General Orders for Sentries
Orders to Sentry is the official title of a set of rules governing sentry (guard or watch) duty in the United States Armed Forces. While any guard posting has rules that may go without saying ("Stay awake," for instance), these orders are carefully detailed and particularly stressed in the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Coast Guard. Also known as the 11 General Orders, the list is meant to cover any possible scenario a sentry might encounter on duty.
All recruits learn these orders verbatim while at recruit training and are expected to retain the knowledge to use for the remainder of their military careers. It is very common for a drill instructor or (after boot camp) an inspecting officer to ask a question such as, "What is your sixth general order?" and expect an immediate (and correct) reply.
The General Orders for Sentries are quite similar between the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, the main differences being the titles of positions referenced in the orders. The Navy Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (NJROTC), Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) also use the following General Orders to the Sentry.
The General Orders for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines are as follows:
1. To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
When you are a sentry, you are "in charge." This means that no one—no matter what their rank or position—may overrule your authority in carrying out your orders. The only way that you may be exempted from carrying out your orders is if your orders are changed by your superior. For example, if your orders are to allow no one to enter a fenced-in compound, you must prevent everyone from entering, even if an admiral tells you it is all right for him or her to enter. The petty officer of the watch (or whoever is your immediate superior) may modify your orders to allow the admiral to enter, but without that authorization you must keep the admiral out. Situations such as this will not often, if ever, occur, but it is important that you understand the principles involved. It is also your responsibility to know the limits of your post. This information will be conveyed to you among your special orders. You must also treat all government property that you can see as though it were your own, even if it is not technically part of your assigned post.
2. To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.
"Keep your eyes peeled", as the expression goes. Be vigilant by looking around at all times. Do not be tempted to hide from the rain or cold in poor weather. If you see or hear anything unusual, investigate it.
3. To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.
If, for example, someone is climbing a fence near your post, you must report it, even if the offender stops climbing and runs away after your challenge. In this case, even though it appears that the threat to security is over, there is no way for you to know whether this violator is the only one involved. And even though the climber may have just been seeking a shortcut back to her or his ship, you cannot be certain that there is not something more sinister involved. Let your superiors make the judgment calls; your job is to report what happens on or near your post.
4. To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guardhouse (or the Quarterdeck) than my own.
"In these days of modern communications, sentries will probably have telephones or radios at their disposal with which to make their reports. But if they do not, or if there is a power failure or some other reason that the modern equipment fails, the age-old practice of relaying the word is very important. The term "guardhouse" in this general order refers to the command post or point of control for the watches. It might be the quarterdeck on board ship or a tent in the field.
5. To quit my post only when properly relieved.
It should be fairly obvious that you should not leave your post until someone has come to take your place or until the petty officer of the guard has told you that the watch is no longer necessary. If the person relieving you is late, report it to the petty officer of the watch but do not quit your post. If you become ill and can no longer stand your watch, notify the petty officer of the watch and he or she will provide you a proper relief.
6. To receive, obey, and pass on to the sentry who relieves me, all orders from the Commanding Officer, Command Duty Officer, Officer of the Day, Officer of the Deck, and Officers and Petty Officers of the watch only..
It is essential that you receive and obey all of the special orders that apply to your watch. It is also essential that you pass these orders on to your relief.
For the Marine Corps it reads 'Commanding Officer, Officer of the Day, Officers, and Non-Commissioned Officers of the guard only.'
7. To talk to no one except in the line of duty.
"Having conversations about matters not pertaining to your duty is distracting and must be avoided. If someone tries to engage you in casual conversation while you are standing your watch, it is your responsibility to inform them courteously that you are on duty and cannot talk with them.
8. To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.
"While this is rather straightforward and obvious, keep in mind that a fire or disorder of some kind might be a deliberate distraction to keep you from observing some other disorderly or subversive activity. If you are certain that a fire is not meant to be a distraction, you should fight the fire if you have the means to do so. Remember, however, that your first responsibility is to report whatever is amiss.
