Military Tradition: Reveille and Retreat

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Edgar Thompson
  • 180th Fighter Wing
Do you remember what to do when you hear the music indicating that the reveille or retreat ceremony is about to begin? I believe many appear to fear the time of reveille and retreat because they are not sure of the correct protocol. There is no reason to run for cover as some people are apt to do when the music begins playing. Let's take a brief look at the history of reveille and retreat followed by a refresher on what to do when the music begins. 

Reveille originates from the French word "wake up," it began as a way to wake military
personnel at dawn for assembly of the troops and roll call. In essence, it signified the beginning of the official duty day. It was not originally intended as honors for the flag. Here at the 180th first sounds of music for the reveille ceremony begins at 8:00 a.m. 

Retreat was first used by the French Army and dates back to the Crusades. Since the Revolutionary War, the American Army has used this bugle call which always sounded at sunset. Its original purpose was to notify guards to start challenging until sunrise (meaning to "halt" and demand identification) and to tell the rank and file to go to their quarters and stay there. For us it signals the end of the duty day and the first chords of music begin at 4:30 p.m. 

What do I do when reveille or retreat is played? 

Whether in uniform or not in uniform, at the first sounds of reveille or retreat, stop where you are and turn to face the flag, or in a case where the flag is not visible, turn in the general direction of the flag and, if in uniform, stand at parade rest. If not in uniform, protocol still dictates that you stop and face the flag out of respect. 

When do I come to attention and salute the flag? In uniform when you hear the first note of the national anthem, come to attention and render the salute. Do not salute if you are not in uniform. Instead, come to attention and place your right hand over your heart. If you have on a hat, remove it with the right hand and hold it at the left shoulder while the right hand is over the heart. Hold the salute and/or hand over heart until the national anthem has finished playing. 

What do I do if I am driving at the time? It is while driving on base when the national anthem begins playing that people appear to be confused about what they are to do. Many times people may be talking on a mobile phone or the music inside the vehicle may be too loud or the individual may have the earbuds to their IPod in their ears. If you see the vehicle in front of you stop and not move, that may be your clue that something is happening. Bring your vehicle to a complete stop and for safety put the car in park. Everyone inside the vehicle including the driver should remain seated at attention. The protocol applies to all people on base to include non-military and civilians. 

Reveille and retreat are two military traditions observed by the personnel of the 180th Fighter Wing. It is a small amount of time (reveille takes 110 seconds, retreat 122 seconds) set aside each UTA weekend to honor our nation's flag and the sacrifices it symbolizes.

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