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Honor Guard inspires pride

  • Published
  • By Connie Hempel
  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs
With watery eyes he whispers thank you to the man in blue handing him the neatly folded Old Glory. The flag, draped over his son's coffin earlier, is presented to him as a symbol of thanks for the ultimate sacrifice his son made to his country.

Although each base is Congressionally mandated to have an Honor Guard team to perform funeral details such as this, those who volunteer to be a part of this unique group do so because to them it's an honor as well as an opportunity to show others the military pride they feel inside.

As ambassadors to the Concho Valley community representing Goodfellow and the Air Force, Staff Sgt. Jamaal Chesney, Honor Guard lead trainer, said the team is charged with upholding exemplary standards of ethical conduct, professionalism, integrity, customs and courtesies, and overall appearance.

"Being part of the Honor Guard is important and gives back to the community," said Tech. Sgt. Jason Jordan, Honor Guard NCOIC. "When you go to someone's retirement ceremony or a funeral and you present the flag, they're so happy and thankful that you're there and it makes you feel proud about what you're doing."

Unfortunately, a high turnover rate has left the Goodfellow Honor Guard undermanned, overworked and increasingly unable to fulfill requests.

"There are heroes out there and when they die their families shouldn't have to be told that we don't have enough Honor Guard members to perform the proper funeral detail," Sergeant Jordan said. "When I die I hope somebody will come to honor me and my family."

Sergeant Jordan said when he heard there was a shortage of Honor Guard members, he felt it was his responsibility to step up and volunteer. Fast forward three years and Sergeant Jordan continues to don the ceremonial Honor Guard uniform because he said to him it's about honor.

In addition to performing funeral details in the local area and as far away as Midland, the Honor Guard also supports activities around San Angelo by posting the colors at different events and participating in parades.

"We're pretty versatile," Sergeant Jordan said.

Currently there are 24 members on the team split into two flights. Each flight alternates on-call duties every two weeks and must be ready to perform at details at a moments notice. However, with such a low number of personnel in each flight, many of the members are repeatedly called upon which makes being a part of the team cumbersome and makes it harder to accept requests.

"If we get our numbers up, it won't be as stressful and it will be a lot easier to fill more detail requests," Sergeant Jordan said.

He encourages anyone who's interested in volunteering to speak with their supervisor first because it does require some time away from work. The member then receives a contract that puts him on the Honor Guard team for a year. The contract explains the member's responsibilities, how details are filled, training and practice requirements, and must be signed by the member, supervisor, first sergeant, flight chief and commander so his chain of command knows what to expect and what they're agreeing to when the member joins.

After the contract is signed, the member is scheduled for a five-day initial training class. During the class, members learn the basics of performing proper military honors for details such as rifle movements, posting the Colors and folding and presenting the American flag at funerals. The class requires members to be in good physical condition and able to stand for long periods of times, according to Sergeant Chesney.

Once they complete the class, they are issued a ceremonial uniform and a carrying case. If a member completes 50 or more details during his year with the Honor Guard, then he is allowed to keep the uniform; otherwise, the uniform is returned and issued to new members.

"After that many details, you've earned it and it's our way of saying thank you," Sergeant Jordan said.

There are many benefits to being an Honor Guard member from bullets for performance reports and awards packages, to earning awards and medals, but Sergeant Jordan said it's more than that.

"The ones that stay after their one year commitment understand that it's about more than receiving awards and recognition," he said. "It's about honor and pride."

Sergeant Chesney said he has been in the Honor Guard for seven years and being part of the team reminds members that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

"The Honor Guard experience provides its members with a sense of sobering humility," he said. "You're constantly undergoing tests of mental and physical fortitude which in the end makes you look back and realize that they have made you into a better and stronger person."