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Story fifteen

  Pfc. Michael Montgomery, 472nd Military Police Company, fires a World War II-era pack 75-mm howitzer Monday at Fort Wainwright’s parade field between the playing “Retreat” and “To the Colors” to signify the daily retiring of the installation’s flag.

photo by David Bedard/Fort Wainwright PAO

Pfc. Michael Montgomery, 472nd Military Police Company, fires a World War II-era pack 75-mm howitzer Monday at Fort Wainwright’s parade field between the playing “Retreat” and “To the Colors” to signify the daily retiring of the installation’s flag.

David Bedard
Fort Wainwright PAO

Bugle calls heard over the forts Richardson and Wainwright Giant Voice mass notification systems owe their origins to American colonial methods of military signaling, despite use of the latest in digital audio technology.

According to University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire military historian Kyle Hudick's "Reveille to Retreat: The Evolution of Field Music in the United States Army, 1775-1918," Army buglers were essential in communicating commands on the battlefield.

Though largely based upon adapted British principles, American bugle calls were standardized by Prussian Baron Friedrich von Steuben, whose "Blue Book" drill manual prescribed procedures for the Continental Army to successfully face their British counterparts on the battlefield, Hudick wrote.

Though the "Blue Book" only mentioned signals by name, fife and drum tunes were codified among the Army's combat branches to signal specific actions on the battlefield. Musicians were attached to the commander's headquarters, where the national and regimental colors were also assigned for signaling, Hudick wrote.

According to Federation of American Scientists Military Analysis Network Web site article "Bugle Calls," bugle calls weren't entirely standardized throughout the Army until 1867, when Army reformer Maj. Gen. Emory Upton directed Maj. Truman Seymour, 5th U.S. Artillery, to formulate an authoritative system of calls to eliminate confusion experienced by the Union Army during the Civil War.

According to the article, Soldiers' lives became regulated by daily bugle calls heralding daily routines, including mealtimes, stable calls, sick calls, Sunday church calls and taps.

Though outmoded in modern warfare by the advent of radio and digital communications, bugle calls are still used by today's military installations to signal daily routines, with an emphasis on honors to the flag, according to "The Soldier's Guide," Field Manual 7-21.13.

According to Patrick Tipton, Fort Richardson garrison operations officer, forts Richardson and Wainwright use a custom-designed chip to play scheduled music over the installations' mass notification systems.

Important daily calls include:

"Reveille," 6:30 a.m. – According to the FAS article, "Reveille" is based upon a French bugle call used since the Crusades. It signified the beginning of the day with morning roll call. Today, a salute round is fired from a howitzer and the flag is raised upon the last note of "Reveille."

According to "The Soldier's Guide," Soldiers who are outdoors are to come to the position of attention while facing the flag and salute from the first to the last note of "Reveille."

When in civilian clothes, Soldiers are to stand at attention while facing the flag with their right hands over their hearts. Soldiers driving vehicles are to pull off to the side of the road, and the driver or the vehicle commander is to exit the vehicle to render honors.

"Retreat," 5 p.m. – According to the FAS article, "Retreat" is also a Crusades-era French bugle call. Historically, "Retreat" was played at sunset and signified the requirement of sentries to challenge personnel until sunrise and for Soldiers to return to their quarters.

Today, a howitzer is fired at the last note of "Retreat," and the flag is lowered at the first note of "To the Colors," with the lowering of the flag regulated in such a manner as to be completed at the last note.

According to "The Soldier's Guide," Soldiers who are outdoors are to face the flag and come to the position of attention at the first note of "Retreat." Soldiers render a salute at the first note of "To the Colors."

When in civilian clothes, Soldiers are to stand at attention while facing the flag with their right hands over their hearts at the first note of "To the Colors." Soldiers driving vehicles are to pull off to the side of the road, and the driver or the vehicle commander is to exit the vehicle to render honors.

"Taps," 10 p.m. – According to the FAS article, "Taps" was arranged during the Civil War by Union Maj. Gen. Daniel Butterfield with the assistance of his brigade bugler, Oliver Horton, and is a revision of the French bugle call "Lights Out." Butterfield modified the length of the notes to give "Taps" its stirring rhythm.

Although "The Soldier's Guide" prescribes honors when "Taps" is played during a funeral or memorial service, the guide places no requirements on Soldiers when the song is played at the end of the day on installations.

In a tribute to Army heritage, forts Richardson and Wainwright play the full complement of bugle calls throughout the course of the day, to include "First Call," "Mess Call" and "Tattoo," Tipton said. These traditional bugle calls usually coincide with meal times and other daily routines and require no actions.