More than 90,000 football fans enjoyed New Year’s Day at the 101st Rose Bowl game with a special pre-game addition: Airmen from March Air Reserve Base’s Blue Eagles Total Force Honor Guard took to the field and presented the colors while a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber from the 509th Bomb Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, flew above the stadium January 1.
Despite the unusually cold temperatures and modifications to their schedule less than an hour before the pre-game ceremony, Team March’s Honor Guard adapted to the changes and performed without issue.
“We have to adjust, we are very good at that,” said Master Sgt. Darryl M. Willingham, Civil Engineer Squadron, 452nd Air Mobility Wing, and non-commissioned officer in charge of March ARB’s Honor Guard. “It doesn’t take that long because we are already trained,” referring to the countless number of training hours Willingham and his team dedicates for events such as these.
“Colors training is something that we practice all the time,” said Staff Sgt. Zakai A. Webster, 163rd Force Support Squadron, California Air National Guard and Blue Eagles Total Force Honor Guard member. Webster, one of the rifle guards during the ceremony, has accrued nearly 400 volunteer hours of colors training.
While not the team’s primary mission, presenting colors is a common volunteer service the team provides to the local community. It is generally composed of five individuals, with the two outermost Airmen designated as rifle guards to serve as protectors of the colors. The three Airmen in the middle carry the colors, which are the United States national flag, Air Force flag and California state flag.
“This is historic for them,” said Willingham, referring to his team’s first year participating in the uniquely U.S. Air Force-represented event. The Rose Bowl game has historically included joint participation from sister services, particularly the U.S. Marines, but even the 2015 Tournament of Roses grand marshal and World War II prisoner of war, Louis Zamperini, was an Airman in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
“It is an honor to have March Air Reserve Base represent the Air Force and the Department of Defense at this special, national event,” said Lt. Gen. Samuel A. Greaves, commander, Space and Missile Systems Center, Air Force Space Command, Los Angeles Air Force Base.
Despite performing at nearly a dozen stadium events per year, Willingham said his team never tloses sight of their primary mission: honoring fallen servicemembers.
“Our main job is funeral honors, and who can get tired of that?” asked Willingham.