alicia Chavez, protocol specialist with the 50th SW, explained planning and executing change of command ceremonies is a lengthy process.
“Out of all ceremonies on base, this one takes a lot more planning and coordinating,” she said. “There are also many moving pieces, especially when there are formations for the group and wing.”
The AFI has a specific sequence of events for change of commands, and Chavez is in charge of making sure all components of this sequence are executed.
“I ensure all details are covered,” she said. “Communication and staying on task is important, and being a team is crucial.”
Chavez is tasked with making invitations, using the correct emblems and wording, planning for pre and post receptions, scripts, distinguished visitors announcements, rehearsals and programs.
“It’s almost like planning a wedding,” she laughed. “Most important is that protocol meets with action officers and their team, educating them on all the moving parts for a successful change of command. It truly takes a team.”
Chavez added change of commands are important because it gives the base multiple opportunities to view a military official ceremony.
“It also gives everyone the chance to welcome and meet the incoming commander and their family,” she said. “Plus, there’s cake.”
Chavez enjoys working on the change of command ceremonies because she likes to meet with the action officers and help them get started.
“I think it’s an eye opener for them because they don’t realize how much work it entails,” she said. “They leave with a knowledge of ceremony planning, team work and a sense of military protocol.”