9. To call the Corporal of the Guard or Officer of the Deck in any case not covered by instructions.
The rule here is "When in doubt, ask." If you are not sure what you are supposed to do in a particular situation, it is better to ask for clarification than to make an assumption or to guess.
Even though you are in charge of your post and everyone, including officers, must obey your instructions insofar as they pertain to your duties, you must still extend the appropriate military courtesies. Both terms, "colors" and "standards", refer to the national ensign. The national ensign may be referred to as "the colors" when it is fixed to a staff, mast, or pike (e.g., when flown from a flagstaff or carried in a parade). When it is fixed to a vehicle it is often called "the national standard." A flag is considered "cased" when it is furled and placed in a protective covering. If your duties allow, you should take part in morning or evening colors ceremonies, but do not sacrifice your vigilance by doing so. For example, if your assignment requires that you watch a certain area and the national ensign is being hoisted in a different direction, you should stand at attention and salute but do not face the colors; keep looking in the direction you are supposed to be watching.
11. To be especially watchful at night and during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post, and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.
Challenging persons while you are on sentry duty is accomplished by a mix of custom and common sense. When a person or party approaches your post, you should challenge them at a distance that is sufficient for you to react if they turn out to have hostile intentions. You should say in a firm voice, loud enough to be easily heard, "Halt! Who goes there?" (or "Who is there?"). Once the person answers, you should then say "Advance to be recognized." If you are challenging a group of people, you should say, "Advance one to be recognized." If you have identified the person or persons approaching, permit them to pass. If you are not satisfied with that person's identification, you must detain the person and call the petty officer of the watch. When two or more individuals approach from different directions at the same time, challenge each in turn and require each to halt until told to proceed.
General Orders for the Navy and Coast Guard are essentially the same, except for the wording of two orders:
- 6. To receive, obey and pass on to the sentry who relieves me, all orders from the Commanding Officer, Command Duty Officer, Officer of the Deck, and Officers and Petty Officers of the Watch only.
- 9. To call the Officer of the Deck in any case not covered by instructions.
General Orders of the Coast Guard:
- 6 is similar, however there is a difference in the officers.: To receive, obey and pass on the sentry who relieves me, all orders from the Commanding Officer, Field Officer of the day, Officer of the day, and Officers and Petty Officers of the Watch.
- 9. To call the Petty Officer of the watch in any case not covered by instructions..
- I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.
- I will obey my special orders and perform all my duties in a military manner.
- I will report violations of my special orders, emergencies, and anything not covered in my instructions to the commander of the relief.
Meaning of the General Orders
- Number 1. I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.
- (1) The guard is responsible for everything that occurs within the limits of his post while he is on duty. He is also responsible for all equipment and property located within the limits of his post. The exact limits of his post are defined by special orders. The special orders should also include every place a guard must go to perform his duties.
- (2) A guard investigates immediately every unusual or suspicious occurrence on or near his post provided he does not have to leave his post to do so. If necessary, the guard will contact the commander of the relief for instructions.
- (3) A guard apprehends all suspicious persons and all persons involved in a disorder occurring on or near his post provided he does not have to leave his post to do so. In apprehending persons, the guard will use only necessary force to overcome any resistance. Apprehension of persons should be included in special orders or guard instructions. All persons apprehended are turned over to the commander of the relief.
- (4) All persons, regardless of rank, are required to respect members of the guard in the performance of their duties.
- (5) A guard will remain on post and continue to perform all duties required on that post until he is relieved by proper authority.
- (6) If a guard requires relief because of sickness or for any other reason, he will notify the commander of the relief and wait until he is replaced by another guard or has permission from the proper authorities to leave his post.
- (7) If a guard is not relieved at the expiration of his tour of duty, he does not abandon his post. He will contact the commander of the relief for instructions.
- (8) Guards leave their posts for meals as specifically directed by the commanding officer. Normally, this is accomplished by arranging for early and late meals for guards going on and coming off post.
- (9) When ordered by proper authority, or prescribed in the special orders, a guard on the last relief of a post may be directed to leave the post at the proper time and return to the guardhouse where he reports to the commander of the relief on duty.
