Retirement Ceremonies

Retirement Ceremonies

Air Force Protocol
from 'Til Wheels are Up'

Retirement Ceremonies

Recognition of members who are retiring from a career of long, faithful, and honorable service is one of the oldest traditions of military service. Each retiree should leave the service with a tangible expression of appreciation for his/her contribution to the Air Force, and with the assurance that they will continue to be a member of the Air Force family in retirement. The basic information on retirements and retirement ceremonies is in
AFI 36-3203, Service Retirement, which incidentally, requires local commanders to have a retirement ceremony for all retiring members and specifically offer a formal ceremony.

Retirement ceremonies require almost the same level of advance planning as a change of command ceremony to ensure success. It's important early on to confirm the Director of Personnel has arranged for retirement and appreciation certificates for the retiring officer and spouse.

If a retirement decoration is to be presented, the award request must be written and submitted for approval in accordance with
AFI 36-2803 , The Air Force Awards And Decoration Program, timelines. If you wish a United States flag that was flown over the Capitol to be presented, this must be coordinated far in advance of the ceremony. Another nice touch for a retirement ceremony is to request a letter/card from the President. Requests for personal letters from the President are limited to personnel with 30 or more years of service. You must request that letter/card through SAF/LL, White House Liaison, Washington, D.C. 20330 at least 45 days prior to the retirement date. SAF/LL will need the following information:

  • Full name and rank
  • spouse's full name
  • dates of service
  • unit and command assigned
  • retirement date
  • home address
  • where to send letter
  • date letter must be received

You'll also need to confirm ceremony and reception locations, schedule the officiating officer's participation, get an invitation list from the retiring officer and send out invitations, and arrange for flags, photographer, mementos (normally presented at a separate farewell event), and a myriad of other details to ensure a professional departure from active military service. You may also have to make arrangements and develop itineraries for senior officers attending or presiding over the ceremony. Finally, make sure the presiding official has an information package detailing the retiring officer's career and a sequence of events at an appropriate time before the ceremony occurs.

Retirements in Conjunction with a Formal Parade or Review.

Retirement ceremonies can vary in complexity. For example, it is appropriate to honor retirees at a formal parade or review; in which case, it is acceptable practice for the senior presiding officer to offer the retiring officer the opportunity to inspect the troops one last time (if the retiring officer was their commander) and/or preside over the pass in review. Presentation of retirement decorations are also appropriate prior to the start of the retirement ceremony. Several retiring military members may be honored at the same ceremony. In such cases, the junior ranking member is retired first, and so on, with the senior ranking officer being retired last. Spouses of retiring personnel are seated immediately behind the official party (either on the reviewing stand, if room, or in distinguished guest seating behind the reviewing stand, in positions of honor). Other features generic to all retirement ceremonies are described below.

A "Typical" Retirement Ceremony.

Normally, retirement ceremonies are less formal, and begin with a short meeting between the presiding official and the retiring officer and his/her family. Then the family members are escorted to their seats (usually in the front row, to the right of the center aisle). They are followed by the officer to be retired and the presiding official, who take their places in front of the audience. If the presiding officer is a general officer, the appropriate General's March/Ruffles and Flourishes is played once the official party is in position. Posting of the colors is appropriate, or flags may be positioned beforehand. Make sure chairs are provided on stage for the presiding official, retiring officer, and his or her spouse.

If a decoration is to be presented, the narrator begins by asking the audience to rise and reads the citation for the decoration. At the conclusion of the reading of the citation, an aide hands the decoration to the presiding official, who "pins" on the decoration. Photographs are taken, and then the aide hands the citation to the presiding official, who presents it to the retiring officer and again photographs are taken.

Now the narrator asks the audience to take their seats. The retiring officer takes his assigned seat, and the presiding officer usually makes a short speech summarizing the retiring officer's career and their contributions to the Air Force. At the conclusion of his remarks, the narrator reads the retirement order. The audience rises with the words "Attention to Orders." The retiring officer rises and takes his position next to the presiding official. After the orders are read, the aide hands the retirement certificate, signed by the President of the United States and Chief of Staff of the Air Force, to the presiding official, who presents it to the retiree. Again, photographs are taken.

