Customs and Courtesies: What to do during reveille, retreat, taps

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Katrina Heikkinen
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
President Woodrow Wilson once said, "This flag, which we honor and under which we serve, is the emblem of our unity, our power, our thought and purpose as a nation. It has no other character than that which we give it from generation to generation. The choices are ours. It floats in majestic silence above the hosts that execute those choices, whether in peace or in war. And yet, though silent, it speaks to us -- speaks to us of the past, or the men and women who went before us, and of the records they wrote upon it."

For both past and current military members, rendering a salute has always been deeply imbedded in their minds as part of the U.S. Armed Forces. Sword salutes, gun salutes, greetings and honoring the American flag - while distinct salutes - are all similarly done to express honor and respect.

According to Air Force Pamphlet 34-1202, 8.4.1, Customs and Courtesies, "[A salute] is rendered with pride as a sign of recognition and respect between comrades in the honorable profession of arms."

Whether during organized physical training, walking in formation or wearing civilian attire while outdoors, most Airmen maintain proper etiquette during the daily playing of reveille, retreat and taps. However, some may have forgotten the appropriate protocol.

Reveille and Retreat
According to AFPAM 34-1202, 14.10.1, Reveille and Retreat, the U.S. flag is flown daily from reveille until retreat. Reveille is the raising of the flag for the day's activities and is a ceremony to honor the flag when it is raised in the morning and plays at 7 a.m. Retreat is the retirement of the flag from the day's activities and plays at 4:30 p.m.

During the playing of reveille and retreat, uniformed military personnel should stand at attention and face the American flag, or the direction of the music if a flag is not visible. If reveille or retreat is followed by the national anthem or "To the Color," military personnel should salute (during the entirety of the song).

Military personnel and veterans who are present but not in uniform may salute when outdoors [during reveille and retreat] or stand at parade rest. Civilians should stand at attention and place their right hand - with a hat if they're wearing one - over their heart. All vehicles on military installations should come to a complete stop and wait until the last note of the music stops. Military members in their vehicles should sit at attention.

However, according to Air Force Instruction 34-1201,, Protocol, if the U.S. flag flies for 24 hours and is not being raised or lowered, when reveille and retreat are played, individuals are not required to stop and salute.

Military customs and courtesies also apply to Airmen in a physical training uniform. Airmen should stop all sporting or physical training, stand at parade rest during reveille and retreat, then stand at attention and salute during the first notes of "To the Color," or the national anthem and hold through the last note if the flag is being raised or lowered. Airmen undergoing official physical fitness assessments are an exception to this regulation.

Protocol during taps
A commonly known military bugle call - taps, continues to be played at funerals, wreath-laying and memorial services. It also is played as the signal for the end of the day and is played at 10 p.m.

According to Air Force Instruction 34-1201, 2.20, Protocol, "Many Air Force installations play taps to signify lights out or to begin quiet hours. For these purposes, there is no formal protocol procedures required."

When taps is played during military funerals, military members will render a salute from the beginning until the conclusion of the song. Civilians should place their right hand over their heart during this time.

For more information on Air Force protocol regarding reveille, retreat and taps, go to

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