- Number 2. I will obey my special orders and perform all my duties in a military manner.
- (1) A guard will familiarize himself with the special orders for his post prior to being posted. The guard will obey, execute, and enforce all special orders pertaining to his post.
- Note. The commander of the guard is responsible for insuring that all guards understand their special instructions prior to being posted.
- (2) In addition to his special orders, a guard is responsible to obey and carry out any orders or instructions from the commanding officer, field officer of the day, and officers and noncommissioned officers of the guard. No other persons are authorized to give a guard orders or instructions. Any special instructions for a guard should be issued through the guard's chain of command.
- (3) Guards on post will pass instructions to their relief when appropriate. The information is also given to the commander of the relief. Example: A guard on duty at an ammunition dump discovers a hole in the fence during his tour of duty. Upon finding the hole, the commander of the relief is notified. The guard will pass this information to his relief so that special attention can be paid to that portion of the fence until the hole is repaired.
- (4) The guard will perform his duties in a military manner and serve as an example to others.
- (5) The guard is courteous to all persons. He will talk to no one except in the line of duty. When persons make proper inquiries of a guard, he answers them in a courteous manner.
- (6) A guard on an interior guard post maintains an erect and soldierly bearing. The weapon is carried in a manner prescribed by the commanding officer or commander of the guard. (A guard armed with a rifle, carbine, or shotgun may be allowed to shift his weapon to left shoulder arms to reduce fatigue.)
- (7) Guards on post salute individuals as prescribed in AR 600-25.
- (a) A sentry, on a post which does not require challenging, carrying a weapon at sling arms, will render the hand salute upon recognition of an officer.
- (b) A sentry, on a post which does not require challenging, carrying a weapon at right (left) shoulder arms, will, upon recognition of an officer, halt and present arms as prescribed in the manual of arms FM 22-5. When the officer returns the salute the guard will return to right (left) shoulder arms and resume his duties.
- (c) A sentry armed with a pistol, on a post which does not require challenging, will, upon recognition of an officer, render the hand salute.
- (d) No salute is given by a guard who is engaged in a specific duty, the performance of which prevents saluting.
- (8) A guard talking with an officer does not interrupt the conversation to salute another officer; however, if the officer salutes a senior, the guard also salutes.
- (9) The special orders will specify the time for challenging.
- (a) When challenging, a guard, armed with a rifle, carbine, or shotgun will challenge from the position of port arms as described in the manual of arms in FM 22-5. If armed with a pistol the guard will challenge from the position of raise pistol.
- (b) After challenging, a guard will remain in the challenge position until the individual challenged is allowed to pass, depart, or is turned over the commander of the relief.
- (c) Sentinels on posts requiring challenging will not render salutes.
- Note. The sentinel's primary mission is to guard his post. Requiring salutes places the individual in a vulnerable position. The sentinel will, however, display all other military courtesy and respect while in conversation with an officer.
- (d) Challenging one person or a group:
- 1. If a guard sees any person on or near his post during the time for challenging, he positions himself so that he can control the situation. If possible, he should be out of sight when challenging. When the person is approximately 30 steps, or at sufficient distance to allow the guard time to react, the guard will assume the correct challenge position and command "HALT!" When the person has halted, the guard asks, "WHO IS THERE?" The guard may advance toward the person while challenging to put himself in a better position. When the guard is in the best position to pass or apprehend the person, he requires the person to advance towards him, remain in position, or advance to a particular place, face toward the light, or to take any position necessary to determine whether the person should be passed, denied, or turned over to the commander of the relief.
- 2. The guard permits only one member of a group to approach him for identification.
- 3. If persons are in a vehicle, the guard proceeds as if they were on foot. If necessary to carry out his duties, he may have one or all of the passengers dismount.
- 4. After halting a group and receiving an answer indicating that it is authorized to pass, the guard says, "Advance one to be recognized." After he has recognized the one advanced, the guard says, "Advance, Sergeant Smith," naming the person (or group) allowed to advance. If the answer is "Friends," the guard says, "Advance one to be recognized." After recognition he says, "Advance, friends."
