Honor: The integrity, service, excellence of the Dover AFB Honor Guard

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Matthew Hubby
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Integrity, service, excellence; these three words are the basis of what it means to be an Airman in the United States Air Force.

The honor guard here is no exception. The honor guard members are chosen for their singular dedication to the integrity, service and excellence it takes to bring honor to the ceremonies the Air Force holds dear.

The base honor guard flight members serve a four-month rotation. At the start of each rotation each squadron chooses Airmen out of a group of volunteers. Trainers from the prior flight train the new Airmen during a week-and-a-half long training flight.

"To be a member of the Dover AFB Honor Guard, Airmen must have dedication; a willingness to put yourself last and complete strangers first," said Staff Sgt. Stephen Radziewicz, 436th Maintenance Squadron aircraft and metals technology craftsman, and flight chief of the Dover
AFB Honor Guard. "When we go to funerals, it is usually the first time the families are dealing with a military member, so we must provide a perfect first impression."

The road to becoming a member of the honor guard is not an easy one, he said. First the new recruits must complete the week-and-a-half long training flight. The Dover AFB Honor Guard is the only base honor guard to hold a training flight to mirror the Air Force Honor Guard, according to Sergeant Radziewicz.

"We stress attention to detail, starting with the training flight," said Sergeant Radziewicz. "We have a particular training tool, a rock. We use it to train all our new Airmen the importance of attention to detail. One side of the rock is rough and cracked, the other is smooth, showing the airmen who they were before they joined the honor guard, and who they are after. Often, we have the trainers hide the rock and task the recruits with finding it and placing it back on its proper place. If the flight fails, they must do push-ups as a consequence. This teaches the flight attention to detail is key as a member of the honor guard."

The training flight is a return to basics, he said. The Airmen do push-ups when they make mistakes, but also to build up strength to use the weapons for twenty-one gun salutes and to carry caskets. These duties are a major part of the honor guard.

"We make the Airmen do push-ups as a motivational and correctional tool," said Sergeant Radziewicz. "We all do push-ups for the mistakes we make, because we're a team. Some of those mistakes are not rendering the proper customs and courtesies - like calling the room to attention for an officer, uniform violations, making a mistake during a training session and being late. It's usually one set for each mistake."

It is the training flight that sets the Dover AFB Honor Guard apart from other base honor guards, he said. Many of the Airmen joining the honor guard are first term Airmen, or just out of technical school, and many are still working on their career development courses when they volunteer for the honor guard.

"It's very beneficial for them to come out of technical school and enter this environment," said Sergeant Radziewicz. "It reinforces what they learned in basic training and at technical school, the customs and courtesies, and the importance of the uniform and Air Force traditions. I know for me, as a non-commissioned officer, being a part of the honor guard takes you out of your set ways."

It also provides the Airmen with an opportunity to form bonds of friendship. "They go through a trying time together," said Sergeant Radziewicz. "That's a connection they aren't going to forget."

For many of the Airmen, they see coming into the honor guard as an honor itself, but also a chance to really think about what it means to be an Airmen.

"It really had me thinking and noticing the little things," said Senior Airman John Harris, 436th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron C-5 crew chief and honor guard member. "I notice a lot of the traditions, like how the flags are set up at speeches; things I didn't pay attention to before and took for granted. It really makes you think about what it means to honor this uniform."