April 20, 2012

Honor Guard size reduced to relieve units

By 1st Lt. Ken Lustig
99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Air Force Courtesy Photo
Nellis Honor Guard provides tradition, ceremony and dignity to military funerals, public events and formal occasions.

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — For decades, the Nellis Honor Guard has imparted tradition, ceremony and dignity to military funerals, public events and formal occasions. The team’s precision, military discipline and attention to detail exemplify the standards expected of professional Airmen, and help represent the Air Force to the wider community.

For many people, seeing an Air Force honor guard detail can be the only personal encounter they have with the Air Force.

However, as economic realities cause reductions in military personnel and funding, the honor guard is unavoidably affected. Like the Air Force, the team will have fewer personnel and greater concentration on its core responsibilities.

The team’s size will be reduced by a third, from over 30 personnel to just 20 active team members. Though the team will still perform its primary, congressionally-mandated mission – military funeral details – it will not be available for as many other events.

Capt. Melissa Keough, 99th Force Support Squadron operations officer, said the goal driving this change is giving time back to Airmen and affected organizations..

“Though it is very important to the commander, the honor guard is not a funded organization,” Keough said. “Its manpower is taken ‘out of hide’ from units across the base.”

This means that since support to the honor guard doesn’t reduce unit responsibility, unit members must shoulder the workload left behind while their personnel are assigned to the team.

Tech. Sgt. Phillip Ridenour, the honor guard’s Noncommissioned Officer In Charge, said that the Nellis Honor Guard is second only to Joint Base Langley-Eustis as the busiest honor guard in the Air Force. In 2011, the team supported as many as 90 military funerals per month and more than 1,200 total ceremonial details.

The Air Force Honor Guard’s primary, congressionally-mandated mission, is to avail themselves as a military funeral detail.

Becoming an honor guard member requires continual training and practice between participation in ceremonial events. It takes weeks for a new member to become fully proficient.

To efficiently use this training effort, the team’s 20 members will have a four-month primary, full-time commitment. This will be followed by a four-month standby commitment during which they can be temporarily called out in the event of an increase in military funeral requests.

Keough said making the team smaller was a hard choice that means many worthy military and private events might not be supported – even some that were regularly supported in past years.

Besides supporting military funerals and dignified arrivals of military remains, the honor guard will provide services to on-base events including group- or higher-level change of command and wing- or higher-level awards and promotion ceremonies. The team will support off-base events as approved by 99th Air Base Wing leadership, as Honor Guard missions and manning allow.

To offset its reduced availability, the honor guard can provide training to other unit members on how to post colors when needed for other ceremonies.

Ridenour said that despite its smaller size, the team will remain true to its legacy of honor. As a grandson and son of military veterans, Ridenour said he truly understands the life-long impact the honor guard can make.

“I remember at my grandfather’s funeral seeing taps and the amount of pride and professionalism they put into folding his flag,” Ridenour said. “I put that into every single one of the details that I did, and I put it in the minds of every single one of these Airmen over here doing those details now.”

More information on requesting the honor guard can be found online at www.nellis.af.mil under the “requests” tab.

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U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Tam

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