HomeNewsFeaturesDisplay

Honor Guard: Giving the final salute of Air Force honor

Robins Honor Guard members rehearse the steps taken during a funeral detail. (U.S. Air Force photo by Angela Woolen)

Robins Honor Guard members rehearse the steps taken during a funeral detail. (U.S. Air Force photo by Angela Woolen)

The firing party stands ready to give a 21-gun salute. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ed Aspera)

The firing party stands ready to give a 21-gun salute. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ed Aspera)

Precision is key to Honor Guard members putting their best foot forward. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ed Aspera)

Precision is key to Honor Guard members putting their best foot forward. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ed Aspera)

Honor Guard members go through frequent inspections to ensure their uniforms are perfect. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ed Aspera)

Honor Guard members go through frequent inspections to ensure their uniforms are perfect. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ed Aspera)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Last year, the Robins Honor Guard participated in more than 1,300 events.

The Honor Guard is comprised of 22 airmen from the 78th Air Base Wing, the 461st Air Control Wing and the 5th Combat Communications Group who rotate in and out of service every 90 days.

The members - who are chosen by their units - cover 70,000 square miles in parts of Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. 

Ten members from Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga., and 10 from Nashville, Tennessee Air National Guard, also help in the area. The team averages four details per day.

Airman First Class Maria Baca, a 78th Medical Group pharmacy technician, has been in the program for only a few months.

"It's been an honor to participate in funerals for retired military and veterans," she said.

The Honor Guard not only renders honors at funerals, but also performs in parades, at sporting events, military retirement ceremonies and change of command ceremonies.

Adorning the entryway wall is the motto for the Honor Guard, an acronym of the word honor. The last line states, "representing every member, past and present, of the United States Air Force, I vow to stand sharp, crisp, and motionless, for I am a ceremonial guardsman."

Each member is required to wear the formal attire of a jacket, button-up shirt, long pants, a hat, black shoes and gloves.

No matter the weather or the crowd, the airmen always maintain their professionalism.

One challenge the team faces is the constant change of people within the guard.

During the first day, new recruits are shown a video of various ceremonies. They often wonder how they're going to learn how to do that in just 90 days, said Honor Guard Trainer Tech Sgt. Joshua Arnett.

"We do bite size portions, and every day we build upon what we learned the previous day," he said.

During an active-duty funeral ceremony, the team executes more than 150 movements. Practices last for most of an eight-hour day, and there are two caskets the unit uses for training purposes.

Arnett worked in the Honor Guard for two years at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

His most memorable funeral was Gen. David Baker in 2009 who was the only Vietnam prisoner of war who also flew in Desert Storm.

"What I try to express is that this may be the last time this family will have contact with the military. We want to leave a lasting impression," Arnett said.

To perfect those movements, the flight practices every day during the week going over movements and physical training.

Before an event, the group practices the drill in the space given as sometimes there will be obstacles during the paces, said Tech Sgt. Juan Garcia, the flight sergeant at the 78th FSS Honor Guard.

"There is nothing we don't tell them about what to expect during funerals and ceremonies," Garcia said.

Honor guard members sacrifice their weekends and evening hours.

The experience was well worth the cost for Baca, whose favorite task is folding the flag.

"It's strict training that we do in here," she said. "We also get along and when we leave, I'll be heartbroken. It is like having a new family."