Airman represents Air Force through special duties

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(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Breonna Veal)

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va.  — He stands in front of a seated audience. Much like a spotlight, all eyes are on him as he waits for the music to start. But this isn’t the typical routine for Air Combat Command Heritage of America Band vocalist, Tech. Sgt. Richard Vasquez, Jr.

As he firmly grips the Air Force flag, holding it up straight into the air, he awaits for the signal.
“Present Arms,” says a member of the Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, 633rd Force Support Squadron Honor Guard.

Vasquez, currently the base honor guard manager, then methodically lowers the flag, showcasing the seal for all to see.

He holds it steady as the crowd rises for the playing of the national anthem. Once the last note rings, the room falls silent and the detail prepares to exit. All eyes remain on their perfectly starched uniforms, polished shoes and expressionless faces.

Vasquez and his team must execute this precise routine at ceremonies ranging from retirements to funerals. There are no name tapes on their uniforms; this enables them to represent the Air Force and not them as individuals.

“As a member of the base honor guard, we want to represent the Air Force as the most elite level of professionalism,” said Vasquez. “Being a [bandsman] has helped play a huge role in the precision it takes to be in the honor guard.”

Before joining the honor guard Vasquez lent his voice to the performance ensemble made up of approximately 40 active duty Air Force members called Tops in Blue, as a way to share “Big Blue” with people all over the world.

“After I volunteered for Tops in Blue in 1999, 2001 and 2002, the commander of my squadron suggested I pursue a music career further within the Air Force,” said Vasquez. “So, I auditioned for the position as a vocalist in the Air Force Bands in 2002.”

Of the five Airmen who auditioned during that time, Vasquez was the only one selected.

“To know that all my hard work paid off by being a part of a very small group in a very small career field makes me feel honored,” said Vasquez. “Now I get to volunteer and provide service for a selective group known as the honor guard.”

The concept of the honor guard is not new to Vasquez. He volunteered in the honor guard as a young Airman and since being in the band, the two groups coincide frequently.

Being a part of the honor guard once again has given Vasquez the chance to give back to community selflessly, as well as, given him the opportunity to be a leader for young Airmen.

“I have been given the opportunity to lead Airmen from the front,” said Vasquez. “Since 1999, I have been an ambassador for the Air Force and now it is my duty to pass on my skills to them.”

During his time as honor guard manager, Vasquez mentored and educated approximately 130 Airmen on the importance of being a member of the honor guard.

“My biggest goal is to teach [my Airmen] how to be the face of the Air Force,” said Vasquez. “When we are performing at a funeral, in most cases, we are the only interaction some civilians have with military. Our job is to make sure we represent our military service with dignity.”

But being in the honor guard comes with a cost. With eight to ten details scheduled weekly, Vasquez sometimes spends more time with his Airmen than his own family. Where he was often on the road and away from family while in the band, the honor guard hasn’t leant him much rest placing him on a 24 hour, 7 days-a -week duty.

“Balancing my family time and my career has always been challenging, but the honor guard is my family,” said Vasquez. “From short notice details to volunteering throughout the Hampton Roads, this family makes me feel honored.”

Vasquez credits his time as a bandsman to his ability to mold into the uniform role as an honor guardsman. Similar to the band, the standards of professionalism are held higher than for the average Airman.

“It’s rare that bandsmen are allowed out for special duties,” said Vasquez. “It’s even rarer that vocalists are allowed to take on these volunteer opportunities. I cannot express enough how honored and humbled I am to be a part the honor guard.”

Vasquez holds one of the Air Force’s core values close to heart: service before self. Giving back to the Air Force and community through one’s own personal talents has granted him the chance to be a part of something bigger than himself.