Honor Guard gives President Ford final honors

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Cecilio M. Ricardo Jr.
  • Air Force Print News
Like many rapid response teams in the Air Force, the elite U.S. Air Force Honor Guard has to be ready at a moment's notice. When President Gerald R. Ford passed away Dec. 26, the Honor Guard was alerted and organized itself for the events surrounding the funeral of the 38th president.

"Once we were notified of President Ford's passing, we instantly mobilized," said 1st Lt. John Shirley, officer in charge of the Honor Guard's State Funeral Flyaway Team.

"These Airmen are required to be ready and packed at all times for occasions like this. During the holidays the honor guard team is roughly 50 percent manned, but they had no problem gathering a crew at a moment's notice," Lieutenant Shirley said. Three hours is their mandatory response time.

"I was on leave back home in Pennsylvania and I got the call at 1 a.m. I was back in Washington, D.C., by 5 a.m. Sixteen hours later I was flying to California in a C-17 (Globemaster III)," said Senior Airman Matthew Severino, a body-bearer for the funeral.
The Honor Guard arrived in Grand Rapids on Dec. 30 to begin preparations for the arrival of President Ford's body.

Twenty-four of the Air Force's top Honor Guard members teamed up with the joint Armed Forces Honor Guard, bringing the total of the Honor Guard members at President Ford's funeral to 160.

The Armed Forces Honor Guard team collaborated and rehearsed for two days in the cold of Michigan. They analyzed their every move in marching formations at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum and the Grace Episcopal Church.

"You'll be standing in one position for about an hour. Your shoulders and hands start to hurt and then pain starts shooting up and down your feet. It takes all your strength to march away without a limp during a formation march," Airman Severino said.

A unique duty for a state funeral is the Guard of Honor. This 12-person team watches over the deceased president during public viewing. Every 30 minutes they execute a changing of the guard.

President Ford's remains were under the watchful eye of this guard during public viewing for 17 hours in California, 48 hours in Washington, and 20 hours in Michigan.

"I was honored to take the first shift of the Guard of Honor duty while President Ford's remains were in the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum," said Tech. Sgt. Philip Shaw, who also performed honor guard services for President Richard Nixon's funeral in April 1994.

To stay proficient in their duties, the Air Force flyaway team performs about eight state funeral training exercises yearly. Two of those are joint exercises involving the Navy, Army, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

"You learn a lot about other services and how we need to interact to get the job done," Airman Severino said.

The Honor Guard also performs in over 2,300 ceremonies in a four-state region around Washington and more than 30 presidential wreath-laying ceremonies, foreign dignitary wreath-laying ceremonies, and foreign-arrival ceremonies.

Performing all the duties of a state funeral is the pinnacle of what the Honor Guard members do best.