MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- Salutes are rendered and hearts beat proudly at the passing of our national flag, but perhaps the proudest of all belongs to the Marine chosen to bear “Old Glory” and march with her unfurled.
Sgt. Andrel C. Rutherford became the 31st Marine to hold the official title, “Color Sergeant of the Marine Corps,” when he marched out bearing the National Ensign for his first time at a Battle Color ceremony here, Tuesday.
Formally recognized in 1965, the billet requires Rutherford to carry the flag during ceremonies around Washington as well as with the Marine Corps Battle Color Detachment. The recently-promoted 23-year-old from Detroit will also carry the Presidential Colors for all White House State functions and tours.
“Having this title means a great deal to me,” said Rutherford. “I’m carrying our most sacred colors. Many have bled in battle to keep them standing tall, and I’m honoring that.”
According to the Marine Barracks Washington Web site, official tracking of the position began with former Color Sergeant, Gunnery Sgt. Shelton L. Eakin, who was promoted to lieutenant meritoriously, and later killed while serving in Vietnam. A memorial trophy dedicated in his honor bears the names of all Color Sergeants to date, and is passed to each new Color Sergeant.
Rutherford, a lean six-feet, three-inches, left his former job in supply at Camp Lejuene, N.C. to compete against two other candidates for the position at Marine Barracks Washington in fall of 2005.
According to Sgt. Brian T. Strickland, the 30th Color Sergeant, Rutherford was chosen based on his height - the minimum requirement is six feet, three inches - high physical fitness test score, White House security clearance and demonstration of outstanding leadership skills.
“Nothing can prepare the Color Sergeant for the level of endurance he has to go through,” said Strickland. “He has to know ceremonial drill and keep himself in flawless physical condition due to the fact that he’ll never know what he has to face. He could be standing out there, holding those colors for hours in front of thousands of people.”
Strickland, who was promoted to staff sergeant by the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps the day after relinquishing his title to Rutherford, stood with the 47-pound presidential colors for nine hours during President George W. Bush’s second inauguration.
“The flag can never fall,” said Strickland. “That’s where you get your strength from. It’s the most symbolic object in the world, and you can’t let it go.”
In addition to carrying the flag during ceremonies, Rutherford will head the Marine Color Guard Section of A Company, Marine Barracks Washington, which performs for parades, ceremonies and official functions around the United States and in other countries. The Color Guard section has three teams and participates in more than 1,000 ceremonies annually, regularly two to eight per day.
“It can break you down,” said Strickland, who held the position for two years. “Not only are you trying to better yourself every single day, but you have to be there for your Marines at all times. They have to see you and have confidence in you.”
Rutherford said he’s up for the challenge, and his self-assured presence is hard to deny.
“I know I have what it takes for this,” said the towering leatherneck. “The time has to come to man up and do it.”