Tag Archives: Honor Guard

To serve with honor

130720-F-YG094-001Airman 1st Class John Nieves Camacho
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

“FIRING PARTY! TENCH HUT! READUP HACE! … Not quite up to par. Start over.” That was about the tempo of my first week assigned to the 4th Fighter Wing Base Honor Guard. Welcome to the life of the new guy.

I remember stepping through the front door of the honor guard building my first day of training, my mind bubbling with curiosity. What are the Airmen like here? What would the training be like? Is it difficult, and if so, how challenging will it be for me? I wouldn’t say I was stressed, just worried about stepping into the unknown.

It was my first time away from my primary duty at public affairs and in a new environment with new faces, personalities and tasks. I was prepared to be there for three months as part of my contract, which requires me to rotate between honor guard and my duty section every three months for an entire year.

I stepped inside and found myself in a giant, open room with mirrors on one wall, chairs against another, a huge board filled with names and cities and some ceremonial garments on display. I immediately assumed this was where the training would be held and where the guardsmen practiced. It was there I was acquainted with my trainer, who verified that the room was the training room. Shortly thereafter, my developmental training began.

My trainer described everything in such a clear and easy to understand manner. Some things I caught on to rather quickly, other things not so much, like timing and motions of rifles for a firing party. I had learned a number of things, such as facing movements, flag folding and rifle techniques, to name a few. I did my best to put forth excellence in all I did. Luckily, I had a full two weeks before I actually started performing honor guardsman duties. During this period I polished my skills, became an official base honor guard member and received my badge and gear. Holding it all in my hands for the first time was surreal, and even more so when I first wore it all.

Now that I made it through the training, what’s next? What exactly does someone do at the base honor guard?

Primarily, we present the colors for official functions, perform retreat Monday through Friday and render military honors at funerals for veterans and retirees of the United States Armed Forces. Everywhere we went, we represented the Air Force as a whole, upholding the traditions of the honor guard with pride.

I was quickly tasked with my first detail, a funeral in Eastern N.C., where I would fold the flag before it was presented. While waiting for our cue to conduct the military honors, I absorbed the scene, taking in the full effect of the retiree’s passing. Many family members displayed their emotions, while others too deep in thought showed nothing on the outside.

Was I nervous? Just a little bit. However, when we were cued to perform, we executed flawlessly. Everything came together in that moment, we were in unison, our movements were crisp and I was filled with pride.

The 4th FW honor guard is responsible for funerals in North Carolina, Virginia and parts of West Virginia. Although it was a lot of traveling, it was for a good cause. I got the chance to see much of the area and the beautiful sights they offered.

After getting accustomed to the honor guard lifestyle, I wanted to take on bigger roles, leadership positions. I started volunteering for all of the NCO positions on details. I was prepared to lead any detail, from every aspect, whether it was calling commands, coordinating the flow of the funeral or making judgment calls. Most importantly, I was ready to be the one to present the flag to the next-of-kin.

I can vividly recall my first detail in the NCO position where I would present a flag to the next-of-kin. It was a large funeral for an Air Force veteran and the memorial was decorated from the chapel to the burial site.

The service arrived, and we reacted accordingly. Our cue was given and we began our portion of the ceremony. Everything went smoothly and I wasn’t nervous at all. I thought back to my training, prior experience, and how precise and efficient I had become.

I began my ceremonious approach to the next-of-kin, an elderly man with a heart-broken look covering his face. I dropped down to one knee and offered the flag.

“On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Air Force and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.” No stuttering, no broken bearing, it went exactly how I practiced.

With tears running down his face, he thanked me. I slowly stood up, rendered my salute and returned to the detail. It was the most rewarding experience in my Air Force career.
On the ride back to base, I began to think about the significance of the honor guard and our mission, not only the rendering of military honors, but the impact we have on families suffering with losses. The lives we touch through our ceremonious performances and the honor we bring to the heroes passed away provide an amount of closure to the families.

The last three months appeared to fly right by. Although anxious to return to my career field, I look forward to once again serving with the 4th FW Honor Guard as we pay respects to those Service members who have gone before us.

