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Honor Guard: respect for those who serve

by Ssgt. Robin Drake
Thunderbolt staff writer
photo by Ssgt. Robin Drake

Members of a firing party stand ready at military funerals to pay respect one final time for those who answered the call of duty.

photo by Ssgt. Robin Drake

1st Lt. Derek J. Aufderheide, MacDill Honor Guard officer in charge, oversees a uniform inspection Oct. 19. All members are required to maintain the highest level of dress and appearance.

photo by Ssgt. Robin Drake

When Honor Guard members are not performing details they use time during the day for training. Patience and motivation are key factors individuals must possess in order for the team to function successfully and accomplish their mission.

A tightly folded flag is presented to a grieving spouse as a military detail plays Taps in the back ground. Often, a funeral like this is the first contact the family has had with the military in years. And it may be the last encounter they ever have.

Because it is such an important event, the Honor Guard at MacDill stands ready to ensure every tiny detail is performed with uncompromised precision.

The program’s objective is to provide well-trained, highly professional personnel in the finest traditions of Air Force discipline, appearance and honor, according to the Air Force Instruction 34-242, MacDill Supplement 1.

“We are looking for guard members who display a positive attitude, have a love for the Air Force and take pride in what they do,” said 1st Lt. Derek J. Aufderheide, MacDill Honor Guard officer in charge.

The Honor Guard program is comprised of 36 active-duty servicemembers from various organizations around MacDill. Individuals learn to work together with others, giving them the opportunity to experience the teamwork process.

“I like the diversity; everybody comes from a different part of the base,” said Staff Sgt. Laura R. Amado, 6th Medical Operations Support Squadron, cardiopulmonary technician and Honor Guard Bravo Flight sergeant. “It is a blend of different career fields and people.”

Each member is required to sign a contract committing one-year to the program. Participation includes one month of honor-guard duties and one month at the member’s duty section, rotating month to month for the committed year.

The Honor Guard’s primary mission is to provide military funeral honors for active-duty members, retirees and veterans of the Air Force.

“In 2000, Congress made provisions which stated any person who has served in the military and has a discharge other than dishonorable is eligible to receive military funeral honors at no cost,” said Lieutenant Aufderheide.

Upon a family’s request, the law requires at least two or more uniformed military persons fold and present the United States burial flag and the play Taps. Also, if available, honorary pallbearers, a firing party and a bugler may attend the ceremony as well.

In addition to military funeral honors, if time and resources permit, members support military and civilian events. Such events include the presentation of colors at retirement ceremonies, changes of command, Dinings In and Out, and parades.

The MacDill Honor Guard is the busiest guard in Florida, said Lieutenant Aufderheide. By the end of 2005, the team is projected to have performed more than 550 military details, which has increased at a rate of 28 percent annually since 2000.

In preparation for details, members spend countless hours training together as a team. During the initial-training phase, members spend five consecutive days learning all the different positions performed during details.

Training is a necessity, said Airman 1st Class Brian C. Smith, 6th Communications Squadron, network management technician and Bravo Flight member. It is important to display a high level of professionalism while we are outside of the base because we are representing the military and because we are the first line of sight for the public, he said.

Members of the MacDill Honor Guard enjoy being part of such an elite group because it allows them to give back to those who have served in the Armed Forces and selflessly sacrificed so much for their country.

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