Army Change of Command Ceremony

In the military and many other organizations, commanding officers conduct a change of command between the incoming commander and the outgoing commander.

The change of command ceremony is a formal passing of responsibility, authority and accountability of command from one leader to another.

In the Army, the change of command ceremony is conducted at all levels from the company to Army level.

Prior to assuming command, it’s imperative that you have a change of command ceremony.

If you don’t have a change of command ceremony, you are doing the outgoing commander an injustice and you are setting up the new incoming commander for failure.

A change of command is a military tradition that represents a transfer of authority and responsibility for a unit or command. The history, tradition, and accomplishments of the command are embodied in the colors. The passing of colors from an outgoing commander to an incoming commander ensures that the unit and its Soldiers are never without official leadership, represents a continuation of trust, and signifies an allegiance of Soldiers to their unit’s commander. ~  U.S. Army

Simply put, you must have a formal change of command ceremony.

Your change of command ceremony can be elaborate or simple.

That decision should be made between the incoming and outgoing commanders.

You can host the ceremony at a hotel, parade field or at your unit.

Your location will be determined by budget constraints, training time available and command guidance from higher headquarters.

army change of command ceremony

Overview of the Change of Command

In the Army National Guard and Army Reserves, most change of command ceremonies take place at the unit armory.

However, I have seen change of command ceremonies on the parade field, in a gymnasium, in a unit parking lot and at a variety of other locations.

At a minimum, you should have the higher headquarters commander, outgoing commander, incoming commander, family members, a formation of Soldiers and the unit guidon or colors present.

Maximum Soldier participation is ideal, but if your unit has schedule conflicts, you can use a smaller element of your total troops.

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. ~ SCHRIEVER SPACE FORCE BASE

Just keep in mind that you want your formation to accurately reflect the size of your unit.

During the change of command, the outgoing commander gets to address their unit one last time.

They will have the opportunity to thank family members, Soldiers and anyone else they want to.

Therefore, the change of command ceremony provides closure to the outgoing commander and enables the incoming commander a fresh start.

Normally, the higher headquarters commander, outgoing commander and incoming commander speak at the event.

Most change of command ceremonies last between 30 and 60 minutes in length.

Some high-level change of command ceremonies such as a Division or Corps Headquarters can last nearly two hours.

Please keep in mind that your Soldiers are standing at attention or parade rest the entire time.

Brevity is essential.

The last thing you want is to have several Soldiers “fall out” during the ceremony.

Planning Your Change of Command Ceremony

The secret to conducting a successful change of command ceremony is preparation.

The outgoing leader’s UNIT  has the primary responsibility to plan the event.

Typically, the S1, Readiness NCO, First Sergeant and/or XO plan the event.

They must coordinate with the incoming commander, outgoing commander and higher headquarters commander to determine a change of command date.

Once a date is established, the outgoing commander must conduct backwards planning.

Some key planning considerations include:

1. Designated Time & Location: The first part of the planning process is to set a date.

Once you have a date set, your next objective is to secure a location for the change of command ceremony.

If possible, keep it local.

Consider a parade field, your armory, the gymnasium or any other place in close proximity to your unit.

2. Identify Personnel to Attend: Next, you must identify VIPs and key personnel to include.

These are the guests.

They could include politicians, parents, friends, family members and senior military officers.

Once you have a list of participants, you should vet the list with your higher commander and the incoming commander.

After they approve the list, you can move to the next step of the planning process.

3. Create Invitations: Your next goal is to have your support staff prepare invitations for the change of command ceremony.

They can purchase invitations or use a computer software program to create invitations for the event.

Be sure to have someone spot-check the “proof” before they are mailed out to the invitees.

4. Order Flowers, Gifts and Refreshments: The next step is to order flowers for the outgoing and incoming commanders’ spouses.

You should also ensure the outgoing commander gets their military award, such as a Meritorious Service Medal or Army Commendation Medal.

Normally, the outgoing commander gets a replica of the unit guidon in a nice custom frame.

Don’t forget to order refreshments for the event either.

5. Conduct Rehearsals: Several days before the event and on the day of the event, Soldiers and key leaders should conduct a change of command ceremony rehearsal.

This will help work out the kinks and ensure the change of command ceremony is a success.

6. Conduct The Event: Finally, your last step is to conduct the actual change of command.

If you have planned well, things should go smoothly. After the event, spend 30-60 minutes “socializing” and saying “goodbye.”

After that the outgoing commander should leave, and let the new commander assume their responsibilities.

By following the steps above, you should have a successful change of command ceremony.

Next, we’re going to briefly discuss how to successfully prepare your change of command speech.

ARMY Change of Command

Tips for Preparing and Giving Your Change of Command Speech

Typically, the outgoing commander gives a longer speech than the incoming commander.

In most company change of command ceremonies, the outgoing Company Commander speaks for five to ten minutes.

The Battalion Commander normally speaks for five to ten minutes and the incoming commander usually speaks for two to five minutes.

After all, the change of command ceremony is really for the outgoing commander.

The incoming commander simply wants to introduce themselves, thank the Battalion Commander for the opportunity to command, and say a couple nice words about the outgoing commander.

If you are an outgoing commander, you should spend a couple hours preparing your change of command speech.

Listed below are some useful tips to help you prepare your speech.

