Why we stop: The meaning of Reveille, Retreat, and Taps

  • Published
  • By Adam Bowles
  • 412th Test Wing Public Affairs

Edwards Air Force Base’s direct workforce is about 75% civilian.  So, new civilians may not know why exactly certain sounds play on the base on outdoor speakers during the day and what we all should do when we hear them.

“We just assume that new hires know the military customs,” Michelle Lovato, 412th Test Wing Civilian Personnel Officer said. “But that’s a big assumption, we need to break that barrier and not assume that everybody knows.”

Reveille is played as a bugle call to signal the beginning of the duty day on base. Retreat is played to mark the end of the duty day and precedes the playing of the National Anthem. Taps is played to mark the start of quiet hours on base, which is 9 p.m.

At Edwards, the installation commander has designated 7:30 a.m. as the official start of the duty day.

Air Force Instruction 34-1201, states in part, "Reveille and Retreat on their own are bugle calls only. If “Reveille” or “Retreat” is played as a prelude to the national anthem or “To The Color,” or if the flag is being lowered or raised, render courtesies. The playing of ―To The Colors, the National Anthem or the raising or lowering of the flag is what requires proper honors to be displayed to the flag."

“For a while there it was fairly annoying, like what are we stopping for all the time,” Christian Turner, Project Manager with Public Affairs said. “But I’ve chosen just take it in and every time I hear it remember what it is that it stands for.”

Retreat signals the end of the official duty day. The National Anthem is played immediately after the retreat bugle call.

The installation commander has designated 4:30 p.m. as the end of the duty day at Edwards AFB.

At the first sound of the retreat bugle call, all personnel outdoors should stop and face the flag, or when not visible, in the direction the music is played. If in uniform, protocol is to stand at parade rest. If not wearing a uniform or a civilian, protocol is to stop and face the flag or music only.

Master Sgt. Jesse McDonald, 412 Operations Support Squadron Air Traffic Control, said there is a deeper meaning to why we should follow these military customs.

“You are actually rendering these courtesies to the flag,” McDonald explained. “It’s respect and honor to the flag and what it symbolizes: that sacrifice especially for the military. We all know of people who have died in combat or out of combat; so you are also paying respect for those sacrifices that people honor.”

When the National Anthem is played and the U.S. flag is lowered, the proper etiquette is as follows:

- Service members in uniform should stand at attention and salute.

- Service members out of uniform should stand at attention and place their right hand over their heart or may also render a salute.

- Civilians should place their right hand over their heart.

- Service members performing physical training and wearing a PT uniform outdoors should stop, stand at attention and render salute.

- Vehicles in motion should pull over safely and stop.

Many Air Force bases play taps to indicate lights out or to begin quiet hours. There are no formal protocols required when taps is played outside of a ceremony.

“If you are at a military funeral Taps is also played,” McDonald said. “It’s the final respects being paid to that sacrifice as well.”

Taps is a critical part of military funeral and memorial ceremonies. When at a military funeral in uniform, a salute should be rendered during the playing of Taps. Civilians should remove their headgear and place their hand over their heart.

“Think about what these traditions mean, think about what these sacrifices mean and why we are doing what we are doing; why we are here on this base, why we are running tests to support the downrange mission,” McDonald explained.

Personnel can find additional information on U.S. flag customs and courtesy in Air Force Instruction 34-1201.