Representing with honor
By 1st Lt. Amanda Ferrell, 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 18, 2006
TYNDALL AFB, Fla. -- Sharp clicks echo each deliberate step. The first note of "Taps" slowly creeps from a bagpipe in the distance and six Airmen, stoically poised, carry the casket of a fellow comrade to its final resting place.
Tyndall Honor Guard members proudly accept the responsibility of conducting formal military ceremonies, which recognize and continue the tradition of reverence for fellow Airmen who have served, and continue to serve.
"My most memorable experience in the Honor Guard was a funeral ceremony my flight and I performed," said Airman 1st Class James Mitchell, 81st Range Control Squadron weapons director technician and Honor Guard member. "It was just like many of the other funerals we had performed together in the past, except the son of the man we buried was standing with his family proudly wearing his military uniform."
"It made the experience so much more real and humbling," said the Airman. "I had the personal honor of giving (the man's son) three shells from the rounds we fired during his father's 21-gun-salute. It was a tremendous honor."
The significance of the Honor Guard is tremendous to the families and public audiences they perform for, and their impact is lasting. The reaction they receive from their audience is only one of the benefits being a part of the organization offers.
Members are offered a ceremonial uniform, free dry cleaning for the ceremonial uniform and two duty uniforms per week, and an Honor Guard coin presented after they complete training or perform at their first funeral ceremony.
"Members are also given the opportunity to travel throughout Tyndall Honor Guard's area of responsibility, which covers 11,546 square miles across Florida, Georgia and Alabama," said Tech. Sgt. Tobin Winebrenner, 325th Services Squadron Honor Guard flight commander.
The benefits are enticing, but having what it takes to be a valuable member of the team is crucial.
"The Honor Guard is made up of 64 personnel from all units on Tyndall," said Sergeant Winebrenner. "They are in 20-plus different Air Force Specialty Codes and 90 percent of our members are ranks of senior airman and below."
The demographics of the team are diverse, but what every Honor Guard member has in common is clear.
"The Tyndall Honor Guard team has unquestionable integrity, loyalty, trustworthiness and dependability," said the sergeant.
And that's exactly what draws motivated Airmen to the organization.
"After hearing a lot of positive comments pertaining to the Honor Guard and what it does for the community, I decided to take the time to volunteer," said Airman Rashaad Robinson, 325th Security Forces Squadron patrolman and one of the newest members of the team. "As an Honor Guard member, I am aware of the fact that we are held to a high standard. Our uniforms should be crisp, physical training is three times each week and training is second nature."
Training begins with an initial course covering uniform wear, ceremonial procedures and orientation to the Honor Guard schedule and "lifestyle." Senior Honor Guard members work closely with each new recruit to prepare them for the numerous ceremonies and details they will perform.
"The initial training class is designed to get members familiar with the most frequent Honor Guard requests," said Sergeant Winebrenner. "The class consists of more than 40 hours of proficiency training, which is continued during each Honor Guard (one month) rotation. At the beginning of each rotation, the flight's trainer will plan training for the week based on the requests we receive and the need for perfecting a particular performance."
The trainees must learn to perform many detailed movements, becoming proficient in a variety of ceremonies.
"During our initial training, we focused on funerals, retirement ceremonies, indoor colors, outdoor colors, and change of command ceremonies," said Airman Robinson.
Each performance has a specific set of movements and a definite order, and it's important to perfect each one, he said.
The Honor Guard provides an awesome learning experience, and as with any other high-profile duty, it requires discipline and patience, said Airman Mitchell.
Each member has a favorite ceremony to perform, and each for a different reason.
"The most fulfilling and honorable detail is giving a servicemember their last honors," said Airman Mitchell.
"I particularly like performing the retirement ceremony for the simple fact that it gives me a chance to give thanks to the men and women who have served in our military," said Airman Robinson.
Members can volunteer or be appointed by their squadron for Honor Guard duty.
"The typical contract is for 13 months," said Sergeant Winebrenner. "The first month is a training class, followed by 12 monthly rotations of performing details."
Whether members are appointed or volunteer, it doesn't take long for a strong sense of pride and camaraderie to set in.
"I am an Honor Guard volunteer," said Airman Mitchell. "I believe being on the Honor Guard is a very unique and distinguished position that affords me many opportunities."
The team gathers for group social events and many are close friends. The joy of being a part of the Honor Guard clearly transcends the experience of performing formal ceremonial details.
"I enjoy the fact that I am giving back to the community and meeting new people," said Airman Robinson.