1. Set a Time Limit – Typically a good change of command speech is approximately 10 minutes or less.

Five minutes is ideal.

You don’t want to be long-winded, but you need enough time to say what you want to say.

2. Decide Who You Want to Thank – Make a list of everyone you want to thank.

This includes your spouse, First Sergeant, Battalion Commander, parents, fellow Army Officers, NCOs and Soldiers, peers, etc.

If you are going to have high ranking officers at your event, don’t forget to thank them.

3. Finalize Your Change of Command Speech – Get a piece of paper and write out an introduction, main body and conclusion.

Organize your main points in a logical order.

Edit it a few times to get it the way that you like it.

Consider sharing it with a few of your trusted peers to get their input.

4. Rehearse – Rehearse your change of command speech to yourself and your spouse.

Speak out loud.

You could even tape record yourself and then evaluate yourself.

Eliminate any points that don’t flow smoothly.

If necessary, add or revise any additional points that you miss.

5. Create 3 x 5 cards with Main Points – Once you have rehearsed your speech, put the main points on 3 x 5 cards.

You will bring these with you when you give your change of command speech, in case you blank out or lose your train of thought.

Your goal is NOT to read your speech, but to talk naturally.

6. Give Your Speech – Finally, the big day has come.

You are about to give your change of command speech.

If you have rehearsed and practiced, everything should go fairly smoothly.

And, if you mess up a little bit, you have your 3 x 5 cards for a reference.

As you give your speech, stay on point and remember that your Soldiers are standing in formation!

Keep it short and on point.

Remember, the secret to success is preparation.

By following these six simple steps, you should give a successful change of command speech.

Great symbolism is attached to the ceremonial aspects of a change of command. An inspection and review of soldiers, gun salutes, as well as a military band will often be incorporated into the ceremony. For a Command Sergeant Major, the transferred item might be a saber during a Change of Responsibility, while for a Chaplain, the item might be the passing of a Clerical Stole. ~ Wikipedia

Final Thoughts

In summary, the Army Change of Command is a very important event.

Whether you are the incoming or outgoing commander, make sure you do your due diligence and prepare.

Sit down with your staff and map out the event.

Follow the advice in this article and you will be well on your way.

What are your thoughts?

What tips can you share for a successful change of command ceremony?

Leave a comment below to let me know what you think.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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  3. U.S. Army Installation Management Command (IMCOM): 27 Cool Facts
  4. U.S. Army Medical Command (MEDCOM): 10 Cool Facts
  5. 108th Training Command (Initial Entry Training): 22 Cool Facts
chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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21 thoughts on “Army Change of Command Ceremony”

  1. Thank you so much for the info! My husband will be taking part in a change of command ceremony next month as an ingoing company commander. I'm not sure what my duties are as his spouse. He hasn't informed me of much. I would like to get him a small gift, but not sure what tradition states. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you!

    1. The best gift to give your husband is to be supportive. He’s going to have less family time now and a big responsibility for the next couple years. Just being understanding will make a big difference. If you’re looking for a gift, I offer a good Company Commander Training Course on this website that would really help him out. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Thank you so much for the info! My husband will be taking part in a change of command ceremony next month as an ingoing company commander. I’m not sure what my duties are as his spouse. He hasn’t informed me of much. I would like to get him a small gift, but not sure what tradition states. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you!

  3. I've also noticed that having a quality MC and someone else (First Sergeant) who can really run the ceremony will help things move smoothly and allow the incoming and outgoing commanders to concentrate on thanking their families and soldiers.

    You don't need to run on forever while your people are in formation, there will usually be a reception afterwards where you can chat and press the flesh.

  4. Great job in putting together the complete plan for having a change of command ceremony. If these steps are followed in order, whoever is setting the ceremony up will enjoy that it flows smoothly.

    I agree about rehearsing those speeches. I also think you should set a timer so that you know it isn’t too long or short. The 3×5 cards do work quite well too. If you have practiced your speech, and you just use the cards as subject reminders, the speech will go great.

  5. I am finding this web site extremely useful as I have been perusing it to assist me with what to expect as a commander. I have just recently been selected for a Battalion Command for a hospital detachment. Can anyone help me regarding the preparation for the change of command ceremony as to what will be expected from me and what I need to include if I am expected to give a speech as the incoming commander?

  6. The Army Change of Command Ceremony is really cool. I’ve been to a few with my husband and really enjoyed them. I like how they read the unit history, the bio of the incoming and outgoing commander and have a nice formal ceremony.

    1. They sure are a lot of fun. I always enjoyed going to these change of command ceremonies as a spectator. It’s not much fun if you are a Soldier in formation though!

  7. Thank you for the overview of a change of command ceremony and all the things to consider. Your advice about the Company Commander taking time to write down notes is important. It’s key to be prepared for important events like this so that the event and experience is honored with the respect it deserves.

  8. I just finished my change of command ceremony last weekend. I spent 28 months in Company Command. It was a great experience, but I was definitely ready for the next chapter in my military career. We had a very nice ceremony and set the tone for the new Company Commander. I’ve experienced a bunch of emotions this past week, but I’m sure I’ll feel much better over the next few weeks.


  9. This is a great post about the Army Change of Command. My father in law is a former Battalion Commander during the Vietnam era. He always talks about this time in command and cherishes those memories. I’ve never served in the military, but it sounds like command is a tough, yet fun job.

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