Inside Honor Guard

MOUNTAIN HOME AFB, Idaho -- Everyone sees the excellence they embody. The overall seamlessly tailored uniform represents the pride exuded in all they do. From the unique cover to the perfectly centered belt, the unblemished white gloves all the way down to the glossy polished shoes, it’s clear that mediocre is something unknown to these particular men and women.

While we all are able to experience their flawlessness at some point or another, many may not realize all the hard work and dedication that goes into becoming an honor guardsman.

The honor guard team at Mountain Home AFB is made up of the base’s best airmen, all of whom have been hand-picked by their leadership, explained Tech. Sgt. Daniel Hill, 366th Force Support Squadron base honor guard flight chief.

Despite having the best of the best, Hill breaks his 100-hour curriculum down to the basics to ensure a true team is built.

First, he begins with simple standing manuals: left face, right face, present arms, order arms – all the basics.

“It’s a lot like the process of basic military training where you’re turning civilians into airmen,” he said. “Here in honor guard, we’re turning airmen into ceremonial guardsmen who represent all other airmen.”

Once the foundation is built and the basics are mastered, the honor guardsmen learn how to fold and present a flag, as well as how to hold a rifle and perform firing maneuvers. After two short weeks, the members are able to combine funeral and colors elements, becoming tailored for different ceremonies, Hill explained.

Although the team provides ceremonial support for many base and community events, its primary mission is military funeral honors and showing support to the families of the fallen.

“That is the entire reason we exist,” Hill said, “To conduct military funeral honors.”

In spite of the minimums set by Department of Defense policy, Air Force Instructions and public laws, the team goes above and beyond to provide services to take care of the fallen, rendering a final dignified salute to the families as they grieve the loss of their loved ones.

“We will answer the phone 24/7,” Hill said. “We will provide military funeral honors at two o’clock in the morning if requested.”

Not only does the team provide honors for Air Force veterans, but also those who played a key role in the founding of the Air Force; Army Air Corps and Army Air Force veterans. Since the members were technically in the Department of the Army, there’s an option of having the Army or Air Force provide honors.

“We have the distinct privilege to spend time with those families and glean their heritage – glean the founding fathers of the Air Force,” Hill said. “Most of them typically ask the Air Force to come out because they’re proud of their wings; they’re proud of the stripes they earned and the title ‘Airman’.”

In addition to learning how to honor with dignity, airmen hone skills that not only make them better honor guardsmen, but better airmen as well.

“Our team is inherently focused on teamwork, discipline and trust,” Hill explained. “Trust is the foundation for everything we do here; you have to be able to trust the person on the other side of the casket, on the other side of the flag … You have to be able to trust without hesitation.”

As the melting pot of the Air Force, with members ranging from legal clerks to air traffic controllers, trust may seem a little difficult, but for Senior Airman Radames Rivera Rodriguez, base honor guardsman, it makes no difference.

As an airman from the 366th Component Maintenance Squadron, he joined honor guard to develop himself as a better airman.

“I came here because I wanted to improve myself, be a better person and be a well-rounded airman,” he said. “I don’t look at people by their career fields, I just leave that outside those doors; you have to train here for one reason and that’s to do military honors, so I’m more worried about what you do inside this building than outside – just build trust here.”

With a few new trainees every month, Rivera, along with other seasoned members step up as leaders to help teach and pass down their knowledge.

“As the most experienced person, you have more responsibility,” he explained. “Right now I’m in charge of the training of the new guys so I need to make sure that they’re doing the right thing, that they’re practicing – that they’re getting everything.”

The more experienced honor guardsmen may learn a lot of leadership skills but that doesn’t mean their own training falls to the wayside.
Hill believes there is always room for improvement, which means everyone practices every single day. His philosophy is: professionals don’t practice until they get it right, they practice until they no longer get it wrong.

The honor guard badge, called a “cookie,” signifies their dedication to this level of excellence.

“There’s a three-point statement that I tell every single new airman the day that they start and the day that they qualify,” he said. “The first thing is: what you do matters. The second point is: earn your cookie every day, and third is: perfection is the standard; excellence will be tolerated.”

From the strict – but sharp – uniform standards down to the hard-earned pride, Rivera plans to carry everything he learned for the rest of his Air Force career.

“I feel proud, I feel proud of myself and I feel proud of being in the Air Force and being with this team,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a downside to honor guard because everybody volunteers to be here; when you’re doing something you want to do, I don’t think there’s a negative side.”

For Hill, it’s more than just a job, it’s a standard of care that he believes should never cease to exist.

“We should never as a nation – as a service – even consider reducing our footprint or our support structure,” he said. “I don’t know that I’ll ever have a more rewarding job for the rest of my military career.”

"Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals." - British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone