We see them at funerals and at ceremonies on post, but behind the perfectly pressed blue and dark green uniforms, the Fort Huachuca Select Honor Guard keeps busy. Seven days a week, rain or shine, its members handle the honors for fallen retirees, veterans and active duty Soldiers in addition to ceremonies on post involving the garrison and state flags.
Not only are they responsible for carrying out honors in Arizona, but in Nevada, New Mexico and Southern California as well.
“Most of our guys work as if they are deployed,” Sgt. 1st Class James Budden said.
Towards the end of the week, the Honor Guard is scheduled for three to four ceremonies on average, but on rare occasions, its Soldiers will see eight to nine memorials scheduled in one day.
As busy as the schedule gets, Honor Guard Soldiers are only given this duty for six months before they are transferred out of the duty. According to Budden, this is due to the unit having a rotational basis.
Honor Guard Soldiers are chosen for this special duty either by interview or unit selection.
No matter how the Soldier is chosen, Honor Guard selectees like Staff Sgt. James Barr considers it a highlight in his career. He mentions how everyday he is performing a duty, one that has a significant meaning to not only the Garrison, but to Family members and the general public.
Once selected, the newest members of the Honor Guard start 10 days of training. During this time the Soldiers first learn flag folding. Next, they go through training for a memorial service where two Honor Guard Soldiers are present for the cremated remains of the fallen and then for the services where a casket is used.
The final training involves getting the Soldier ready for a memorial with full honors. Normally for a funeral service, three Honor Guard Soldiers give the honors for a fallen veteran while seven Soldiers perform full honor duties for fallen retirees and active duty Soldiers.
At a memorial with full honors, if it takes place at the Post Cemetery, the Soldiers will first stop by Brown Parade Field to lower the flag at half staff and stop again after the service to raise the flag to full staff again. At the memorial, they perform the gun salute, firing shots with M-16 rifles. While not in use, the guns are placed in a pyramid-shape, called stack arms, which puts them in a ready position.
As soon as the last shot is fired, “Taps” is played on the bugle by a Soldier from the 62nd Army Band or an Honor Guard Soldier selected for bugle duty. Budden said sometimes one of his Soldiers plays the bugle to not over-exhaust or over-use the band Soldiers with as many memorial as they go to.
The final aspect of a full honor ceremony is the flag presentation. The flag is unfolded by all seven Soldiers and folded back into the triangular shape. The Soldiers positioned at the end of the line of folding work diligently to make sure the flag has three distinct pointed corners.
Also important to the flag folding tradition, no red stripes can be visible. This is due to the red representing the color of blood. Once folded, the flag is presented to the next of kin or appropriate Family member.
Honor Guard Soldiers arrive one hour early to every memorial. This allows them time to practice and meet with the funeral director to learn important aspects of the memorial. The time also allows them to meet with the Family when they first arrive.
Barr said they work closely with the Family to ensure they are an important part of the ceremony and their needs and desires are addressed.
When the Honor Guard is not performing honors, they practice. On average, the Soldiers will practice 20 hours a week to perfect the presentation the public sees. According to Staff Sgt. David Sawyer, synchronization is important. If a Soldier turns the wrong way or takes a step too soon or too late, “it takes away the magic.”
Not only do they practice for memorials, but take the time to practice for ceremonies as well. Some aspects of practicing for a ceremony include preparing for color guard and cannon duties.
Despite the heavy schedule at times, Fort Huachuca’s Select Honor Guard practices to never miss a detail.