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NEWS | May 3, 2023

U.S. Air Force Honor Guard duty plays meaningful role in chief’s career

By Annette Crawford Cryptologic and Cyber Systems Division, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center

A helpful suggestion from a supervisor and a well-timed visit from the Air Force Drill Team made a world of difference in a young NCO’s career.

Tech. Sgt. Robert Jones often performed facing movements in his office at the 52nd Communications Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany – so much so that his supervisor took note and told him, “You ought to try out for the base honor guard.”

“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” said now-Chief Master Sgt. Jones, Senior Enlisted Leader for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Cryptologic and Cyber Systems Division at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. “We would put in a full duty day at work and then afterwards we would go practice, train and do uniform inspections.”

He was immediately drawn to the precision and discipline it took to be a member of the base honor guard and the feeling was mutual.

Less than a year later, he was named the 2006 Ceremonial Guardsman of the Year for the 52nd Fighter Wing, on top of being named the 2006 52nd CS NCO of the Year.

Soon thereafter, the Air Force Drill Team was doing a tour through various United States Air Forces in Europe bases and Spangdahlem was not a scheduled stop. The 52nd FW Honor Guard worked hard to convince the team to come to their base since they were so close to Ramstein Air Base and they were successful. Their performance left a huge impact on Jones.

“Their performance was about 20 minutes long and I just stood there in awe. I don’t even remember clapping because it was so amazing to watch,” he said.

The Air Force Drill Team Flight Chief, Master Sgt. Jake Pullin, noticed Jones’ interest and approached him after the performance.

“He was always in recruiting mode so when he came up to me, he asked me for my last three EPRs. I literally ran back to the office and printed them out. They were on the bus to leave base and I managed to get on the bus and hand him the EPRs,” Jones said. “Things happened so fast. Less than two months later, I was in D.C.”

It would be the first of two assignments for Jones at the Air Force Honor Guard, located at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C.. The first one was from October 2007 to July 2011. He served on the Air Force Drill Team and as superintendent of standardization and evaluations and estimates he performed in nearly 250 ceremonies during his nearly four years there. He returned in February 2014 and served as superintendent of operations until May 2017.

“The second tour, I probably did around 50 to 75 ceremonies, mainly because I was in a leadership role,” Jones said.

As superintendent of operations, Jones was responsible for all ceremonies for the Air Force Honor Guard. It involved scheduling support of funerals, TDYs for air shows, recruiting and national events and working with Arlington National Cemetery. He coordinated the efforts of the firing party, pall bearers and color team.

The team traveled mostly by airline, but once they landed, they would all be together on a bus. The 11th Logistics Readiness Squadron would normally send their bus on ahead to meet the team at their destination.

During his two assignments, Jones participated in two inaugurations: President Barack Obama’s first inauguration and then President Donald Trump’s inauguration. He was also at the funerals of two Chief Master Sergeants of the Air Force – Paul Airey and James Binnicker.

But it was at the funeral of someone he doesn’t even remember that made the most impact on the ceremonial guardsman. He was still fairly early in his first assignment, but he was at the point where performing funerals had become almost mundane.

“I felt like I was going through the motions, but this one funeral changed all that. As the hearse pulled up with family, we heard a loud, piercing scream. We were at attention, and I couldn’t really see what was going on, just with my peripheral vision,” Jones said.

“A woman ran out of the car, sobbing, and reaching out for the casket on the caisson. Normally these ceremonies are very quiet and somber so this one really got to me,” he recalled. “Throughout the rest of the ceremony we kept hearing her crying out and sobbing. I realized then why we were there – to provide honor and respect for that woman’s loved one. It was a very powerful moment and being at funerals was never the same from that day forward.”

The chief said his time at the Air Force Honor Guard served him very well.

“We had a saying that if you could survive the honor guard, you could do phenomenal work anywhere. While we were in, it didn’t really hit us. The constant stress, the long hours – it was all just part of the job. Afterwards, I learned how to appreciate the heavy lift. The assignments I went to afterward didn’t seem as tough. From then on, I used my time there as a gauge to show Airmen they could do more; they could handle it,” he said.

He is especially reminded of his days as a ceremonial guardsman on Memorial Day.

“I take value in the little things that are often taken for granted. Every single time I hear the national anthem, it hits home with me. I really listen to each word and think of its significance to my life and how I got here. Each word has special meaning for me.”