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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 September, 2003, 21:48 GMT 22:48 UK
Push-button bugle at military funerals
The US military has a shortage of bugle players
The US defence department has approved the use of a digital bugle to play at funeral ceremonies after admitting that it did not have sufficient staff to play at all services.

There are currently around 500 buglers on active duty - but almost 1,800 people who are entitled to receive a military service die in the country each day.

This has created a severe shortfall of staff available who can actually play the instrument, a Pentagon spokeswoman told the Associated Press news agency.

To tackle this shortfall, the defence department worked with a private company to create a "ceremonial bugle", which has a small digital recording device inserted within its bell to play music - more specifically "taps" - which is required at all US military funerals.

A member of the honour guard at a military funeral can then press a button which gives him or her five seconds to raise the instrument to their lips as if to play it.

A six-month trial involving 50 bugles and the consultation of honour guards and family members found that the idea had an approval rating of more than 90%, the Pentagon said in a statement.

'Visual effect'

The $500 instrument is, the department says, intended to "enhance the dignity of military funeral honours", but a real bugler will still be used if one is available.

The US military has struggled for years to cope with a severe shortage of musicians and personnel for military funerals.

Families of honourably discharged veterans are entitled to a two-person uniformed honour guard, the folding and presentation of the US flag and a rendition of "taps".

Officials also say that the electronic bugle is a viable alternative to playing "taps" on a stereo because the visual effect of someone miming its playing is more effective.

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