Basic Military Training can be tough and stressful, and it was no different for Kellen Ferguson. His days were spent dusting corners, tightening sheets and creating e-folds. It was a monotonous routine until one day the trainees were privy to a U.S. Air Force Honor Guard demonstration that set him on the path his Air Force career would follow for the next six years.
“I was lucky enough that, while I was in basic, they came to do a recruiting trip,” said Staff Sgt. Kellen Ferguson, 355th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle maintenance and analysis apprentice. “They did a four-man drill team and the first thing that popped into my head when I saw it was ‘I want to do that’.
After graduating from BMT, Sergeant Ferguson traveled to the Honor Guard compound on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C., for technical school. There his regimented training continued.
“Tech school was like basic training times five,” Ferguson said. “We were working very closely with the instructors. They lived there, so they could see you twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week if they wanted to.”
Coming to the Honor Guard straight from BMT meant that Airman Ferguson had to forget all the drill movements he’d just learned.
“We had to wipe regular Air Force drill movements out of our minds,” Ferguson said. “In Honor Guard, you stand at attention with your feet completely together instead of at a 45 degree angle. Your knuckles are parallel to the ground instead of cocked forward. They’d show us how the Air Force does parade rest, and then how the Honor Guard does parade rest. To this day I still have a hard time remembering the regular movements to a command.”
U.S. Air Force Honor Guard technical school students train for more than a month. During that time, a lot of emphasis is put on grooming standards.
“During our lunch hour we’d have to run to the chow hall and eat, and then run back to our dorm rooms to make our uniforms perfect again,” Ferguson said. “And this was during the time of BDU’s, so getting a uniform up to standards took a lot of work. Sometimes you’d have to shave again during lunch as well.”
Sergeant Ferguson graduated from tech school November 2004. He was placed into a ceremonial flight as a member of the firing party.
The Honor Guard Firing Party is a seven-man team. Their duty is to fire three volleys in perfect unison during funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery. The volleys, often referred to as the “21-gun salute”, are meant to honor the fallen. Depending on their schedule, the firing party trains two to six hours every day.
Sergeant Ferguson was a member of the Firing Party for his entire AFHG career. During that time he was a Firing Party member, FP trainer, head FP trainer, NCOIC of FP, standardization and evaluation board for FP.
“We did a funeral once in the middle of a storm,” Ferguson said. “It rolled in while we were waiting in formation and it was bad. My guys hats were getting blown off, we were buffered by wind from every direction while trying to stand at attention and it was pouring rain. But in the middle of all that disorder, when they began the sequence for us to start military honors, every single man in that firing party fired at the exact same time all three times. There is no greater feeling than knowing you did your job perfectly and sent that military member off with perfect last honors.”
For six years Sergeant Ferguson was a member of the elite Air Force Honor Guard. He moved up the ranks from Airman basic to staff sergeant, and those years made a significant impact on the Airman he is today.
“It was the best part of my Air Force career,” Ferguson said. “When I made it through tech school, I knew that I was going to get to be a part of so many great things. And I was; I’ve done presidential inaugurations, I’ve fired volleys for an active-duty funeral in an alley because it was the only way we could get a good vantage point to the front of the church, and I was head trainer for the first all Air Force firing line at a joint funeral. Being in the Honor Guard was a privilege and something I’ll never forget.”