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Honor Guard: Perfect Practice Makes Perfection
by USAF Airman 1st Class Victor J. Caputo - June 27, 2013

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MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. - "It's all about perfection."

That's how Airman 1st Class Katie Kuhar, 350th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator and one of 16 airmen in the 22nd Air Refueling Wing Honor Guard, describes the mindset behind the details she and her fellow airmen perform on an almost daily basis.

"It doesn't matter how many times you have to do it to get it perfect," she said, "we'll get there. People view us as perfect. We represent the base."

Airmen are selected from squadrons across the wing for a four-month rotation in the honor guard. They are separated into a "senior" flight and a "junior" flight with a new one arriving every two months.

The duty day is spent training to flawlessly perform a specific detail, ranging from a presentation of the colors to burial services.

Airmen from the 22nd Air Refueling Wing Honor Guard practice a color guard detail June 11, 2013, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. Color guard is one of several details the airmen practice as part of a strict, daily routine. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Victor J. Caputo)
Airmen from the 22nd Air Refueling Wing Honor Guard practice a color guard detail June 11, 2013, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. Color guard is one of several details the airmen practice as part of a strict, daily routine. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Victor J. Caputo)

Airmen in the senior flight who have mastered the details coach the junior flight, even if it means restarting a practice from the beginning because an airman was out of step.

The constant work might seem like it would require a team of supervisors, but Kuhar stressed a phrase often heard in the building.

"It's an airman-run program," she said.

Capt. Sterling Tribble, 22nd ARW Honor Guard officer in charge, and Tech. Sgt. Terrance Williams, 22nd ARW Honor Guard NCO in charge, comprise the administration portion of the honor guard.

"We have a really big family concept here," said Tribble. "When we go out there and watch people's details, it's like pulling for a family member. You're on the edge of your seat. You want them to nail it. It's really exciting."

Tribble's officer in charge position is a rare one in base honor guards. He was brought in after the previous NCOIC left, and the billet had not been filled.

"Circumstances allowed it to happen," said Tribble, "and I wouldn't have it any other way."

The increased leadership with Williams on board has given the honor guard a unique opportunity to bring their teamwork and practicing skills to a new level.

"This OIC is in the back training his butt off or training the troops on a daily basis," said Williams. "It's nerve wracking when we watch them, because we don't want them to make a mistake. We want them to be perfect, so that's why our job is to make sure they are training daily."

Williams is often asked what the honor guard does when they are not out performing a detail.

"We have a schedule that we follow pretty strictly," he said. "The captain and I are very firm about it because we want perfection."

An average day could begin with 45 minutes of full honors veteran burial service practice followed by an hour of color guard practice. Then they will run through a standard veteran burial service and repeat the sessions. The group catches their breath during 10-minute breaks interlaced throughout the day before a group workout.

"That's what we do every day," he said. "We mix it up once in a while to break away from the monotony of it. We have this structure so our airmen aren't sitting in the break room doing nothing."

Tribble and Williams have not forgotten these airmen still have off-duty responsibilities, so an hour-long study session is included in the daily schedule.

Whether airmen are taking educational courses or studying for an upcoming promotion, they utilize this block of time properly, said Williams.

The entire system behind the honor guard goes toward making the airmen strive for perfection, even if it means facing their imperfections first, he said.

Airman 1st Class Frank Sibley, 22nd Communications Squadron knowledge operator and honor guard member, dealt with imperfection the first time he commanded a detail.

"We had a veteran service," he said. "I was in charge of making sure the detail went smoothly. Because I made a wrong judgment, it lessened the effect of the honor guard detail. After that, I said I would never make the same mistake twice and that I was going to make sure everyone that comes in here and everything we did was perfect because it's not about us. We do it for the family of the deceased: the family of the fallen."

While the decision to join the honor guard is not always up to the individual, the lessons learned and experience gained after the four months are over leave many wishing they could come back.

"At first I wasn't really into it," he said. "I liked my (primary) job a lot, I liked what I did. After a while, I saw what an honor it is for us to do this. You get a sense of pride in how we're out here training to get it perfect every time. I would come back without hesitation."

By USAF Airman 1st Class Victor J. Caputo
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2013

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