by Bill Pierce, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs
Standing in solemn attention by the graveside in their dress uniforms, Airmen honor a fallen hero in a final salute.
They are members of the Base Honor Guard Team, a U.S. Air Force program which helps provide an added element of dignity, respect and professionalism to military funeral services and ceremonies. Base Honor Guard Teams comprise volunteers from the Air National Guard, Reserve and active-duty.
The Base Honor Guard Team serving the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (located near Dayton, Ohio) Area of Responsibility (AOR), which spans Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Michigan, and covers 225,000 square miles, is approximately 115 members strong, who come from states within the AOR.
Ohio Air National Guard Master Sgt. Daniel Petry is one of the noncommissioned officers in charge of Base Honor Guard Team members for Ohio and has been performing services for nearly 17 years. Along with his honor guard duties, he is the first sergeant of the Logistical Readiness Squadron for the 121st Air Refueling Wing in Columbus.
“Our individual teams typically consist of active-duty, Reserve and Guard members,” Petry said. “Anyone can sign up to be on the honor guard team. Members range from airman basic to chief master sergeant, all the way up to field grade officers.”
Petry said the team members have a wide range of civilian experience and backgrounds, including college students, doctors, lawyers, police officers, chaplains, store managers and warehouse workers. However, when in uniform all Airmen share the same responsibilities of commitment to their duty, maintenance of high standards and outstanding devotion to providing the proper honors to their fallen military comrades.
“Being a part of the honor guard is a highly rewarding experience,” Petry said. “It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when you perform a final farewell for a service member, but needless to say, there is nothing else like it.”
The team performs nearly 5,000 funeral services each year, which averages to about 13 per day. There are three types of honor guard services provided for current, former and retired military members, whose status at their time of death determines what type of detail to which they are entitled. The first detail is made up of a two-person team and is for any veteran who served their country honorably for less than 20 years. This service consists of a flag folding, playing of taps and the flag presentation to the next of kin. The seven-person team for retirees includes pallbearers, a six-person flag fold, a three-person firing party with three volleys and the flag presentation (and spent rounds) to the next of kin. Military members serving on active duty (when they pass away) are offered a 20-person detail, the same as the seven-person team, but with a seven-person firing party and a color guard with two flag and two rifle bearers.
All eligible military members are afforded free burial at a national cemetery if they desire. The Base Honor Guard often assists other service branches at national cemeteries, like the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Rittman, Ohio. They have members there nearly every day of the week to assist in services so that each veteran receives the proper respect they deserve. In general, each branch of service performs military funeral honors for their particular service. The only exception is services for veterans of the Army Air Corps, the precursor to the modern day Air Force. They may be performed by Army or Air Force honor guard members.
To become a member of the Base Honor Guard Team, candidates must first be vetted by their leadership. Then they are interviewed by the honor guard leadership. Once accepted, the expectation is that each member takes part in a minimum of 12 funerals and eight color guard events, but many members exceed these numbers.
“There is also a two-year expectation, however, the majority of our members stay with the team throughout their entire enlistment,” Petry said.
Airmen who volunteer for honor guard duty attend a five-day training course held at Camp Perry, near Port Clinton, Ohio. They learn proper marching techniques, wear and care of the uniform, how to perform proper flag and rifle movements and how to fold the American flag.
The ceremonial Base Honor Guard member attire is the standard Air Force dress uniform, but altered by having all the seams permanently sewn. The jacket and pants also have their creases sewn. A distinctive honor guard wheel cap, honor guard badge, shoulder cord and chloroform shoes complete the ensemble. There is no nametag worn, to signify representation of all members.
Chief Master Sgt. Thomas A. Jones, Ohio Air National Guard state command chief, has been on the Mansfield, Ohio-based 179th Airlift Wing’s Honor Guard team since 1984, and a member of the Base Honor Guard Team serving Ohio since 2000.
“Performing military funeral honors was out of my comfort zone at first, but I felt I had to step out of my comfort zone in order to build more confidence and strengthen my leadership skills,” Jones said. “I have seen how proud the family members are when we render the final honors, and it is a true honor to be a part of that.”