Honor upheld

  • Published
  • By Kelly Shackelford
  • 11th Wing Public Affairs
Among the thousands of dedicated Air Force men and women who fly, repair airplanes, enter combat, and support the force, there are a few whom we seldom think about. From formally receiving foreign dignitaries, to thrilling auditoriums full of high school students, to paying final respects to fallen comrades, the United States Air Force Honor Guard holds down a very unique mission space.

"Our purpose is to represent Airmen to the American public and the world," said Lt. Col. Raymond M. Powell, Honor Guard commander. "It is our charge to embody all that is best in the Air Force."

The duties of the Honor Guard include joint-tasked missions to present honors at huge national events such as the 2009 Presidential Inauguration and state funerals.

However, "The core of our day-to-day activities is presenting honors at funerals for departed Air Force members and their families," said Colonel Powell. "The body bearers carry the casket, the firing party offers the final salute. We coordinate closely with the Air Force Band to ensure each funeral at Arlington is carried out with the utmost dignity as befits a fallen warrior."

Honor Guard duties are political as well as military. They provide Air Force military receptions and ceremonial duties for national and international events and for distinguished visitors.

"When the commander of the Afghan national army air corps was received two weeks ago by the Chief of Staff at the Air Force memorial, the Honor Guard and the Band were present to pay appropriate honors," Colonel Powell said.

The Honor Guard includes 212 Airmen with a variety of skill sets, including the Colors, the Body Bearers, the Firing Party, and the Drill Team. Base honor guards are also located around the country and are composed of smaller teams of hard-working additional duty Airmen.

Colonel Powell said, "We send teams to train them to understand the proper protocols and procedures. We're part of a greater force, and we keep all honor guards across the country on the same footing."

The Drill Team, the most traveled component of the Honor Guard, is responsible to represent Airmen in a way that "assists recruiting, public image, and morale by demonstrating the precision and professionalism of our Air Force," according to Colonel Powell.

They travel constantly and at different times, dividing into various configurations to present different looks. Sometimes teams are composed of as few as five Airmen or as many as 17.

The Drill Team often performs at recruiting events in high school auditoriums. "These are sometimes the most exciting events because the students get so charged up about watching the Air Force perform," said the Honor Guard commander.

Colonel Powell described one recent activity where the Drill Team partnered with the USAF Band's Max Impact rock ensemble for a performance. "It was a synchronized event that combined the best musical entertainment with the best precision drill in a single performance," he said.

The Honor Guard is often a first assignment for Airmen straight from basic training. Because most Airmen possess an Air Force specialty, "We aren't a final destination," Colonel Powell said. "We want to be a great stop along the journey. We want to give the experience our Airmen receive back to the Air Force."

The criteria for Honor Guard membership includes: Airmen who have outstanding records, meet the physical requirements, present a sharp image in uniform, and demonstrate leadership potential.

"We have particular standards for appearance and execution of ceremonial duties that we maintain to ensure that the ceremonies we carry out are memorable and precise and represent all Airmen as best we can," said the Honor Guard commander.

"The greatest benefit to joining the Honor Guard is the opportunity to be a part of a very devoted and close-knit team of Airmen who participate in very high profile public events and learn tremendous personal discipline, appreciation for our heritage, and leadership skills," Colonel Powell said.

Colonel Powell's responsibilities as the commander include maintaining unit performance and discipline, ensuring the welfare of the Airmen, and ensuring that the Honor Guard is always trained and motivated to represent the Air Force with precision and professionalism.

"My favorite part of the job is being a part of a team with such outstanding young people who love their work and have such a compelling sense of mission," he said.