Retreat Ceremony: U.S. Flag Customs and Procedures
The retreat ceremony serves a twofold purpose. It signals the end of the official duty day and serves as a ceremony for paying respect to the flag. Because the time for the end of the duty day varies, the commander designates the specific time for the retreat ceremony.
The retreat ceremony may take place in the unit area, on the base parade ground, or in the vicinity of the flagstaff. If conducted at the base parade ground, retreat is a part of the parade ceremony. If conducted within the unit area, it is usually a ceremony not involving a parade. If the retreat ceremony is conducted at the Flagstaff, the units participating may be formed in the line or they may be passed, depending on the size and number of units and the space available.
When persons not assigned to a formation are outdoors and in uniform, on the first note of retreat, they should face the flag (if visible) or music and assume the position of parade rest.
Events Accompanying Retreat Ceremony at the Flagstaff
Shortly before the specified time for retreat, the band and troops participating in the ceremony are positioned facing the flagstaff and dressed. If marching to and from the Flagstaff, the band precedes the troops participating in the ceremony.
If the band and troops march to the Flagstaff, a flag security detail also marches to the Flagstaff, halts, and is given the command Parade, REST by the senior member.
As soon as the troops are dressed, the commander commands Parade, REST. The commander then faces the Flagstaff, assumes the position of the troops, and waits for the specified time for retreat.
The commander orders the band leader to sound retreat at the specified time by commanding SOUND RETREAT.
The band plays retreat. If a band is not present, recorded music may be played over the base public address system. During the playing of retreat, junior members of the flag security detail assume the position of attention and move to the Flagstaff to arrange the halyards for the proper lowering of the flag. Once the halyards are arranged, the junior members of the flag security detail execute parade rest in unison.
After the band finishes playing retreat, the commander faces about and commands Squadron (Group, etc.), ATTENTION.
The commander then commands Present, ARMS. As soon as the troops execute present arms, the commander faces to the front and also assumes present arms. The members of the flag security detail execute present arms on command by the commander.
The band plays the national anthem or the bugler plays To the Colors. The junior members of the flag security detail lower the flag slowly and with dignity. If the flag is being flown at half-staff, it is raised briskly to the top, then lowered slowly.
The commander executes order arms when the last note of the music is played and the flag has been securely grasped. The commander faces about, gives the troops Order, ARMS, and then faces to the front.
The flag security detail folds the flag. The senior enlisted of the detail remains at attention while the flag is being folded unless he or she is needed to control the flag.
When the flag is folded, the flag security detail, with the senior enlisted on the right and the flagbearer in the center, marches to a position three paces from the commander. (In an informal ceremony, the detail marches three paces from the officer of the day.) The senior enlisted salutes and reports "Sir (Ma’am), the flag is secured." The commander returns the salute, and the flag security detail marches away. The troops are then marched to their areas and dismissed.
Lowering the Flag
When practical, the persons lowering the flag should be an NCO and three junior members for the all-purpose flag and an NCO and five junior members for the base flag. The detail is formed and marched to the flagstaff, and the halyards are detached and attended from the leeward side. On the first note of the national anthem or, if no band is present, To the Color, the members of the detail not lowering the flag execute present arms. The lowering of the flag is coordinated with the playing of the music so the two are completed at the same time.
The senior member commands Order, ARMS when the flag is low enough to be received. If at half-staff, the flag is hoisted briskly to the staff head while retreat is sounded, and then it is lowered on the first note of the national anthem or To the Colors.
The flag is detached from the halyards and folded. The halyards are secured to the staff.
Above information courtesy of United States Air Force