Fairchild Honor Guard here to serve

  • Published
  • By Scott King
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
They're sharp, precise and have a broad mission spanning 29 counties across a 61,000 square mile geographical area, extending from Eastern Washington, to Northern Idaho and Northwestern Oregon.
     They - are the Fairchild Air Force Base Honor Guard. The HG is a congressionally-mandated program to provide well trained, highly professional members to honor and carry out the primary mission of rendering funeral honors. In addition to this, they also support protocol and ceremonial functions for both military and select civilian personnel.
     The HG team consists of 22 members between the ranks of Airman 1st Class through Tech. Sgt. serving a 120-day tour from units within the 92nd Air Refueling Wing.
     "I realize that being in the honor guard is bigger than me," said Staff Sgt. Tiffany Arrington, Fairchild HG NCO in charge. "In fact, it's not about me at all; it's about honoring our service members, both past and present. 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 sacrifice that they made for our country."
     The HG has three different elements; the Colors Flight, the Body Bearers and the Firing Party.
     The Colors Flight presents the colors for both Air Force-specific events and in certain civic events. These teams generally consist of four individuals. The two outermost are rifle guards and serve as protectors of the colors, which are carried by the two individuals in the middle. The individual on the right carries the Nation's flag and the other carries the Air Force flag. This tradition dates back to the origins of warfare. The battle streamers hanging from the Air Force flag represent every conflict and campaign the Air Force has fought in since its birth in the U.S. Army Aeronautical Division in 1907.
     The Body Bearers element participates in U.S. Air Force, joint service and state funerals by carrying the remains of deceased service members and their dependents to their final resting places. The bearers begin by removing the casket from the caisson used to transport the deceased to the gravesite. They then carry the fallen to the gravesite while keeping the casket perfectly level and without showing any visible signs of strain as military bearing must be maintained at all times. Once the gravesite is reached, their duties continue by holding the flag taut and level at rigid attention until the service is complete. Next, the flag is folded and presented to the next-of-kin.
     The Firing Party performs the firing of three volleys (commonly referred to as the "21-gun salute") during funeral services. These seven-man teams fire their three rounds in perfect unison honoring the fallen. Historically, three volleys of rifle fire were fired to indicate that the casualties had been cared for in a combat environment, and that the fighting could resume. As time passed, these volleys became an official military custom that survives to this day.
     The Fairchild HG members are proud to be part of funeral services.
     "Many people are afraid of the idea of death, and they assume that it is all we do here," Arrington said. "Yes, we attend many funerals, but words cannot begin to express the amount of pride our HG members feel when they participate in these ceremonies. Funeral honors are something that you don't get a chance to do again so yes, it has to be done right the first time. It definitely touches your heart, and tests your bearing emotionally when you hear a member's spouse, children or parents crying over the loss of their loved one, but it is this moment when you realize just how much it means to be there for them."
     "You can see the appreciation in people's tear-filled eyes whenever they look at you," said Airman 1st Class Jerrall Haynes, HG member. "People always have something to say about how good you look and how much they appreciate what you have done for their families in their time of need. I remember performing at a funeral and a little boy, he couldn't have been more than 8 or 9 years-old, stopped and said to me that he wants to be big, strong and in the military just like me - it was amazing to hear that."
     "I presented the flag to an elder lady a few weeks ago whose husband had just passed and the whole time I was reciting the message of condolence to her she was just looking into my eyes, smiling and saying, 'thank you for everything you do,'" said Airman 1st Class Brittney Yundt, HG member. "That was the hardest time for me so far and I actually got choked up. I could see what I was doing for her and her family - her appreciation towards me was overwhelming."
     Being in the HG is an honor to those who participate, and in addition to memorial and funeral services, the HG team members are also given many "once in a lifetime" opportunities to attend other functions. For example, they just received an invitation from Gonzaga University to attend all of their home games at no cost.
     "Being in the Honor Guard is a great opportunity for any Airman to take advantage of," Yundt said. "I think it has bettered me as an Airman and person. I now take the extra time on how I think, act, talk and look. You may also be the first impression presenting the colors at events in the surrounding area. Either way, you are obligated as an Airman to present yourself in a way that is respectful to the people around you - whether at Fairchild or in our community."