Practice makes perfect
By Mauricio Campino, 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 22, 2019
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- – Integrity, service and excellence are the core values of the United States Air Force, and the embodiment of those values is seen every day in the Dover Air Force Base Honor Guard.
On a daily basis, members of the base honor guard travel within a 12,245 square-mile area of responsibility that covers Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and parts of Pennsylvania, performing funeral honors for active-duty Airmen, Air Force veterans and retirees. In 2018, they supported 1,041 funeral services, averaging almost three a day, as well as a funeral service in Puerto Rico for the Air National Guardsmen who perished in a C-130 crash in Georgia. In addition to funeral services, the base honor guard contributed to over 153 events, providing colors details for military ceremonies, marching in parades and appearing at professional sporting events and federal holiday celebrations throughout the year.
“Our motto is to serve with dignity, honor and respect,” said Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Harrington, base honor guard noncommissioned officer in charge.
Base honor guard members are typically first-term Airmen recruited from the 436th Airlift Wing, the 512th Airlift Wing and tenant units throughout the base.
“A good candidate for the honor guard would be someone who’s already squared away as far as uniform, military standards and bearing,” said Harrington.
With precision drill movements, impeccable uniforms and attention to detail, they act as ambassadors for the base and the United States Air Force. To civilians, the base honor guard may be their first and possibly last encounter with the United States Air Force. Knowing this, the honor guard strives to always leave a great impression. Even for the sharpest Airmen, that takes practice – lots of practice.
To be in the honor guard, recruits must first complete a 10-day training session. The crash course covers military ceremonies, standing manuals, command voices, flag folding, basic rifle drill and uniform inspections to ensure everyone looks his or her best. Upon completion, the flight of 24 Airmen are ready to serve a four-month tour; although, the tour length will soon be extended to six months.
Practice doesn’t stop there, though. When the Airmen are not performing services, they are constantly perfecting their drills. You can always know when the honor guard is practicing because their heels come together with a loud “pop” as they snap to attention.
Each type of ceremony has different requirements. While a flag folding requires only two Airmen, some ceremonies can require up to 20 Airmen, grouped in several moving parts. Every routine is repeated until the Airmen learn to move in unison, to verbal commands and cadence. All of the flight members know they are serving for something greater than themselves.
“Without teamwork, we are not one cohesive unit… Whether it’s carrying a casket, presenting colors or folding a flag, we all need to be on the same page at all times,” said Airman 1st Class Christopher Loera Jr., 436th Aerial Port Squadron cargo processor.