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October 25, 2013

Airmen serve to honor fallen

Master Sgt. Keith Cooper, 56th Force Support Squadron Luke Air Force Base Honor Guard superintendent, inspects Airman 1st Class Boushon Arnold, 308th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, Oct. 7 during a uniform inspection at the Airman Leadership School parking lot.

It’s silent except for the clicks resonating from the shoes of six honor guardsmen coming toward the funeral party. In unison they stop, come to attention and march forward to begin the honors for a fallen serviceman.

The Luke Air Force Base Honor Guard team spends numerous hours training and preparing their uniforms while on and off duty to provide proper military service at a variety of events.

“Our main mission is to provide professional military honors for funerals,” said Master Sgt. Keith Cooper, 56th Force Support Squadron Honor Guard superintendant and former Air Force honor guardsman. “We also do color guard and retirement ceremonies, sword cordons at weddings, rifle cordons for dignitaries, flag raisings, and retreat and reveille ceremonies.”

Luke honor guard members spend countless hours perfecting their movements. It is their service to honor others.

Airman 1st Class John Bowling, 56th Force Support Squadron B flight trainer, issues rifle commands to Honor Guard rookies Oct. 3 in their first month rotation. The rookies are learning the firing party sequence, which is used during funerals.

“The amount of training is dictated by our workload,” said Senior Airman Jeffrey Borland, 56th FSS A flight trainer. “It really depends on our detail schedule and if there is time in between details to train.”

For a new trainee or rookie the training is fitted into a four-week program.

“The first month consists of learning the most fundamental movements for color guard ceremonies and funerals,” Borland said. “Rookies will train at least eight hours a day on rifle movements, the basics of carrying a staff and essential flag folding movements for funerals. Typically by their fourth week they will be going on details.”

Rookies will also have their uniforms custom fitted during their first month rotation. Once fitted, the uniform must be properly prepared to fit honor guard standards.

Honor Guard members move a mock casket during a six-man retirement sequence. Luke Honor Guard personnel train for funerals, color guards, flag raisings, sword cordons and more.

“I typically spend four hours working on uniforms with the rookies once they get their uniform back from alterations,” Borland said. “These hours are spent getting the aiguillette pinned on, honor guard badge placed along with their ribbons and work badges.”

Rookies then spend time on their own to work on taking off excess strings and lint, Borland said.

In honor guard just one string, slightly crooked ribbon or badge can be a demerit when getting their uniforms inspected.

“It’s constant maintenance,” Borland said. “We steam, iron, shave, lint roll and polish our uniforms daily to make sure they are looking perfect.”

Being in the honor guard is serious work, but it is also a great place to make new friends and memories.

Senior Airman Ethan Retallack, 56th FSS honor guardsman, holds the flag in front of a mock casket after doing a full dress on the flag. Full honors are performed for retired vets, which includes executing a six-man casket sequence.

“We take our job seriously but we also know when it is the appropriate time to have fun and get to know each other,” Borland said. “I like it because it’s a good change of pace for me and gets me out in the city to see new things and meet new people. So far, my favorite memory would be going to the NASCAR events since it’s not only a lot of fun but we also got to meet celebrities.”

For Senior Airman Branden Palmer, 56th FSS honor guardsman, who is on his second rotation, being able to serve in the honor guard is the ultimate honor.

“I take my job very seriously because I want to do the best I can,” Palmer said. “When I’m on a detail, I always think of the person I am doing it for. I love being in the honor guard.”

Luke Air Force Base Honor Guard members do an average of 70 funerals per month for military veterans.

Master Sgt. Keith Cooper, 56th Force Support Squadron Luke Air Force Base Honor Guard superintendent, inspects Airman 1st Class Boushon Arnold, 308th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, Oct. 7 during a uniform inspection at the Airman Leadership School parking lot.




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