If given the opportunity to get a crash course in your favorite
subject, but only in a week, would you take it?
I did. My
passion is the military, whether it is history or drill movements. I
love everything the military represents.
The United States
Air Force Honor Guard flew out to visit professionals stationed at
Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota and to train them in
rendering honors for both the flag and to those service members who
have passed on. I was luckily one of those people immersed in this
October 26, 2017 - Airman 1st Class Joseph Serrano, a material
management specialist assigned to the 28th Logistics Readiness
Squadron, presents the first fold of a flag during an honor sequence
at the Pride Hangar at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota. The
flag folding sequence entails the march-up formation, the casket
carry and the flag fold itself which takes place before or after the
eulogy is given. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Nicolas Z. Erwin)
Most Airmen remember basic military training and those
people with the tendency to march awkwardly. I was one of
those people who still do from time to time. The Air Force
Honor Guard team instructed us on how to crisply showcase
our movements, making them picturesque. It was a
resurrection of a forgotten art, rather than a refresher
To the other participants of this honor
guard training class, doing facing movements seemed natural
and easy. I struggled. I wasn’t on the same level as the
other 11 in the group, but they never ceased to support me.
What I came to realize was that I was with people who I have
grown to respect as some of the best Airmen I have met.
The instructors of this elite class set us against each
other with a drill off, a competition focusing on precise
and accurate facing movements. My pride and ego was on the
line. The instructors commanded “fall out” when mistakes
were made, and in the course of ten commands, only four
Fear gripped me. Sweat covered me.
I reacted with the most stoic and professional demeanor I
could muster. In two fell swoops it happened. Someone
grimaced and another did not respond fast enough. I was
standing alone, having won a competition against the best of
the best of the Ellsworth Air Force Base Honor Guard.
I felt like the cream of the crop. But, the crop was
quickly obliterated in a barrage of bullets when we moved on
to the firing party instructions.
I charged an M14
rifle more times than most people, myself included, can
count to. My elbow made sure I felt it in the morning.
We were evaluated. I was not chopped off the block. Even
with aching hands and limbs, we had to continue. There was
the next portion of the class awaiting: the meat and
potatoes of honor guard – the casket and flag folding
October 26, 2017 - Airmen assigned to the Ellsworth Air Force Base,
S.D., Honor Guard, carry a casket during a training exercise in the
United States Air Force Honor Guard Mobile Training Team event at
the Pride Hangar on base. The honor guard flight underwent a
week-and-a-half long course in basic protocol, honors and
ceremonies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Nicolas Z. Erwin)
It seems simple: move a casket from a hearse to a mock-up without
letting the flag hit the floor. There was much more to it than
moving the remains of a service member 100 feet. The actual ceremony
requires strength, teamwork and the resolve to lay a service member
to rest with dignity.
The first large-scale exercise encompassed teams of six carrying
a three hundred pound casket for ten minutes. Ten minutes seems
short. It could be a quick break – the time it takes to grab a meal
from a mediocre restaurant – or it could feel like years.
For most funerals we perform, it is a two minute walk from the
hearse to the mock-up for the family to watch the American flag be
folded. Having the understanding that for other bases, the distance
varies and being capable of holding this casket for a prolonged
amount of time changed from a skill to a necessary trait.
honor guard trainers trained us from novices to experienced
ceremonial guardsmen, not by overtly changing how we perform, but by
what goes into the minute specifics that make the difference between
the funeral staff and the Ellsworth Air Force Base Honor Guard.
We also learned the flag bearing and parade sequences for
different functions we do depending on the amount of guardsmen we
tasked out. It involved a tremendous amount of throwing, twirling,
standing bewildered with calloused hands due to long hours holding
October 30, 2017 - Senior Airman Andrew Zander, a formal
training instructor assigned to the United States Air Force Honor
Guard, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, DC, leads Airmen from the
Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota Honor Guard in parade manuals at the
Pride Hangar on base. This section of the training was the most
advanced portion of the training class, it pushed Airmen to learn
how to move fluidly with their weapons and maintain control while
showcasing the skill and ability of the ceremonial guardsmen. (U.S.
Air Force photo by Airman Nicolas Z. Erwin)
All these things seemed intense and inaccessible, but it
almost feels like second-nature when a rifle comes into my
hands, knowing the weight and pivot points, knowing exactly
the time in which the rifle could strike my palm and be
reversed in direction. All of it became awe-inspiring.
Everything a person is can vanish like breath on a
mirror. It just fades. But, the memories they leave with
others tend to remain. The honor guard trainers left and
some people might not even remember their names, yet the
entire Ellsworth Air Force Base Honor Guard will never
forget the skills and standards that have been set until we
fade into the legends of the past.
By U.S. Air Force Airman Nicolas Z. Erwin
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