PHOTO: Airman 1st Class John Nieves Camacho, 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs photojournalist, recently completed a three-month commitment to the 4th FW Honor Guard. Honor guardsmen primarily perform military honors at official base functions and service member’s funerals. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class John Nieves Camacho/Released)

Manas sentinels pay respect to fallen warriors

Dawn treading: KC-135 takeoffs and landings at dawnBy Lt. Col. Panos Bakogiannis
466th Air Expeditionary Group

It is overcast this early morning at Manas, but familiar. I’m joining other comrades-in-arms to pay respects to a few Fallen Warriors.

I felt this same way years ago while standing in formation as a first lieutenant anxiously waiting for my first Honor Guard detail at Bourne National Cemetery, Mass. It was a moment that connected me directly to our calling, a powerful sense of commitment and duty that framed my expectations for service afterwards. Above all, I was now part of an inseparable bond with an Airman who served years before me, and now his responsibility was mine and all who wear the uniform.

The morning air is already chilly, just like a late summer or early fall evening, the wind a bit crisp and surprising as it blows past me and sways the trees at the bus stop.

Fellow military members and I boarded buses and headed to the flightline, along with other vehicles with their hazard lights on. The vehicles line up to to pass through the serpentine guard lanes. We pass refueling aircraft from another era, KC-135s, designed with paper, pencils, and slide rules and flying before I was born, now silent sentinels watching the motorcade pass by. No telling how many conflicts or such formations they have witnessed, and their mute stares won’t give up any secrets either.

We pull up to a modern C-17 cargo plane, taking on fuel, with more vehicles surrounding it, hazards on. Airmen are moving around, checking lines and speaking to aircrew. The flightline is a magical and ethereal place at night, especially as we line up in a V formation at the tail end of the C-17.

Off in the distance is the horizon, blue and deep, and the pathway for our three warriors heading home to loved ones for one final reunion.

Three special purpose utility vehicles, each carrying one passenger, are lined up underneath the massive tail of this plane, its cargo lights from within its hold and underneath its massive whale tail illuminating the detail unfolding.

As the chaplain asks us to pray, a light mist drizzles slowly, and the massive grey hulk now shimmers with a moist sheen. The smell of fuel, exhaust, and brake lines stay present, and in its own right are the perfect incense for the moment.

“TENCH-HUT! PRESENT-ARMS!”

We salute three times, as the Honor Guard purposefully moves our warriors onboard for home.

Through the cold mist, they remain covered in their sleep by our flag, the canton of blue over their hearts. It has been so for over 237 years as it is right now. The chill felt earlier is still there, but now somewhat welcomed as we are dismissed.

And once again, we board vehicles with hazards on, lined up, and pass by the same cold sentinels as before, still as silent and brooding, awaiting their next mission.

The plane slowly yet loudly powers up, preparing to taxi and launch for home. We pass through the gates, guards checking ID cards and waving us through. The flightline is now behind us, and with our brothers safely on board, we return to where we began. At a quiet bus stop, with a slight drizzle, a cool breeze, and a quiet walk back to our dorms.

For a brief moment, I was once again that first lieutenant, standing proud knowing I was with my fellow warriors, all united in a common cause – sending Fallen Warriors home.

May we never forget.

PHOTO: A KC-135 Stratotanker prepares to land in the early morning sunrise at Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, Aug. 22, 2013. Flight operations run seven days a week at the transit center to meet mission demands providing support for operations in Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett)

Week in Photos, Aug. 31, 2012

Week in Photos graphic

By Airman 1st Class Krystal Tomlin
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

As you enjoy this Week in Photos and the holiday weekend, remember you’re critical to the mission, so stay safe.

Whether you provide your serivice in uniform or as a family member it is absolutely invaluable. If you’re a citizen providing support to our troops, we couldn’t do it without you. As Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr., commander of Air Education and Training Command, said, “The nations military is only a strong as the support is recieves from its citizens.”

Happy Labor Day, everybody!

