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NEWS | April 26, 2010

Lackland honor guard renders military honors

By Mike Joseph 502nd Air Base Wing OL-A Public Affairs

Members of the Lackland Honor Guard know mission success requires motivation, excellence, professionalism and commitment.

They also quickly learn - training is completed in one week - the satisfaction and appreciation that accompanies the demands on members.

Precision and perfection are expected each time they don their ceremonial uniform. Fellow Airmen and the public cast their eyes upon their every movement - from a handful to thousands at a time, all standing and watching with undivided attention.

The fulfillment fellow honor guard members find in rendering military honors justifies time well spent.

"I love it and enjoy the whole thing," said Staff Sgt. Nathan Mullen. "I'd like to stay another year but (my unit) wants to give others an opportunity to join."

The Lackland Honor Guard currently has three 10-man flights, all volunteers from throughout the base. Members spend a week each month away from regular job duties to serve and are also on call and rotate weekends.

The primary mission, a Congressional mandate, is to provide military honors at funerals for deceased Air Force or Army Air Corps veterans and retirees. In 2009, honors were rendered at 1,031 funerals and 70 other ceremonial functions.

Staff Sgt. Raymond Smith, Lackland Honor Guard assistant NCOIC, said service length determines the extent of funeral military honors, which include a flag folding, presentation to next of kin and taps. Other details require pallbearers and a 21-gun salute.

"It seems crazy to say, but I love doing funerals," said Sergeant Smith. "It's like you're helping a grieving family."

They're thanking you when you are really there to thank them for a loved one's service, he said.

"It's awesome. When you present a flag to the next of kin and they grab your hand to say thank you, it's gratifying and rewarding," he added.

The secondary mission of the honor guard is to support ceremonial and protocol functions such as cordons for VIPs and weddings, and perform color guard duties at change of command, retirement ceremonies or community-related events.
However, funeral details are top priority.

"We have a 24-hour policy," Sergeant Smith said. "We can't confirm until the day before because funeral homes have 24 hours to make a request. We'll schedule a retirement ceremony two months out and the day before we'll have to cancel for a funeral. We want to perform, but there are no guarantees with our funeral schedule."

The Lackland Honor Guard, an 802nd Force Support Squadron unit, covers 25 counties in the San Antonio and Central Texas areas.

Details primarily render honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, but one recent day had members traveling to Austin, Kerrville, San Marcos and Killeen.

A five-member staff provides fulltime support along with honor guards from the Air Force Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency and the 433rd Airlift Wing.

The first sergeants and the staff all work together to make it happen, said Sergeant Smith. "It gets pretty busy, but the honor guards are a team. The 433rd is just a phone call away and the week we train (new members), ISR takes over and is also on call one week a month.

"Once you've done it, it's hard to leave. If you go to another base, you'll probably end up joining again."