FORT LEE, Va. (April 1, 2010)- Most of us are familiar with bugle calls such as Reveille, Mess Call and the most reverent and honorable Taps, but have you ever found yourself within earshot of the bugle and not known what call was being sounded or, for that matter, what to do in response?

Throughout the Army’s history, bugle calls have played an important role in signaling troops. While today’s bugle calls play mostly a symbolic role, knowing what each call represents and what action is required in response ties us to the rich history from which bugles came. They allow us to pay tribute to those who have served before us and demonstrate the discipline of today’s modern force.

The bugle has a shorter history than its brother, the trumpet, which can be traced back to pre-Biblical times. Having a conical bore, the bugle has a warmer, more mellow sound than the trumpet, which is a cylindrical instrument. The bugle has no valves and is only capable of producing a limited number of notes within the harmonic series of its fundamental tone.

Historic documents show trumpets and bugles being used for signaling in the Army around the turn of the 19th century. The bugle’s pinnacle use was during the Civil War, and it continued to be used as a signal device during combat until the invention of the radio. Bugles were still used in Vietnam to sound daily calls, but today they are used in ceremonial settings only and typically calls are played on a trumpet. Bugle calls were used to prompt nearly every action in a Soldier’s life.

The meaning of each bugle call, as outlined in Army Field Manual 12-50, is defined below.

Bugle Calls

First Call – Sounds as a warning that personnel will prepare to assemble for a formation.

Reveille – Signals the troops to waken for morning roll call. This is also used to accompany the daily raising of the National Colors. In this instance, it is preceded by Attention, a warning for troops that they’re about to be called to attention.

Mess Call – Signals mealtime.

Assembly – Signals troops to assemble at a designated place.

Recall – Signals duties or drills to cease.

Drill Call – Sounds as a warning to turn out for a drill

Retreat – Signals the end of the official day.

To the Color – is the bugle call used to render honors to the nation. It is used when no band is available to render honors or in ceremonies requiring honors to the nation more than once. To the Color commands the same courtesies as the National Anthem.

Tattoo – Signals all lights in the squad rooms be extinguished and all loud talking and other disturbances discontinued within 15 minutes.

Call to Quarters – Signals personnel to go inside who are not authorized to be absent from their quarters for the night.

Taps – Signals unauthorized lights are to be extinguished. This is the last call of the day. The call is also sounded at the completion of a military funeral and performed by a single bugler only.

Schedule of Fort Lee Bugle Calls

First Call – 5:55 a.m. Monday through Friday

Attention – 5:59 a.m. Monday through Friday

Reveille – 6 a.m. Monday through Friday

Mess Call – 6:15 a.m. Monday through Friday

Sick Call – 7 a.m. Monday through Friday

Drill Call – 7:20 a.m. Monday through Friday

Assembly – 7:30 a.m. Monday through Friday

Church Call – 8:45 a.m. Sunday

Recall – 11:55 a.m. Monday through Friday

Mess Call – noon, Monday through Friday

Drill Call – 12:50 p.m. Monday through Friday

Assembly – 1:00 p.m. Monday through Friday

Recall – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday

Assembly – 4:55 p.m. Monday through Sunday

Retreat and To the Color– 5 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

Tattoo – 9:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday

Call to Quarters – 10:45 p.m. Monday through Friday

Taps – 11 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

Required Actions

All actions should be performed facing the flag, if visible, or the direction of the music.

For Attention, military members come to attention. For Reveille, which follows one minute later, military members present arms.

For Retreat, military members not in a formation stand at attention, then come to present arms for To the Color.

Military members in formation should be brought to attention when that bugle call sounds in the morning and present arms during Reveille. During Retreat in the evening, the unit is brought to parade rest, followed by attention and present arms during To The Colors. Attention and present arms is also required for taps.

When indoors, military members should stand at attention and face toward the flag or music. The proper action for Civilians is to place the right hand over the heart for Reveille, To the Color and Taps.

When driving, safely stop the vehicle, dismount and render appropriate courtesy as listed above.

For a more detailed description of salutes, honors, and drill and ceremonies, refer to Army Regulation 600-25 and Field Manual 3-21.5.