Taking a step outside of their AFSC: Honor Guard NCO in charge
By By Senior Airman Mackenzie Richardson, 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 20, 2017
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. --
Editor's Note: This feature is part three of a five-part series on Special Duties and the Developmental Special Duty program.
With a sharp click of a heel and distinct command, a line of disciplined honor guardsmen begin to fold the American flag with grace, precision and determination. The rendering of military funeral honors for veterans is not only mandated by law, it’s the responsibility and duty of Air Force Honor Guardsmen around the world.
Although honor guard sequences, movements and ceremonies can be complicated, difficult and time consuming, Fairchild Honor Guard receives the guidance and training from one dedicated individual.
Tech. Sgt. Carlos Torres Figueroa, 92nd Force Support Squadron Honor Guard NCO in charge, is not only the sole honor guard trainer, he is also the only full-time honor guard member and has been since 2015.
“I sacrificed a lot of my family’s time my first year here and saw how that negatively affected my family, job and Airmen,” Torres said. “I have learned how to balance it all. I learned more about how important family is, just as much as I learned how important the mission is.”
Honor guard’s mission is unlike any other, spending upward of 60 hours a week together traveling, training and preparing for ceremonies. The Fairchild Honor Guard covers the entire Pacific Northwest community, displaying their precision and excellence in Washington, Montana, Idaho and Oregon.
With each new rotation, Torres begins an intense 12-day training regimen. These two weeks focus on various color guard, funeral and rifle sequences and movements, starting with the basics and slowly introducing variations.
“Training is never done,” Torres said. “I have a lot to teach in two weeks and not everything gets taught. We have eight fundamental body-bearing military funeral sequences, with each having up to 15 additional variations based on ceremony location and flight size.”
After completing the initial 12-day training regimen, the newest honor guardsmen jump right into ceremonies while simultaneously learning new sequences and adapting them to specific ceremonies and venues.
“Training takes time; there is no other way to cut it. We work the weekends and we work long hours,” Torres said. “We spend at least 10 hours a day practicing and at times we are here for 12 hours. Sometimes it takes as long as it takes.”
With an average of more than 300 military funerals a year, both active duty and veteran, the long hours, constant attention to detail and training can begin to take their toll physically and mentally.
“I am here to listen and support these Airmen in any way I can,” Torres said. “After doing funeral after funeral, ceremony after ceremony, it can be beneficial to bring in the Chaplain to talk or simply making sure the Airmen know they always have someone to talk to.”
With a new rotation every few months, Torres witnesses every squadron, unit and entity Fairchild has to offer accomplishing the mission.
“This special duty has allowed me to see the ins and outs of the Air Force unlike ever before,” Torres said. “I now understand the social psychology of teamwork and how different squadrons, cultures and personalities can come together in one room to accomplish one thing.”
Torres is scheduled to wrap up his three-year tour with honor guard in the coming year. The special duty position will become a two-year tour and requires approval from the Air Force Honor Guard functional chief at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington D.C.
For more information on base honor guards or the United States Air Force Honor Guard, visit: http://www.honorguard.af.mil/About-Us/Base-Honor-Guards/