Take the protocol challenge

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Ronna Cabello
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Protocol
Everyday at 5 p.m. on Spangdahlem AB, one might notice large groups of people huddled up just inside the doors of the post office, the Exchange or almost any building.

One might also notice a few people making a mad-dash to their car around this same time. This must be a strange phenomenon for people visiting our base for the very first time.

A friend once told me about her father, a Vietnam veteran, who noticed this while visiting for the holidays. One day they were on base, picking up a few things for their holiday dinner. Just after their groceries were bagged, retreat played. Her father walked past a gathering crowd at the commissary exit and stood outside in the bitter cold to render a salute. She followed him, but up until that moment, she admitted to being one of those individuals in the crowd.

Unfortunately, a large percentage of us do not truly understand why we have this protocol in place or even its connection to those who sacrificed for the freedoms we enjoy today.

Last week, representatives from Spangdahlem's Tier II organization held an Airman's Challenge. Airmen were randomly selected to answer three Air Force questions, and if they answered two of the questions correctly, they won a $50 gift certificate. One of the questions asked of the participating Airmen was, "What action would an Airman take when outside, and wearing the uniform during reveille or retreat?"

I thought these Airmen would surely know the answer, but some of the answers I received were surprising. I slowly began to realize that some of our Airmen simply aren't informed.

When asked this question, a common answer was, "At my last base it was different."

Now I ask you, if our Airmen are uninformed, how likely is it that their supervisors are uninformed? To test your knowledge on Air Force customs and courtesies, here is a series of questions similar to those asked at the Tier II Airman's Challenge.

While outside in uniform, what do I do when reveille, retreat or taps is played?

At Spangdahlem, reveille plays every day at 7 a.m., retreat plays at 5 p.m. and taps plays at 9 p.m. During the challenge most Airmen didn't know that the procedures for all three of these ceremonies are exactly the same here.

If you are a military member in uniform, at the first sound of music, stop and face both the U.S. and German flag. Remember that when overseas, the same respect you would render to our nation's flag will be equally rendered to the host nation's flag as well. When the flag is not visible, face the direction to where the music is being played, stand at attention and salute on the first note of the music. Drop your salute after the last note is played or when the flag has been fully raised or lowered.

What if I'm wearing my physical training uniform?

All physical training activities will need to pause until the last note of music is played. Military members are also required to come to full attention and render the proper salute when outdoors.

What if I'm a civilian or a military member wearing civilian attire?

If you are a civilian or a military member not in uniform, stop at the first note of music and face the direction of the music. Remove your headgear and stand silently with your hand over your heart for the duration of the music.

Service members and veterans not in uniform may also render the military salute.

What if I'm inside my vehicle?

If you are driving around at the time scheduled for reveille, retreat or taps, pay attention to your surroundings. When you see other cars stopped on the side of the road, it's for a reason. When you hear the music or see other cars stopped around these times stop your vehicle, turn off your radio, crack your window and sit quietly through the music. For safety reasons, be sure to put your hazard lights on during taps.

What do I do when the U.S. and German national anthem is played during a ceremony indoors?

All military members are required to stand at attention at the first note of the music, but only military members in formation are required to render a salute during the playing of national anthems. If you are in formation, you must wear appropriate headgear, render the military salute on the first note and maintain that position until the last note is played. Civilians should stand at attention facing the flag with their right hand over their heart.

When organizing a ceremony, where can I find the music for the national anthem and Air Force song?

There are many musical accompaniments that can be found for both the national anthem and the Air Force song. However, the only renditions that can be used in a military ceremony can be found at http://www.usafband.af.mil/recordings/index.asp under the military recordings heading.

While there are stories of people not rendering the proper customs and courtesies, I remember a moment in which the proper customs were exemplified.

I was driving by a playground in housing last summer at 5 p.m. when the first sound of retreat played. After pulling my car to the side of the road, I noticed that all the children playing in the park suddenly stopped and were standing still. A few of the children even put their tiny, little hands over their hearts.

After driving away, I wondered what these children were thinking at the time or where they had learned this tradition. Most likely, they were unaware of the meaning behind it. But if you could have seen their faces and the pride in their eyes you would understand why there was no doubt in my mind that the reason they carried out this tradition so naturally was because they watched their parents and the people they admire carry it out so many times.

The pride that I saw on each one of their faces represented the love and sacrifice given by each uniformed mother and father throughout the U.S. military.

For more information, contact the protocol office at 52fw.ccpo@us.af.mil, DSN 452-6057 or 06565-61-6057.

(Editor's Note: The above information was taken from AFI34-1201_SPANGDAHLEMABSUP, and AFI36-2903.)