Then the presiding official or narrator asks the spouse to come forward. (It's appropriate for an escort officer to escort the spouse to her place on stage.) The aide passes a certificate of appreciation for the spouse, signed by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, to the presiding official, who presents it to the retiree's spouse. The narrator normally reads the citation, and photographs are taken. At this point, it's appropriate for the retiree to present flowers to the spouse (flowers are an authorized SM&W expense for retirements). The aide hands the flowers to the retiree, who presents them to the spouse. Again, photographs are appropriate with each presentation.

The narrator then asks the audience to take their seats (if they haven't been instructed to do so already), and asks the retiree to make his or her remarks. The presiding officer takes his or her assigned seat, and the retiree moves to the podium or center stage. At the conclusion of the retiree's remarks, the narrator asks the audience to rise for the departure of the official party (including the spouse). Once the official party has left the area, the narrator announces "Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes the ceremony. Please join (name of the retiree) for a reception in the (location)." (It is traditional for the retiring officer to host a small reception for honored guests and attendees following the ceremony.)

Usually it is not appropriate to present mementos other than retirement certificates and decorations during the ceremony. However, there are always exceptions. For example, if the retiring officer's coworkers or peers made prior arrangements to have a U.S. flag which had flown over the Capitol and cased in a presentation box, it may be appropriate to have the presiding official (or someone else) make the presentation just before or after the retirement order is read. (Such flags are authorized, and can be ordered by contacting the nearest office of your Senate member or Congressional Representative).

Sequence of Events.

Here's a sample of the sequence of events shown in 'Til Wheels Are Up' for retirement ceremonies. Also, we have a "Retirement Ceremony Checklist" for your use. You will want to tailor these to fit your particular situation.

  • Retiring officer, spouse, and family meet with presiding officer.
  • Spouse and family escorted into position.
  • Presiding officer and retiring member proceed to ceremony location.
  • Narrator announces the presiding officer.
  • "Ruffles and Flourishes" and General's March may be played, if appropriate for the presiding officer.
  • Individuals take position on the stage, retiring member stands on presiding officer's left.
  • National Anthem is played.
  • Invocation is said if desired.
  • Presiding officer makes comments (usually pertaining to the retiring member's biography/family).
  • Presiding officer announces that decoration will be presented.
  • Narrator reads citation
  • Aide presents medal to presiding officer.
  • Medal presented and photo taken.
  • Presiding officer directs that retirement order be read.
  • Retirement certificate presented to member; photo taken. (Personal Color may be presented at this point in the ceremony.)
  • Presiding officer asks spouse to come forward.
  • Presiding officer presents spouse's certificate; photo taken.
  • Presiding officer turns floor over to retiring member for comments.
  • Ceremony concludes and reception follows.

Note: If the retiring member is a General Officer you may want to present his personal color to him as part of the ceremony (based on his desire to do so). One method of doing this is as follows:

  • Honor Guard NCOIC and Personal Color Bearer move into position.
  • Honor Guard NCOIC and Personal Color Bearer furl and case Personal Color.
  • Personal Color Bearer moves into position between the colors and the presiding officer and the retiring officer.
  • Personal Color Bearer passes Personal Color to the presiding officer.
  • The presiding officer presents the Personal Color to the retiring officer.
  • The retiring officer accepts the Personal Color and returns it to the Personal Color Bearer.
  • Personal Color Bearer returns to original position.

Remember, either you or the retiring officer's office staff should put together an information package for the presiding official well in advance of the ceremony. The package should include, as a minimum, the retiring officer's biography, first and last names of attending family members, and a copy of the sequence of events. Include a copy of the citation if a decoration is to be presented. You may also want to pre-brief the presiding official just prior to the ceremony.

Here are some past HQ AFMC retirement ceremony products available for your use: