7/18/2014 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Every 90 days an Airman at Robins has an opportunity to participate in a unique mission to honor his or her brothers and sisters in uniform.
Sometimes it is their faces, or the sharp, crisp gestures that are the first things members of the public notice. Many times, however, it is their final actions that are remembered most by a grieving family.
Every six weeks new rotations of 11 military members from across the installation are selected to walk through the doors of Bldg. 364 - home of the Robins Air Force Base Honor Guard.
From airman basic to technical sergeant, enlisted members from the 5th Combat Communications Group, 461st Air Control Wing and 78th Air Base Wing come together from every career field in the Air Force.
While they train rigorously, performing ceremonial tasks which epitomize perfection in dress and appearance at base ceremonies and community civic events, the team's main priority is to render dignified military funeral honors for active duty members and veterans across Georgia, Tennessee and parts of North Carolina.
Their area of responsibility covers more than 70,000 square miles, keeping them away for days at a time, depending on the month's schedule.
To date in fiscal 2014, the funeral detail has conducted 876 burial honors. There have also been 123 other events performed by the Color Guard so far this year.
Some weeks are busier than others. They're always on the move, and every day brings new challenges.
While one group is rotating in, learning and performing ceremonial duties, another has already been around for several weeks, continuously training and perfecting precise movements.
Every detail is meticulously rehearsed hundreds of times by team members inside the unit's large training room. There, members can practice folding flags or marching with one of two caskets on standby as part of funeral detail duties. A firing party conducts practice just outside. Everyone is well versed in multiple roles.
But it's been agreed that one has to experience firsthand what it's really like performing the sacred duties of what's required.
"We train them. We prepare them. And, we trust their abilities," said Master Sgt. Matt Hurless, program manager. "Once they step out the door, we really don't have any concerns about their ability to perform.
"We are fortunate to have that high quality of Airmen who come through here," he added.
Honor Guard Flight Sergeant Staff Sgt. Juan Garcia, who handles details involved with travel and vehicles, says it's been a joy getting to know different members' strengths and weaknesses, their personalities and backgrounds.
"Their initiative is a lot higher than most, so we get the cream of the crop as far as Airmen," he said. "When something needs to get done, they're all over it.
The Honor Guard's funeral detail is a first for many, including Senior Airman Jan Ronel Recano, a pediatric technician in the 78th Medical Group.
"This opportunity allowed me to lead and to be in charge of a detail," he said. "I was told by a friend who previously joined that if I wanted to do something different, I needed to get out of my comfort zone. I didn't know what to expect, and it's been a great experience."
Admitting to having a sometimes shy personality, Airman 1st Class Darlene Tran, who works in personnel with the 78th Force Support Squadron, said serving on the team has helped her reach out and be part of something bigger than herself.
"It has made me appreciate those I love and to spend time with those who matter," she said. "This allowed me to give back, to do as much as we can for those who gave their time to us."
The Honor Guard Charge states, "My standards of conduct and level of professionalism must be above reproach."
"They grab those words and live them," said Garcia. "It's a higher calling - not a paycheck that brings them here. They follow the creed and honor it."
With adrenaline pumping and hard-earned training closing in, all agreed that nothing can really prepare a member for that initial moment upon seeing loved ones grieving during a funeral.
"But once that moment hits you, you realize it's not about you, it's about the family," he said. "The mission is very gratifying and rewarding. We might be the last image a family will see of the Air Force."