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Reveille, retreat deserve adherence to military tradition

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Audra D. Willis
  • 88th Air Base Wing
You probably have heard the music coming over the base giant voice system. In the morning, you hear a bugle rendition of "To the Colors," and, as the duty day closes, "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Observation during these musical periods, known respectively as reveille and retreat, should resemble a picture perfect scene, not one person moving within hearing distance. Imagine, as you listen to the music play, in the parking lot several uniformed military members stand sharply at attention. On the street corner, a civilian, seemingly frozen, stands with his hand across his heart. It is feasible that some people on base are unaware of the significance of reveille and retreat, but it does not negate the responsibility that everyone has to honor this military tradition.

The adherence to military tradition should come as no surprise to anyone with military roots, but our structure has broadened and includes civilian employees and contractors. The expectations behind reveille and retreat are worth revisiting for some people and for providing an orientation for others who have recently been introduced to the military lifestyle.

So do you know why the bugle sounds? The tradition of the bugle connects us to service members from the past. Long ago, it was important in communicating the current goings-on to Soldiers over the sometimes deafening throng of war.

Today, the bugle sounds to start the new day and to signal to all who hear it that the flag is being raised. The term "reveille" comes from the French. It means "to awaken from sleep." Around sunrise, a detail of three people ceremoniously unfold and display the American flag, using precise and practiced movements. They then briskly hoist the flag up the pole while "To the Colors" plays. It's the perfect way to start the day, but once the day comes to an end, the flag must be secured.

"Retreat," in this context, means "the securing of the American flag." It signals the end of the duty day and provides an opportunity for paying respect. Upon direction of a commanding officer, a team of three to five people ceremoniously lower the flag to the sounds of the national anthem. Afterwards, the team methodically folds the flag in such a way where only the stars and no red may show.

In addition to honoring the flag, the retreat ceremony is used to recognize fallen comrades and may occur at special times during the afternoon. Retreat, along with reveille, is a ceremony worth witnessing, but even if you are unable to see either one, chances are that at some time you will hear the music.

At the first sound, people on base who are outdoors need to stop and face the direction that the music is coming from and stand at attention during the playing of reveille or retreat. On the first note of "To the Colors" and the national anthem, uniformed military members should salute until the music ends. Military members wearing the physical training uniform are not required to salute, but they are encouraged to do so if they desire. People who are not in uniform only need to stand at attention. Those people who are in their cars are required to stop their vehicles and sit quietly in observance until they hear the final note play.

And how far does the hearing distance extend? It extends to all Wright-Patterson installation properties, including the Prairies housing area. There are no requirements for people within hearing distance indoors to do anything, but imagine the effect of someone going the extra mile to observe these events and what that might mean to others.

When we participate in the two honored traditions, reveille and retreat, not only do we recognize military tradition, but we recognize who we are. The American flag is an enduring and timeless symbol. It conveys to the world what we stand for as Americans and tells a story of humble beginnings and how our nation has grown. It speaks of relationships between the flag and those who swore to protect and defend it. It serves as a lasting memory for loved ones and friends lost in war over the ideals that the flag represents.

Our flag boasts with every confident flip in the wind that the United States is indeed a superpower, never to be taken lightly. Whether civilian or military, the flag represents all of us and is deserving of respect. Do your part to honor what it stands for, and if you know of others new to military lifestyle, make them aware of the expectations, too.