COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
The Columbus Air Force Base Honor Guard’s overall mission is to render military honors to fallen active-duty Airmen and veterans. This requires a group of sharp and precise Airmen.
To be a member of the honor guard, an Airman must undergo about a month of training to be certified on all aspects of rendering honors at events such as such as military funerals, presenting the colors, firing parties and other tasks.
“A sharp Honor Guard Airman must be motivated and ready to render military honors for the fallen active-duty and veteran Airman,” said Master Sgt. Damon Snead, NCO in Charge of Columbus AFB Honor Guard. “That Airman must be willing to drive four hours on a Saturday, render military honors for the fallen, and drive back. Sometimes there will be multiple events in one day and the guardsmen must be on time and still looking professional.”
The next step is ensuring their specialized uniforms are in pristine condition. The uniforms first have to be dry cleaned in downtown Columbus. Then the uniforms are brought back to the Walker Center on base, and are steamed by the guardsmen. They then inspect the uniforms for any lint and remove any visible strings. Lastly, the guardsmen add their decorations and badges, paying extreme attention to detail.
“The guardsmen are meticulous with the uniforms,” said Staff Sgt. Tremaine Jones, NCO in Charge of C Flight.
There are currently three flights of guardsmen that are on a three-month rotation. One flight will train for a month, be on-call for the next and be off for the last month. However, there will be a new rotation schedule and only two flights starting Oct. 1. The new schedule allows guardsmen to be full-time for three months.
Their area of responsibility covers 40,000 square miles, over 70 counties in two states. They also perform at community events such as Prisoners Of War/Missing In Action remembrance events, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, retreat ceremonies, military retirements and other formal events. They participate in about 100 community events and 250 funerals annually.
Strong military bearing is a crucial trait that guardsmen must possess in order to complete their mission.
“Presenting the flag to the family is very emotional,” Jones said. “Sometimes we are presenting the flag to the deceased’s child or spouse and the guardsmen can’t let what’s going on inside of them affect the mission.”
Snead said that Airmen’s time in the honor guard has a way of changing them. Most times Airmen volunteer to be a guardsman, but there are some who are “voluntold” and Snead thinks those are the ones who are affected the most.
“The honor guard changes Airmen,” Snead said. “It allows them to become more professional and show them there is something out there bigger than themselves. After the first time they present a flag to a family, they come to me and say ‘Sergeant Snead that was a hard one today’ then the next day they are back and ready to work and ask if there is anything to do.”