By Airman 1st Class Harry Brexel
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Every duty day at Little Rock Air Force Base ends with a loud bugle call heard across the installation through the “Giant Voice” speaker system. At this time, people who are outside stop what they are doing and face the flag or music. Vehicles come to a halt, and salutes are rendered by all military service members in uniform.
The ceremony is called Retreat and is held at most U.S. military installations. Since the birth of the U.S. Air Force in 1947, Airmen have performed retreat ceremonies at the end of every official duty day.
Retreat ceremonies date back to the French Army during the Crusades-era. Originally, the bugle call was sounded at sunset, and its purpose was to communicate specific orders. It was meant to instruct sentries to be vigilant until sunrise and to tell the other troops to remain safe in their quarters throughout the night.
The tradition made its way to the U.S. when the American Army observed the ritual during the Revolutionary War and implemented Retreat with the sound of drums.
Commanders now designate a specific time for the Retreat ceremony. At Little Rock AFB, the call rendered during the week at 4:30 p.m. After the initial bugle call is sounded, the “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played.
When Retreat sounds, service members who are outside should face the flag, or music if unable to locate a flag, and stand at parade rest. At the first note of the national anthem, the service member will come to the position of attention and render a salute. Those in civilian clothes should remove any headgear and place their right hand over their heart.
At some bases, the U.S. flag is lowered and folded each day toward the end of the Retreat ceremony and a cannon is fired. The legend surrounding the ceremony suggests that a gun or cannon was originally fired to drive away evil spirits.
Today, Retreat symbolizes more than the end of the official duty day. For many, it holds a significant purpose.
“I never realized how important Retreat was until I joined the Honor Guard,” said Airman 1st Class Kelsey Cook, a 19th Airlift Wing honor guardsman. “Some ceremonies seem trivial, but when you look at the true meaning, it really hits home.”
The observance also serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by all service members. It allows Airmen to reflect on their own commitment to the Nation. Retreat remains an American tradition to this day.