Reveille, retreat deserve proper respect

  • Published
  • By Col. Scott Chambers
  • 75th Air Base Wing commander
I read with interest a commentary written by Master Sgt. Mark Lyle from the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Honor Guard regarding reveille and retreat. He discusses his opinion why everyone, military and civilian alike, should stop and pay respect during these two times. As I look at my role in honoring our country and all those who came before us, I think I have failed to push the respect that we all must have for our country. Please read the commentary below and see how it makes you feel.

I was driving on base one recent morning at approximately 7:28 a.m. The car ahead of me stopped and pulled to the right side of the road. I followed and also pulled over.

Seconds after I pulled over to the right, four other vehicles passed by. The motorists seemed to be in a hurry to get to their destination, while ignoring the playing of reveille.
For many, the playing of reveille and retreat may seem a burden that keeps them from getting to one destination or another in the mornings and evenings. It makes some hide inside their buildings waiting for the "all clear" signal. It makes some move faster than they have ever moved before, trying to gain cover.

Reveille originated in 1812 and was used to muster units or as a means to conduct roll call. It was not originally intended as honors for the flag.

Retreat was first used by the French Army and dates back to the Crusades. The American Army has used this bugle call since the Revolutionary War. When you hear it, you are listening to a beautiful melody that has come to symbolize the finest qualities of military members everywhere for nearly 900 years.

Retreat has always been at sunset and its original purpose was to notify sentries to start challenging until sunrise (which means to "halt" and demand identification) and to tell the rank and file to go to their quarters and stay there.

Today, reveille and retreat ceremonies serve a twofold purpose. They signal the beginning (typically 7:30 a.m.) and ending (typically 5 p.m.) of the official duty day. They also serve as ceremonies for paying respect to the flag and those who serve it. Both ceremonies constitute a dignified homage to our national flag from its raising in the morning to its lowering in the evening.

The proper response for military members in uniform during reveille and retreat is to face the flag or the direction of the sound of the music and stand at parade rest. When the flag is being lowered or the music is heard playing, come to attention and render a salute. Reveille is preceded by the bugle call, "To the colors." Retreat is followed by the national anthem. The salute is held until the flag is lowered or the music ends.

Military members in uniform performing flight line duties are exempt from rendering military courtesies during reveille and retreat. However, when on the flight line and not performing flight line duties, military members and civilians should render proper courtesies.

The proper response for civilians is to stand at attention, face the flag or music, and place their right hand over their hearts. Vehicles on the installation should stop during reveille and retreat. Passengers should turn down radios and remain quietly seated.

I really didn't know the history behind reveille as I drove to work that morning. Later I took the time, looked it up and discovered its origin.

I also found out that same day:

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ryan Balmer, 33, of Indiana, died in Kirkuk, Iraq, of wounds sustained when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Matthew Kuglics, 25, of Ohio, died of wounds sustained when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device in Kirkuk, Iraq.

Army Pfc. Timothy Vimoto, 19, of Kentucky, died of wounds sustained when his unit in Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, was attacked by insurgents using small arms fire.

Army Sgt. Andrew Higgins, 28, of California, died of wounds sustained when his unit came in contact with enemy forces in Baqubah, Iraq, using small-arms fire.

Army Pfc. Justin Verdeja, 20, of California, died of wounds sustained when his unit in Baghdad, Iraq was attacked by insurgents using small arms fire.

As a member of the honor guard, I can tell you how real and close to home that sacrifice is for me. The base honor guard recently escorted Sergeants Balmer and Kuglics to their final resting places. They will never hear the national anthem or be able to salute the flag again, but we have the opportunity to honor them each and every day by stopping and rendering the proper courtesies during reveille and retreat.

Reveille takes 110 seconds, retreat 122 seconds. Pausing for both are small sacrifices for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. 

Since arriving here, I have been impressed that Hill AFB does the right thing. We're going to do the same for reveille and retreat. Starting immediately, our security personnel at the gates are going to begin holding traffic during those special times of the day for us all to properly honor our nation's flag. We can use your help--when you see others driving or walking during reveille and retreat, please kindly remind them to stop and pay their respect. Lets all do the right thing!