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The United States Army’s history began with its inception in 1775. The history of the past 247 years has created numerous Army traditions. Many are still practiced today and trace their roots back to these very beginnings, like making toasts, a spouse’s coffee, a military ball, or standing for the nation’s flag.

At the heart of every tradition, is a meaningful experience, and recreating these experiences builds living traditions that connect us with those who came before us — those who persevered through all the challenges of Army life around the world.

These are the things that make Army life rich and create our Army culture!

A wonderful showcase of traditional Army culture can still be seen at Fort Riley, Kansas, one of the oldest continuous Army posts still operating today. Built as a frontier outpost in 1862, it became the paragon of excellence for training troopers and horses as it is home of the US cavalry school.


As America expanded westward, the sound of horse hooves in the training arena and the sight of a covered wagon pulling into post would be commonplace.

With the haunting sound of a lone bugle blowing the cavalry charge, horses would race across the field, grass kicked up under their hooves, guns popping, each trooper in tandem with their horse, eyes focused on the mission — to clear the field of battle of all enemies.

In their tradition, if a stetson flies off a trooper’s head as they ride, they must retrieve it by piercing it with their saber while on horseback. Like the frontier spouses, we still practice the courteous tradition of giving a basket of carrots and a bottle of whiskey to the troopers involved in the ceremony.

While some traditions come from courtesies, most Army traditions were born from necessity.

The origin of the salute has many theories, but it is agreed that it is one of the traditions brought over from merry old England. Today, the salute is still a gesture of respect, given and returned, and remains a symbol of honor—and reassurance that the soldier is not holding a weapon.

The tradition of the “silver dollar salute” dates back to the beginning of the US Army. In colonial days, new second lieutenants were assigned an enlisted soldier to teach them regimental history.

To show their gratitude, the lieutenant would pay the enlisted soldier a small monetary amount. Still seen today at the military academy and some colleges and universities, a newly commissioned second lieutenant will bestow a silver dollar to the first enlisted soldier that salutes them.

Before the invention of modern communication, the bugle was essential in the regulation of a soldier’s day as well as for passing signals to troops while on the battlefield. Today, the bugles still blow to synchronize a soldier’s day but also in tradition to mark the beginning and end of the day.

Army “welcomes” in the Frontier

A newly arriving Army couple to this frontier world would be visited by the other wives of the unit, bringing a basket filled with a pound of essential items they would need to settle into their new post. Isolated, enduring days or weeks of arduous travel and finding few provisions, a pound of coffee, sugar, butter, or flour would have been critical to a new family.

A welcome reception or coffee group may have been the only outlet for those following their trooper to this far western line. As the decades have flown by and the wind has shifted the terrain, the limestone of Fort Riley has remained unchanged.

The mounted color guard would have been a constant sight in old Fort Riley.

Today, the mounted troopers are only ceremonious, but without them, the voices of those troopers and spouses who paved the way, who held tight to the storied traditions, would be lost to the Kansas wind. 

Even in this fast-paced modern world, without our Army culture and the traditions it offers, so too, would our place in history be lost.

“It takes an endless amount of history to make even a little tradition.” -Henry James

*Check out more articles from our Protocol Team.




  • Protocol and Etiquette Team

    Ann Crossley and Ginger Perkins are the authors of "The Army Spouse Handbook," the go-to guide for the 21st century Army spouse. The 440-page book describes situations that you may encounter as an Army spouse, irrespective of your spouse’s rank or assignment. The book is not meant to be read from cover-to-cover, but kept handy and used as a reference book when you need to know what to expect in social situations. Michelle Hodge, a seasoned spouse, has taught protocol and customs classes and continues to be an advocate for soldiers and family members. Lynda Smith, the newest member of the Traditions and Protocol team, enjoys finding new ways to bring old Army traditions to life with fun and humorous experiences, a little old-school vibe, and a modern twist.


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