Honor Guard spreads pride across midwest

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Williams
  • 934th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
By Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey S. Williams
934 AW Public Affairs
The 934th Airlift Wing base honor guard has been quite busy this fiscal year. Since the year began Oct. 1, honor guard members have driven over 23,000 miles to 54 funerals and 18 honor guard events in the Midwest region. 
"We're in Wisconsin 99 percent of the time," said Master Sgt. Mary Miller, honor guard superintendent. "We are in Green Bay, Wausau, Appleton and Sheboygan quite often. We do the majority of our funerals in Wisconsin, which is why we are working on getting letters out to funeral homes in Minnesota. We want to tell them we exist." 

 Now in it's ninth year, the honor guard recently expanded their reach and membership, according to Sergeant Miller. With the closure of the Reserve base in Milwaukee, they became the first Reserve honor guard to augment two active duty bases - Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., and Scott AFB, Ill., in addition to joining forces with the 133rd Airlift Wing honor guard here. 

 The Sergeant explained the three types of funerals the group participates in. 
 "For veterans who have not stayed in long enough to retire, we provide two to three people to fold the flag and play taps," she said. "For the retiree, we are authorized to bring seven people to serve as pallbearers, a firing party and taps. Those who die on active duty are authorized 20 people as pallbearers, firing party, taps and a color guard."
 If funerals aren't enough, they also participate in civic activities like the Minnesota Twins baseball games and conferences, as well as the NCO induction ceremony.
 "We basically do wing functions, not the squadron level," she said. 

 Tech. Sgt. Paul Ives, 934th Airlift Wing chapel operations NCOIC, has been a member of the honor guard for five years. He is one of two buglers serving on the honor guard.
 "When I first arrived here, I wanted to meet people in the wing. I wanted to find people in this organization who were good examples. Because I got into it right away, I had some good people who mentored me," Sergeant Ives said.
 He tries to commit to participating in at least two honor guard events each month.
 "As a reservist, the drawback is to find the time in my schedule to go to an event somewhat far away," he said. "Yet most of us will say this is the most rewarding thing that we do in the military." 

 Service in the honor guard can be rewarding and fun, but there are certain challenges that come with the role.
 "We did a funeral for an active duty Airman who died while at home on leave. It was hard for us to keep our military bearing while hearing the widow and her young children crying," he said. "It was hard to not internalize and think about the emotions involved."
 "On the other hand, there are times when civilian family members don't understand how important their loved ones military service is until the rifles are fired and taps played. It takes on a whole new meaning," the Sergeant explained. 

The other bugler, Senior Master Sgt. Doug Johnson, 934th Civil Engineer Squadron emergency management air reserve technician, joined the honor guard in 2002 because the previous bugler retired, leaving a vacancy.
 "The idea of joining the honor guard was always in the back of my mind because of what it stands for - giving people the honors due them," Sergeant Johnson said. "I thought veterans deserved better than using the bugle that played a CD of taps they were using at the time. They didn't have a live bugler at that time, so that's why I joined."
 "The basic honor guard training seemed a little daunting at first with different commands and new ways of doing things. Once I did it over and over again, and became comfortable for me. I got used to it. The first time I played taps at a funeral, I was shaking like a leaf. Now that I've done it more than fifty times, it is a lot easier," he added.
 The highlight of Sergeant Johnson's career was a particular funeral near Grand Rapids, Minn., a few years ago, for a World War II veteran who served with the famed, "Flying Tigers" squadron. 

 "Since I was in seventh grade, I studied the Flying Tigers flying their P-40 aircraft in China," he said. "I folded the flag and played taps for this gentleman at a small funeral ceremony. I was in awe because I helped honor a member of the unit I idolized as a youth. I got to play taps for this gentleman and it was a way of bringing everything together for me."
 According to Sergeant Miller, new people can join any time, but applicants need to have the approval of their supervisor, commander and first sergeant, in addition to the application. 

 "It takes a lot of dedication," she said. "It's a volunteer program and takes about six months to get fully trained on the firing party, pallbearing, honor guard and flag folding. We need people who can give a commitment."
 Sergeant Miller said practices are held twice a month at building 750, the new honor guard building. Potential applicants can contact her at (612) 713-1647.