May 31, 2012 -- The importance of being precise, sharp and disciplined is instilled in every Marine during their days of recruit training. These qualities exemplify the ideals and traditions passed down through generations of Marines.
Marines with the honor detail aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., receive commands from Lance Cpl. Joseph W. Earls, a senior with the honor detail and a Mount Juliet, Tenn., native, May 30, 2012. The senior must be able to think quickly in order to accommodate for unique situations during funeral ceremonies for veteran Marines. Photo by USMC Lance Cpl. Michelle Piehl
For the Marines with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron honor detail, aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., putting on their dress blues to lay a comrade to rest is equivalent to the highest standards of dress and professionalism.
The group of Marines meets on a weekly basis for an hour-long practice. In addition to weekly practice, the honor detail often performs several ceremonies each week for fallen Marines.
“The mission is to provide military honors to any Marine who has served honorably or died in action,” said Cpl. Kelvin D. Almazan, an honor detail senior and a Modesto, Calif., native. “A lot of times we will get requests for retirees and veterans of Vietnam and WWII. We serve Marines whose next of kin lives in this area.”
Pride, honor and discipline reign as the fundamentals of their actions for members of the detail.
“I teach my Marines in the detail that this may be the last image the family has of Marines,” said Sgt. Arquimedes B. Madrigal, the honor detail senior non-commissioned officer in charge and a Fallbrook, Calif., native. “The Marine may have been in two years or out twenty years. All the family knows is that they had the Marine Corps in their past and they are proud of it.”
In order to accommodate as many funerals as possible while maintaining squadron obligations, MCAS Miramar splits the honor detail into two teams.
“This is so the Marines can schedule around their annual training, leave and time with their families,” said Madrigal. “Also, that the Marines aren't away from their jobs. Sometimes we do have a lot of funerals, a couple of times a week, or even on the weekend.”
Each team consists of seven riflemen, one bugler and a senior to call commands.
Tasked with the responsibility to lead his fellow Marines, the senior must be ready to overcome unique situations that require quick thinking. The senior must be logical and disciplined in order to efficiently lead while maintaining a professional standard during the ceremony.
“He can't turn around and say to his Marines: ‘Hey look, this is what we are going to do now,'” said Madrigal. “Sometimes different situations come up and you have to think on the fly and be quick.”
Madrigal takes his Marines through different scenarios, such as: odd obstacles, an unplanned cremation urn and misplacement of the American flag upon the casket. This spontaneous training ensures the team is prepared in any situation. In the case of a misplaced flag, the flag folders must adapt in order to present a properly folded flag.
The honor of folding and presenting the American flag to the next of kin is reserved for the staff non-commissioned officer in charge, senior and junior, the three most experienced members of the detail.
“We have to make sure it's perfect,” said Almazan. “We don't want to give them a bad flag. That's going to be something they look at the rest of their life. That is what is going to be on their mantle, representing their loved one.”
After the flag has been dutifully prepared, the senior passes the flag off to the SNCOIC, or presenter. The presenter will insert three rounds into the flag, symbolizing the three-volleys fired.
“It goes back to the Civil War era,” said Almazan. “They would fire three shots at the end of the night after they had collected all of their [casualties] to signify that the fight was still on.”
Almazan, currently a senior with the honor detail, became interested in this unique service opportunity as a way to give back to the Marine Corps.
“It is for the families,” said Almazan. “It's so the family knows we are always going to honor our Marines and take care of them, even after they have passed. Everything has to be perfect for them, so that their lasting impression of the Marine Corps is this.”
The precision in timing and coordination among the detail is essential to sending the fallen Marine off in the most dignified ceremony as possible. Each member of the detail must undergo a thorough inspection prior to the ceremony, as well as sharpening skills as a team during hours of rehearsal.
“We take pride in what we do,” said Madrigal. “We know this might be the last image they have of the Marine Corps. We want to leave the family with a good image.”
After hours and hours of hard work and diligent rehearsal, the prestigious honor of laying a fellow comrade to rest is a humbling experience.
“A lot of these Marines want to do this because it gets them back in the Marine Corps perspective,” said Madrigal. “They go through their daily lives, daily jobs, doing the same thing day in and day out. This way they get to come out, hold a weapon and be in their dress blues. It's rewarding once they see the families. The families really appreciate the service they provide.”
Regardless of circumstance, preparing for the funeral of a loved one can be a challenging and painful experience. Honor detail Marines display courageous efforts in honoring the fallen and committing to always stand faithful to their brothers- and sisters-in-arms.
By USMC Lance Cpl. Michelle Piehl
Provided through DVIDS
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