Honor Guard: To honor with dignity

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Taylor Curry
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Throughout Air Force history, Air Force ceremonial guardsmen have honored the lives of military veterans with these words to their next-of-kin:

"On behalf of the President of the United States, the Department of the Air Force, and a grateful nation, we offer our nation's flag for the faithful and honorable service of your loved one."

Fairchild's 21-Airmen honor guard is called to support more than 300 funerals a year and 150 other ceremonies across Eastern Washington, Northern Idaho and Northwestern Oregon.

"One of the first ceremonies I performed was a funeral," said Senior Airman Shane Little, honor guard member. "I remember feeling nervous at first but in the end it was a humbling experience that gave me a greater outlook on life and a bigger appreciation for those who served in the military."

Prior to becoming a ceremonial guardsman, Airmen must go through an intense 12-day training program before they become an official member. They are taught every movement and command needed for ceremonies. The flight spends the next 4 months honoring veterans and performing at ceremonies and they perfect their technique by practicing the remainder of each duty day. At the end of their rotation they train Fairchild's next honor guard flight.

"Going through the training course made me pay a lot more attention to detail," said Airman 1st Class Abraham Garduza, honor guard member. "I pushed myself to learn everything I could in the amount of time I had because the instructors weren't going to be here to help us forever."

At the new flight's graduation, a mock funeral for an active-duty member is performed. After the demonstration, they are presented with the honor guard ceremonial badge, or a "cookie." This signifies they are an official member of the base honor guard, said Staff Sgt. Tiffany Arrington, Fairchild honor guard NCO-in charge.

"It's about honoring our service members, both past and present," said Arrington. "It's about being there for these service member's families and letting them know that not only you, but the Air Force appreciates the sacrifices they and their loved ones made for our country."

There are specific honors rendered for veterans who have served a term, who have retired and for those on active duty status.

At a veteran's funeral, a three-man detail honors anyone who had served in the military but did not retire. Two members fold the United States flag, and while at table-top, the third members plays "Taps." "Taps" is a musical piece, usually played from a bugle or trumpet, sounded at funerals to honor a fallen veteran. The flag is presented to the next of kin and the message of condolence is recited.

For veteran's who retired, a detail of seven members are used. If a casket is present, six of them are pall bearers. They fold the flag, then three members join the seventh for the three-volley rifle salute. Afterwards "Taps" is played.

Full honors are given to active-duty members by 21 guardsmen performing pall bearing, firing party, color guard and a member to play "Taps."

Although the honor guard is requested mostly for funerals, they also participate in a variety of ceremonies to present the colors. The four-man team consists of a U.S. flag bearer, military branch flag bearer and two rifle bearers who serve as protectors of the colors. In some cases, a fifth member is requested to present the state flag at ceremonies throughout the community.

A ceremonial guardsman represents the entire Air Force by displaying the highest level of discipline, teamwork and standards on and off duty, said Staff Sgt. Paul Wilson, honor guard lead flight sergeant.

"This has been a wonderful experience," said Wilson. "Having to manage requests for ceremonies and overlooking the actions of approximately 20 Airmen, it has made me a better NCO and a better communicator."