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Ceremonial guardsmen render military honors with precision, professionalism

  • Published
  • By Robert Goetz
  • 502nd Air Base Wing OL-B Public Affairs
A special group of Randolph Airmen spend much of their time in the public eye, yet they don't even wear name tags as they perform their duties.

Despite their anonymity, they are the face of the Air Force at funerals of active-duty and retired service members, veterans and dignitaries, and at special events.

They are the members of the Randolph Honor Guard, a ceremonial unit that renders military honors at about 500 funerals a year in the 41,000-square-mile area that stretches from San Antonio south to Brownsville and east to Houston.

"Their performances are huge," Chaney Ferguson, 902nd Force Support Squadron mortuary affairs officer, said. "It's all about image. They're the last Air Force member many families will see."

Tech. Sgt. Efrain Garza, honor guard NCO in charge, said the lack of a name tag is symbolic.

"That really means something," he said. "Being in the honor guard is bigger than themselves. They are there to represent the Air Force."

The Randolph Honor Guard consists of three flights and 66 members, Ferguson said. Airmen come from all over the base, with membership set by unit quotas.

"It's an 18-month commitment with three-month rotations - one month on, one month off, one month on standby," he said. "It works pretty well for us."

The honor guard also receives support - in the Houston area from Texas Air National Guard 147th Reconnaissance Wing members at Ellington Field and in the San Antonio area from Air Force reservists.

Although there are 22 members in a flight, not all of them are always available for honor guard service due to other obligations like temporary duty and attendance at Airman Leadership School, Ferguson said.

"We typically have 16 to 18 guardsmen available," he said. "That's where it gets stressful, because we don't know when we'll get flooded with requests. But these guys do a great job managing things."

The honor guard is an all-volunteer force, Ferguson said.

"It is a mandated program, but no manning is provided for it," he said. "Leadership supports it. We constantly work with commanders and first sergeants to get the people we need."

The honor guard comprises three elements: the color guard, which displays and guards the U.S. flag, Air Force flag and flags representing the offices of visiting dignitaries and other nations; body bearers who escort and carry flag-draped remains to burial sites and fold the flag for presentation to a family member; and the firing party, seven-man teams that fire three volleys in unison.

A full honor guard is required for the funeral of an active-duty member, while seven guardsmen perform at the service of a retiree who served 20 years or more and three serve at the funeral of a veteran with less than 20 years of service, Garza said.

Because honor guard duty is physically demanding, prospective members must pass all components of the Air Force physical fitness test, but proper attitude is also important. One of the tenets of the honor guard creed states a guardsman is "constantly driven to excel by a deep devotion to duty and a strong sense of dedication."

Garza said honor guard membership gives Airmen "an opportunity to excel in their career."

It also allows them to grow as leaders, Ferguson said.

Garza said guardsmen must be ready for assignments at a moment's notice.

"We have had situations where we got the call the same day," he said. "For the most part, it's an average of one to two days' notice."

Guardsmen train throughout their tour of duty, perfecting the movements and routine that are standard throughout the armed services. For first-time guard members, the intense first week of training culminates in their recitation of the honor guard creed, which binds them to standards of conduct and a level of professionalism that "must be above reproach" and a vow to "stand sharp, crisp and motionless."

"They're an elite group of folks at Randolph," Ferguson said. "You have to have a willingness, a desire to be an honor guardsmen. You have to be sharp and crisp all the time. You have to be at the top of your game."

Garza said guardsmen are often recommended for a decoration at the end of their tour, typically the Air Force Achievement Medal.

"It's a great incentive - to do what's expected," he said.

Ferguson said honor guard duty is the highlight of many Airmen's careers.

"Some don't realize it until later, but most of them comment that it was the best thing they've ever done," he said.