Why Do Soldiers Need To Be Tapped Out? Behind The Emotional Moment

"Airmen without family in attendance are ‘tapped out’ by a fellow Airman’s family so no one goes without a ‘tap out,'" a mom said.

Melissa Willets - Author

Jul. 9 2024, Published 12:34 p.m. ET

soldiers getting tapped out
Source: TikTok

We've all seen footage of soldiers surprising family members and the emotional display that ensues. Sometimes it's a dad returning from duty and walking into a child's classroom. Cue the tears as the loved ones embrace!

Other times, a soldier returns from being deployed and shocks a wife or husband who is out eating. Again, tears!

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An emotional moment involving family members being reunited that is less well known is called a tap out. Soldiers who have graduated from military school or training will stand at attention until someone — their spouse, parent, grandparent, girlfriend, best friend, or child — embraces them.

Why do soldiers need to be tapped out instead of simply leaving formation when they see their loved ones? Read on to find out.

woman happily tapping out soldier
Source: Getty Images
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So, why do soldiers need to be tapped out?

According to one Air Force mom, a soldier being dismissed from formation via a tap out is to prevent mass chaos.

After all, if a soldier has just returned from training, emotions are running high as they can't wait to be reunited with family or friends.

If you are having a hard time imagining what a tap-out looks like, plenty of tear-jerking TikToks will get you up to speed. Just get your tissues ready!

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Getting the idea? We told you it would pull at the heartstrings!

Meanwhile, another Air Force mom described the tradition of being tapped out this way: "Graduates remain at attention until a family member or friend taps on their shoulder."

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What if a soldier doesn't have anyone to tap them out?

You may be wondering as we did what happens if a soldier doesn't have a family member or friend who can attend their graduation ceremony. It must be tough to watch the emotional displays of love going on all around them, but they do not miss out on the tradition altogether.

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"Airmen without family in attendance are ‘tapped out’ by a fellow Airman’s family so no one goes without a ‘tap out,'" the Military Mom Collective explains.

It's important to note that there is no hard and fast rule about being tapped out, per the Air Force's Basic Military Training FAQ page.

"The tradition of 'tap out' where a graduate remains in their formation position until a friend or loved one taps them on the shoulder has persisted for years," the site first acknowledges.

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But then, the site goes on to clarify, "While still honored by many, there is no rule that requires a graduate to stand there waiting."

Why there is no rule actually has to do with soldiers who do not have someone to tap them out, with the site going on to explain, "This is important because not every graduate has guests at graduation and we are often told stories about how sad it is that nobody tapped out a graduate."

Ultimately and thankfully, "This is not a problem and nobody is 'stuck' in formation while everyone else is celebrating," according to the Air Force answer.

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