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Retreat ceremony an ancient tradition

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- Staff Sgt. Hillary A. Stonemetz

Military units patrol the territory surrounding the city looking for enemies as the drums rolled across the early evening air signaling retreat. The gates to the city were about to close. If the patrolling unit didn't return to the city soon, it would be locked out for the night.

The retreat ceremony, a centuries old custom, was used to recall nearby patrolling units as military operations typically ceased at nightfall.

"The retreat ceremony has been in existence since the Revolutionary War," said Staff Sgt. Aaron Molchak, Offutt Honor Guard noncommissioned officer in charge. "During this period, the U.S. Army used drums to sound retreat as they were the most common musical instrument for infantry units. That custom dates all the way back to the Middle Ages when gun powder was first introduced to Europe."

According to the British army, the retreat ceremony has its origin in the 16th century when the beating of drums and the parading of guards at the end of the day signaled the closing of camp gates. The flags were lowered and guards secured the perimeter of camp until sunrise.

Over the centuries, this custom evolved into more than just a signal to end the duty day.

"The retreat ceremony fills two distinct rolls," said Sergeant Molchak. "It signals the end of the duty day and it serves as a ceremony for paying respect to the national flag. Because the official time for the end of the duty day varies for each base, the commander designates the time for the retreat ceremony."

The responsibility to perform the retreat ceremonies is shared by all units on base.

"Typically, retreat ceremonies are done as unit functions by the various squadrons here at Offutt," he said. "Usually, the honor guard provides guidance for the unit performing the retreat."

At Offutt retreat ceremonies take place at the parade grounds as well as the James M. McCoy Airman Leadership School.