What Are Reveille, Retreat, and Taps & What Can We Learn From Them?


Most of you have probably heard Reveille, Retreat, and Taps played at your military installation – but what do they mean, and what can we learn from them?

When I was a freshly minted military spouse – nearly 11 years ago – questions about military pomp and protocol were fresh in my mind. Having not grown up in a military family, the myriad of acronyms, insignia, and tradition were new and exciting – and also pretty intimidating.

For whatever reason, protocol during bugle calls always threw me for a loop. Was I supposed to stop walking, talking, or driving? Was I supposed to get out of my car? Was I supposed to put my hand over my heart or salute?? Surely I was not required to salute…right??

Spoiler alert, I was not. (Can you imagine?? ?)

And thank goodness because after a decade of asking, “like this???” hand poised at my forehead, my husband still has to gently let me down with an, “Ummmm…close, babe”.

Bless him.

If you’re new to the military and confused about civilian protocol during bugle calls, this one’s for you. If you’re a seasoned military mama, stick with me, I just may have a new little slice of perspective for you.


Reveille is a bugle call which is played at either sunrise or the start of the duty day on military installations. It derives its name from the French word, réveille, which literally means, “wake up.” Approprié, non? It is typically followed by another bugle call, To The Colors, during which the American Flag is raised. If you are a non-military individual, you should stand at attention and place your right hand over your heart. It is appropriate to take this action during any ceremony which involves the flag.


Retreat is a bugle call played at the end of the duty day, and also is typically followed by, To The Colors, during which the American flag is lowered. Retreat has been used to signal the end of the duty day since the Revolutionary War, and the bugle call itself can be traced back to the time of the Crusades. Again, standing at attention and placing your hand over your heart is appropriate for non-military individuals during this flag ceremony.


Taps is the last bugle call of the day played on military installations and signals lights out or quiet time. There is no formal protocol for Taps played at the end of the day, but please keep in mind that it is also played at the conclusion of military funerals, at which time it is appropriate for non-military individuals to stand at attention with their hand over their heart. I don’t think I need to explain why.


Reveille, Retreat, and Taps each have compelling and symbolic historical and national significance. Those things are not to be taken for granted, but I think that there’s another valuable lesson to be learned from the way that these bugle calls are implemented.

They not only allow us, but compel us, to pause and reflect. To stop whatever we’re doing and focus on one thing.

And y’all, we are SO busy – as a society, as go-get-em’ military spouses, as employees, as parents, and as spouses. There are SO many things vying for our time and attention that stopping seems like the very last thing we should be doing. But if we’re not stopping – regularly and intentionally – to evaluate what’s going on in our lives, are we really making the most of the time we have?

What if we made time, at regular intervals, to stop and check in with family or friends. To consider our personal or familial goals, and whether or not we are actively working to achieve them. To be thankful. To make space in the craziness of our lives for a little peace.

What if we stopped putting off the things we’ve been meaning to do and made the time?

These musical military guideposts allow us time to stop whatever we’re doing, and reflect – couldn’t, and maybe shouldn’t we be doing the same for other areas of our lives?

I know that I’m going to, I hope you’ll join me.

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Christian Knutson
Christian is an Army wife since 2007 and home educator to three beautiful children. When she’s not teachin’ those babies or dreaming up things to write to you lovely ladies, she devours books, consumes copious amounts of coffee and tries to spend as much time as possible being active outdoors. Her other hobbies include trying to get people to pronounce her name properly (it’s a doozy!), making obscure 90s pop-culture references and embarrassing her family by singing waaaaay too loudly and confidently in proportion to actual skill. She strongly dislikes relaxing (where my ADHD ladies at?!), and considers herself a recovering perfectionist/anxious mess and continual work-in-progress. (Spirit of honesty and all that, you know.)


  1. After reading this, these calls will forevermore make me stop and think about the ways I need to be more mindful on a daily basis. Thanks for the reminder of their purposes and their possibilities!

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