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Columbus AFB Honor Guard honors past, present service members

Columbus AFB Honor Guard honors past, present service members

The Columbus Air Force Base Honor Guard carries a training casket during their open house Sept. 21, 2018, on Columbus AFB, Mississippi. The honor guard’s primary mission is to provide military honors to fallen service members, but they also perform at official Air Force ceremonies and parades. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Beaux Hebert)

Columbus AFB Honor Guard honors past, present service members

Airman 1st Class Robert Carrico, Columbus Air Force Base Honor Guard ceremonial guardsman, demonstrates the proper way to fold an American flag Sept. 21, 2018, on Columbus AFB, Mississippi. During a military funeral, the American flag is folded into a triangle and presented to the next-of-kin as a symbol of appreciation for the fallen service member’s service to their country. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Beaux Hebert)

Columbus AFB Honor Guard honors past, present service members

Members of the Columbus Air Force Base Honor Guard fire blank rounds during their open house Sept. 21, 2018, on Columbus AFB, Mississippi. The firing party fires off a three-round volley, commonly, but incorrectly, referred to as a 21-gun salute, during a retiree funeral. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Beaux Hebert)

Columbus AFB Honor Guard honors past, present service members

Tech. Sgt. Janessa Ebbert, former Columbus Air Force Base Honor Guard NCO in charge, presents an American flag to Col. Gary Hayward, 14th Mission Support Group commander, during a funeral demonstration Sept. 21, 2018, on Columbus AFB, Mississippi. The Honor Guard hosted an open house to teach Airmen and base leadership that the ceremonial guardsmen work hard to represent the Air Force and Columbus AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Beaux Hebert)

The Air Force Honor Guard was formed in 1948 with one mission, to represent Airmen to the American public and the world. The vision of the Air Force Honor Guard is to ensure a legacy of Airmen and service members who promote the mission, protect the standards, perfect the image and preserve the heritage of the organization.

The Columbus Air Force Base Honor Guard is responsible for performing at military funerals, official Air Force ceremonies and events. Their area of responsibilities covers 72 counties spanning 40,000 square miles. The members have a great sense of pride in the work they do.

“It means a lot to be a member of this team,” said Tech. Sgt. Crayton Felder, NCO in charge of Columbus AFB Honor Guard. “I am delivering the Air Force and (commander in chief’s) message every time we go out to the loved ones and we’re representing the face of the Air Force during a grieving time for certain individuals that have been lost from our past heritage.”

There are several different roles ceremonial guardsmen perform during official ceremonies, funerals and parades. Each member must be trained and maintain proficiency to perform each role.

“We do training from flag folding, funeral details and weapons training,” Felder said. “It’s important to train, because we represent the Air Force to the community, therefore we need to be proficient and professional at all times.”

The most common role in Honor Guard is the posting of the colors. This role is performed at official Air Force ceremonies on Columbus AFB. Before each ceremony begins, four ceremonial guardsmen (two bearing rifles, one holding the American flag, one holding the Air Force flag) march slowly to the front of the venue. They post the colors by dropping the Air Force flag to a 45-degree angle and calling the rifle-bearing ceremonial guardsmen to attention. At this time, the “Star-Spangled Banner” is played. Once the anthem has completed, the ceremonial guardsmen then march out of the room.

A critical piece Honor Guard plays is providing military honors to fallen service members. Once again, these ceremonies require different roles to perform perfectly. The first role for funerals is the body bearers. They are entrusted to carry the casket or urn of the deceased service member perfectly level and show no signs of strain, to their resting place. After the fallen service member has been brought to their gravesite, the American flag is then lifted off the casket/urn while the fallen service member is lowered into their grave. The ceremonial guardsmen then fold the flag and present it to the next-of-kin and recite: “On behalf of the President of the U.S., the U.S. Air Force, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

Another role during a funeral is the firing party. Each member fires blank rounds using modified M-14s. The number of ceremonial guardsmen depends of the type of funeral. A retiree funeral consists of a three-member team that fires a three-round volley (commonly, but incorrectly, called the 21-gun salutes).

The last role during a funeral is the bugle player. Their job is to play “taps” while the service member is being lowered to their final resting place.

It take countless hours of practice to ensure each ceremony is performed flawlessly. That is one of the reasons the Columbus AFB Honor Guard doesn’t pick just anyone to become a member. For many of the members, that is something they take pride in.

“Honor Guard is more than just getting out of your job for an extended amount of time,” said Senior Airman Hayden Harrison, Columbus AFB Honor Guard ceremonial guardsmen. “We work extra hard to ensure that we represent our base and the Air Force, because for some people, this will be the last interaction with Airmen they will ever have.”