Photo: U.S. Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team performs at a U.S. Air Force Band concert at the Air Force Memorial in Washington D.C., Aug. 24, 2012. Throughout the summer months of June, July, and August, the band’s performing ensembles present free outdoor concerts at historic venues in our nation’s capital for Washington area residents, as well as for visitors from around the world. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christina Brownlow)

Veterans Day: reflecting on service, Air Force Memorial

By Tech. Sgt. Karen J. Tomasik
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

Veterans Day is near and dear to my family since many family members have served this nation across several service branches. I’ve attended many ceremonies and services at various locations over the years, but there is a place I have yet to visit on a military holiday – the Air Force Memorial.

Why would I want to spend Veterans Day visiting the Air Force Memorial specifically? It’s because my daughters are finally old enough to notice the details of the memorial and what they mean. It’s a visual representation of me and my husband’s Air Force service, and I’d really like to see the wonder in their eyes at seeing the memorial for the first time.

What I remember most about the first time I ever saw the memorial, was the way the three soaring, shiny stainless steel spires seem to rise up out of the trees when driving up to the memorial site. It was their graceful curvature that took me back to my childhood when I saw the Thunderbirds perform what’s known as the bomb burst maneuver.

I also remember a lot of the news that came out about the design and building of the memorial – some people liked the design while others were very vocal in saying how much they didn’t like it. What mattered to me was my service branch finally having a memorial for our Airmen that captures our mission – much like the Navy’s Lone Sailor Statue signifies the service of Sailors and the Marine Corps War Memorial embodies the courage and sacrifice of Marines.

The memorial is not just for the men and women serving in today’s Air Force but also those who served in early organizations like the Aeronautical Division and Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps; the Army Air Service; the U.S. Army Air Corps; and the U.S. Army Air Forces among others. This is for all of America’s Airmen.

The memorial also features a bronze honor guard statue, which I also identify with – not as a ceremonial guardsman in the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard – but as a young Airman allowed to participate as a member of the base honor guard at McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

The opportunities I had to render final honors for many who served in the Army Air Corps and some who served much more recently really opened my eyes to how much we owe to people who choose to join the ranks of those going off into the wild blue yonder for their country.

As a kid growing up in rural Ohio, I loved watching the crop dusters flying over local farms and enjoyed each chance I got to fly to Texas to visit my grandparents for summer vacations. I’m sure all that, my dad’s service in the Ohio Air National Guard, and my being born in San Antonio, home of the Gateway to the Air Force, played a part in my decision to join.

The Air Force memorial is more than just steel spires, bronze statues, granite walls or the glass contemplation wall honoring fallen Airmen. It shows the American people the spirit of its Airmen through the decades, represents our core values and recognizes the three components that make up our Total Force.

It is a legacy of American Airmen and airpower that I hope future generations, including that of my daughters, can look upon with awe as they remember the great feats we have accomplished and the leaders we have developed.

Photo: The Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va., is the site of a dedication ceremony Oct. 14, 2006, at 9 a.m. Organizers braved the cooler afternoon temperatures Oct. 12 making final preperations for the dedication ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Larry A. Simmons)

AF Week Day 3: The Day Airmen Were Like Celebrities

The Kennedy Space Center is a pretty cool place, and we made it even cooler. Exactly how, you ask? By making some cameos! The Wings of Blue dropped by– er, I mean down– into Kennedy Space Center. An HH-60 Pave Hawk flew in and landed to support the pararescue static display for Air Force Day, which the crowd loved (thanks to the 920th Rescue Wing pilots who were the ones that flew it in). The AF Honor Guard performed throughout the day, and the crowd must have loved them because they wanted autographs. Tops in Blue and Max Impact also performed to some crowds. It was boiling hot today, but people still enjoyed the entertainment. Of course, Airmen and families had fun hanging out at the KSC too. That’s it for today, but I’m sure tomorrow will be pretty fun as well.

PHOTOS: (Top) Air Force displays and attractions were set up throughout Kennedy Space Center, such as the famous Air Force A-10 Monster Truck.
(Second from top) The 920th Rescue Wing’s HH-60 Pave Hawk flies into Kennedy Space Center.
(Second from bottom) The Air Force Honor Guard performs for a Kennedy Space Center and Air Force Week crowd.
(Bottom) The Air Force Parachute Team, Wings of Blue, jumps down into Kennedy Space Center.
Photos courtesy Auburn Davis, 45th Space Wing Public Affairs