Ceremonial guardsmen: Proud to honor fallen Airmen

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Sandra Marrero
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
In unison they marched, pointing their toes with each step. One Airman draped the American flag over a casket, and as a group, they carried it to its proper location. There, they used the tips of their fingers to lift the flag, holding it taught as they began to fold.

Moody's Honor Guard was practicing for the real thing. When an Airman in the local area passes away and is laid to rest, the Honor Guard offers to be at the funeral as symbol of respect and gratitude for their service. For many ceremonial guardsmen at Moody, having that opportunity is a source of great pride.

"It's showing that we as an Air Force are grateful for what the retiree or the veteran or member sacrificed for us," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Heather Hartman, NCO in charge of Moody AFB Honor Guard. "That's why the Air Force is the way it is and we appreciate what they did for us, to get us where we are right now."

To pay respect to their brothers and sisters in arms, ceremonial guardsmen are guided by the Honor Guard Charge, its own version of the Airman's Creed. 

Airman 1st Class Kamin Gilson, ceremonial guardsman, tries to live by its words: "Representing every member, past and present, of the United States Air Force, I vow to stand sharp, crisp, and motionless, for I am a ceremonial guardsman."

Gilson says when he works at a funeral, he does the best he can to express his appreciation for the member's service by exemplifying those words.

"I just try to show ... how disciplined I am to the family as a way of thanking them," said Gilson.
Funeral attendees have expressed feeling grateful for the Base Honor Guard's commitment to excellence.

In a letter to the Moody's Honor Guard, Steven Smith, Coastal Camden Funeral Home director, said they gave a performance unlike any he has seen in his 18 years of work.

"The crispness, professionalism, and devotion to perfection made me and others there weep" he said. "I myself have never been so proud to call myself a U.S. Air Force veteran."

Airmen at Moody's Honor Guard go through an initial three weeks of fulltime training and spend countless hours during their four-to-six-month rotations perfecting their movements, said Hartman. During those months, they are away from their primary job, working solely as ceremonial guardsmen.

The hardest part is not getting complacent after the training phase, said Gilson. He explained they combat complacency through constant dedication and training, while keeping the families in mind.

"Every day we don't have a funeral, we're training," said Gilson. "There's never a point where any individual, no matter how long they've been here, is absolutely perfect at what they do."

Even though their goal is perfection, things don't always go as smoothly as teams anticipate. Gilson said there are a lot of different curveballs they face.

"As much as you prepare here at the [Honor Guard] building, the fact is that at every funeral it might not go exactly as planned," said Gilson.

If something does go wrong, he tries to remember he's there for a purpose, putting himself in the family's shoes and thinking about what they would want to see.

"It's not so much about me," said Gilson. "It's about me and my team members providing a finished product that is the culmination of months of hard work."

Their effort pays off when Base Honor Guard members see the expression on the family members' solemn faces.

"Knowing that we did a good job is one thing, but seeing it in the next-of-kin's eyes is a ... completely different feeling," said Staff Sgt. Billy Morgan, ceremonial guardsman. "It gives me a whole lot of pride seeing, as soon as you give them the flag and give the message of condolence, ... they're proud of their loved one."

Both Gilson and Morgan said providing those honors to the men and women who have defended this nation has deepened their sense of patriotism.

"Before entering Honor Guard, I had a problem getting that patriotism," said Gilson. "I've had a definite shift toward camaraderie ... and definitely a sense of pride. [Each funeral is] like losing a brother you never knew."

Morgan, who didn't originally volunteer for the job, quickly grew to appreciate his position and understand the importance of being a ceremonial guardsman.

"We're providing military honors," said Morgan. "This is the last thing that this deceased member is getting as far as their military career and it's just really cool to think that when the family members think back on [the ceremony] they're going to think of how great of a job the Honor Guard did."

Hartman, Gilson and Morgan all said their experience with Base Honor Guard has been a transformative one. It has given them a more profound sense of pride for serving in the military and made them more thankful for those who have served and currently serve alongside them.