Honor Guard members’ cast distinctive shadows across the warm concrete slab as the evening sun begins to descend. With serious faces, they don’t move a muscle while standing tall in front of the United States flag.
Respect, discipline and bearing are more than words to this group of Airmen, who wait for the commander to order the bandleader to sound retreat.
Retreat is a 122-second ceremony carried out every day by honor guard personnel everywhere, and it encompasses decades of Air Force history and American pride. Since 1947, the birth year of the United States Air Force, Airmen have performed retreat ceremonies at the end of every official duty day.
In addition to signaling the end of the official duty day, retreat serves as a reminder to pay respect to the flag.
“Retreat is an extremely important part of our day,” said Senior Airman Jeremy Weems, a Shaw Air Force Base Honor Guard member. “Retreat often reminds me of the Airmen and other service members who came before us and the sacrifices they made so we can be where we are today.”
All Air Force honor guard personnel, from the service’s premier honor guard detail, located at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, D.C., to base-level honor guard units, perform retreat ceremonies.
“It doesn’t matter if you serve on the base honor guard or national honor guard,” said Airman 1st Class Arnold Gomez, also an honor guard member at Shaw. “Wherever you’re at, you are representing that base and the hard work that took place during that day.”
Retreat does more than just signify the end of the official duty day. It offers Airmen the opportunity to reflect on their own commitment, said Chief Master Sgt. James Wilkerson 20th Fighter Wing command chief at Shaw.
“Retreat is a reflection period which should serve as a reminder of why Airmen joined an all-volunteer force with a pledge of allegiance to defend the constitution of the United States of America,” he said.
With such a reflection period, Airmen may also see how retreat ties into the everyday mission.
“As we fold the flag (during retreat ceremonies) at our respective bases, I feel that it’s kind of like we’re all folding little pieces of a big picture at the same time,” Gomez explained. “These traditions are what tie our Air Force together, making us who we are today.”
Retreat ceremonies consist of a series of methodical steps, and the Airmen performing those steps often have developed meaning for each task in the retreat process. Because they recognize the significance of these ceremonies, honor guard Airmen work hard to execute them with pristine accuracy, Gomez said.
“We love what we do,” Gomez said. “But it’s something that doesn’t come easy. We practice for ceremonies such as retreat all day every day, simply to perform the actual ceremony once a day. That’s what kind of pride and dedication we have,” he said.