Heroes Honoring Heroes

25 Mar 2013, Posted by admin in Packages, No Comments. Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Heroes Honoring Heroes

The Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Honor Guard performed at more than 2,700 funerals last year. Members recognize the significance of every ceremony.

Story, photos and video by Tara Spacy

A gray sky settles in over West Chester Cemetery as a dozen guardsmen in polished shoes march past billowing flags and wilted flowers, and the gentle hum of taps bids a solemn farewell to another veteran.

Week after week, the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Honor Guard re-enacts this very scene as it practices and performs funeral ceremonies for Air Force active duty, retired personnel and veterans throughout the Midwest.

The WPAFB Honor Guard is the heaviest tasked guard in the U.S. Air Force, says its program manager, Master Sgt. Mark Lyle. It is responsible for ceremonies in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, West Virginia and two counties in Pennsylvania. In 2012, the guard was at more than 2,700 funerals.

Guard story

A guardsman stands ready to present the flag to the family.

Seven members of the guard perform at each ceremony. Six are pallbearers who carry the casket from a hearse to the final resting place, such as a gravesite or church. The seventh member stands watch over the rifles until the firing party is ready. The casket is covered by an American flag, which is then folded over the casket and held onto by a single guardsman, who remains there while the other members march to their separate duties. Then a party of three fires three blank cartridges, and another member plays taps. Finally, the guardsman holding the flag presents it to the family.

Despite extreme weather and extreme emotions, guardsmen maintain their composure throughout the ceremony.

“This is not an easy job,” says Tech. Sgt. Ryan Buxton, a medical technician and reservist. “You’re spending a lot of time on the road. You’re traveling a lot of miles. It could be muddy out. It could be rainy and stormy. And you’re still out there.”

Senior Airman Adrianne Littles, a medical technician, says, “Sometimes in the committal, which is immediately after folding the flag, whoever is in charge of holding the flag may have to post there for an additional 15, 20 minutes; we’ve had up to an hour before. And you just have to grin and bear it.”

Members of the guard come from myriad assignments, such as medical technicians, bio environmental technicians, financial technicians, reservists and Air National Guardsmen. They are selected based on the outstanding work they do in their fields.

“I think we really do have the cream of the crop,” says Tech. Sgt. Joshua Leist, a medical administrative technician.

Military funeral honors are an Air Force tradition. The USAF Honor Guard began in 1948 as a single guard responsible for ceremonies in the D.C. area. It wasn’t until 1972 that the current guard system was formed and bases throughout the United States received training. In 1998 the USAF standardized training for all honor guards, and in the year 2000 the WPAFB Honor Guard was fully recognized and accepted.

In addition to funeral ceremonies, the honor guard performs at color guard events, which can include retirements, promotions, change of command and military reunion group ceremonies. The guard occasionally performs at community and sporting events as well.

Being in the guard requires rigorous training and dedication, but members recognize the significance of their service.

“When a person sees that (ceremony) for the first time, I would think and hope that their first thought is ‘Wow,’ “Buxton says.

This story was syndicated to and published by the Dayton Daily News.

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