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Years ago, the responsibility for providing military funeral honors was routinely vested in the funeral offices. In turn, they tasked either the base security force squadron or the fledgling Honor Guard teams made up of volunteers who organized training after the end of their day of service.

They learned the flag – the stripes representing the original 13 colonies, the stars representing the 50 states of the union, the red color symbolizing sturdiness and valor, the white color symbolizing purity and innocence, and blue color symbolizing vigilance, perseverance and justice. They discovered the 13 folds and what each fold represented.

The Air Force ceremonial unit began with the 1100th Air Police Squadron at Bolling Air Force Base, Md., Officially becoming a squadron in 1972. It is now the USAF Honor Guard and considered a special mission.

In 1995, the Protocol, Honors and Ceremonies course was created, instituting the Grassroots Honor Program. It provided written guidelines and standards on service ceremonies and service funerals and standardized the uniform of the honor guard.

Many have witnessed the precision of a team at a change of command or retirement ceremony. Their ceremonial uniform is unmistakable – the silver cord on the left shoulder, the white gloves, the blue and silver belt around the waist, and the service cap sitting squarely on their heads.

The Offutt AFB Honor Guard program is made up of NCOs and Airmen from different areas of military careers. They learn and perform the duties of honoring the Flag with dignity and discipline, while honoring the men and women who have served this country.

“During my time with the Goodfellow AFB Honor Guard, I saw the impact of the Honor Guard mission,” said Senior Airman Winter Fox Frank, Ceremonial Guard. “Honor Guard duties are an important opportunity to demonstrate the Air Force’s sincere appreciation for the honorable service of Airmen.”

On the first day, volunteers must learn the reason for the high standards of conduct imposed on them. They begin each morning by reciting the creed originally written in the 1980s by Staff Sergeant Al Turner. It was revised in 1999 and reads as follows:

Hand chosen to serve as a member of the United States Air Force Honor Guard, my standards of conduct and level of professionalism must be above reproach as I represent everyone else in my service.

OIf they have earned the right to wear the ceremonial uniform, a uniform that is honored in a rich tradition and history, I will honor their memory by wearing it properly and proudly.

NOTI will never let my performance be dictated by the type of ceremony, the severity of the weather or the size of the crowd. I will remain superbly conditioned to perfect all movements throughout each exercise and ceremony.

OCommitted to my oath, I am constantly driven to excel through a deep dedication to duty and a strong sense of dedication.

Rrepresenting every member, past and present, of the United States Air Force, I vow to be STRONG, CRISP and STILL, for I am a ceremonial guard! “

“I am responsible for the Airmen who sign up for this program and making sure they present a professional image,” said Master Sgt. Roneisha Williams, Offutt Honor Guard Program Manager. “They don’t just represent the honor guard, but the air force.”

The base honor guard currently consists of 21 members who volunteer to serve for six months. Every detail of the team should be remembered and every step executed with the necessary precision.

“There is a series of increasingly difficult qualifications for different ceremonies that members must continually pass in order to be allowed to participate in actual ceremonies outside of the training environment,” said Williams.

These men and women train every day to remove the flag from a coffin and fold it, making sure that each fold is as meticulous as the fold that precedes it. They practice walking in place, getting into firing positions and firing their weapons. They repeat the difference between display and presentation of colors. They drill daily on every procedure until it is crisp and concise.

“What we are doing here is tangible and important, in particular the funeral services and the handing over of the flag have significant professional and sentimental value,” said Senior Aviator Connor Seago, Ceremonial Guard. “Given the weight they traditionally carry both on the profession of arms and on a more intimate level to the family attending this final ceremony of care that the Air Force lavishes to respect its dead who have served.”

These men and women present these honors to a service area that includes central and eastern Nebraska, the entire state of Iowa and several counties in Kansas, covering a total of 107,000 square miles.

The only job of the BHG planner is to coordinate with the funeral directors and plan all the details requested. So far this year, the BHG has provided details on the Color Guards at 63 change of command and retirement ceremonies and 514 funeral services.

BHG military ceremonies are steeped in tradition and meaning. Their origins can be traced back to the official ceremonial unit of the United States Army, still active today. This unit began as the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment and is now known as the “Old Guard”. Thanks to their example, the Air Force was ordered to create an elite ceremonial unit in 1948.

During the Napoleonic Wars, flags were used to transport the deceased off the battlefield due to the lack of stretchers, which is represented today by the flag draped over the coffins.

Tracing back to the European Dynastic Wars, when each side could remove the dead and wounded from the fields, the shooting of three volleys indicated that they had all been properly cared for and evacuated from the fields. This is now represented by the seven-member gun team firing three volleys including a 21-gun salute.

The dismal sound of “To the Colors”, known as taps, is said to have originated during the Civil War within the Union Army. It was intended to order the soldiers to return to their quarters and prepare for bed.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, colors were worn on battlefields to inspire troops. This is now represented in the display or presentation of colors during military ceremonies, which include the ceremony of folding the flag with the meaning of the 13 folds, to honor the deceased for their dedication and sacrifice.

The flag-folding ceremony is often silent, although on occasion the meaning of the folds is spoken out as they occur. A family member may request the recitation of the words to accompany the flag folding ceremony honoring the sacrifice and dedication of their loved one.

Earlier this year, a civilian employee of Offutt received an additional flag after his brother’s military funeral. It was unfolded, so he brought it to BHG and explained the reason for the flag. Members of the honor guard folded the flag and later that day made an “official” presentation. The presentation reflected BHG’s dedication as they went above and beyond to honor the memory of this employee’s brother.

These are the words spoken to the surviving family member as the ceremonial guard presents the folded flag

“On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Air Force and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for the honorable and faithful service of your loved one.”

Applications for military funeral honors should generally be made as soon as possible to prepare details within a minimum of 48 hours. Funeral homes are encouraged to immediately contact the NCO in charge of honors requests and provide a copy of the DD 214 form with “honorable discharge”.

There is a difference in the funeral services provided by BHG. Full funerals are reserved for those who have died on active duty or a recipient of a purple heart. This includes a six-member flag-folding team, a seven-member shooting team, six carriers and a bugle. Standard funerals are for retired veterans. It consists of a two-member flag-folding team, with the option of providing a full seven-member shooting team and bugle. By mandate from Congress, other veterans who have served their country but are not retired are eligible for a flag-folding team consisting of two members and a bugle.

“It’s a great way to give back to the community and to show respect to those who have served,” Airman 1 Class Bryce Griffith, Ceremonial Guard.

To request Base Honor Guard assistance, call 402-294-6667 or email [email protected]