- 5. The guard satisfies himself beyond a reasonable doubt that those challenged are what they represent themselves to be and that they have a right to pass. If he is not satisfied, he detains the person and calls the commander of the relief. Normally, the guard will accept a reasonable answer for identification if the post is not a vital area and the persons are not suspicious looking.
- Note. A visual check of an individual's ID card is considered the best means of identification when doubt exists.
- (e) Challenging two or more persons or groups
- 1. If two or more persons or groups approach the guard's post from different directions at the same time, they are halted in turn and remain halted until advanced by the guard.
- 2. When two or more groups are halted at the same time, the senior is advanced first.
- 3. A guard advances different persons or groups with the following priority: commanding officer, field officer of the day, officer of the day, officers of the guard, officers, patrols, reliefs, noncommissioned officers of the guard in order of rank, and friends.
- 4. If a person or group has been advanced and is talking with the guard, the guard halts any other person or group that may approach, but advances no one until the person or group with whom he is talking leaves. He then advances the senior of the remaining group.
- 5. A guard must always be alert and never be surprised. He never permits two persons or groups to advance to his post at the same time.
- 6. Confusing or misleading answers to a guard's challenge are not acceptable. However, the answer "Friend" is not considered misleading and is the usual answer of an inspecting officer or patrol when they do not wish to reveal their official capacity.
- (10) During his tour of duty a guard is required to execute orders of no one but the commanding officer, field officer of the day, officer of the day, and officers of the guard; however, any officer may investigate apparent violations of regulations by members of the guard. In the event of an inspecting officer, or any other person in the military service, finding an irresponsible guard on post (Art. 113, Uniform Code of Military Justice), it is his duty to notify the commander of the guard or a noncommissioned officer of the guard and stay on the post until a qualified guard is posted.
- (11) A guard surrenders his weapon to, and only on order of, a person from whom he lawfully receives orders while on post. These persons should not order a guard to surrender his weapon for inspection or any other purpose unless an emergency exists.
- Number 3. I will report violations of my special orders, emergencies, and anything not covered in my instructions, to the commander of the relief.
- (1) A guard reports all violations of his special orders to the commander of the relief. He apprehends the offender, if necessary.
- (2) A guard reports all emergencies that occur on or near his post. The guard will take whatever action is prescribed by his special orders or guard instructions. Anytime the guard is in doubt as to what action to take, or it is not covered in his special orders, he will call the commander of the relief for instructions or assistance.
- (3) In case of fire, occurring on or near his post, the guard calls, "Fire, Post Number (Two)." He alerts the occupants, if it is an occupied building. He gives the alarm or ensures one has been given. If possible, he extinguishes the fire. He helps direct the fire fighting apparatus to the fire. He notifies the guardhouse of his actions as soon as possible.
- (4) A guard reports any disorder occurring on or near his post. He takes police action as prescribed in his special orders or guard instructions. If assistance is required, he calls, "The Guard, Post Number (Four)."
- (5) If the danger is great, he fires his weapon into the air three times in rapid succession before calling. When instructed to do so, guards give warnings of air, CBR, and other attacks. Guards should receive special training if they are to act as chemical, biological, and radiological (CBR) sentinels while on post.
U.S. Air Force Security Forces
- I will take charge of my post and protect property and personnel for which I am responsible until properly relieved.
- I will report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce and contact my supervisor in any case not covered by my instructions.
- I will sound the alarm in any case of disorder or emergency.
- Thomas J. Cutler (1902–2002). The Bluejacket's Manual. US Naval Institute Press. p. 153. ISBN 1-55750-208-0., The Bluejacket's Manual, Thomas J. Cutler
- Rottman, Gordon (2010). "Daily Life". US Combat Engineer 1941-45. Osprey Publishing. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-84603-579-1. "All soldiers were required to memorize and be able to accurately repeat the 11 General Orders for sentries."
- FM 22-6, Guard Duty