Practice, discipline highlight honor guard duty: Airmen train to be tangible examples of military service

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash.--
Members of the base honor guard give the U.S. flag the first of 10 distinctive folds recently during a practice session designed to ensure ceremonial procedures are accurate and comply with all applicable instructions. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Abner Guzman)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash.-- Members of the base honor guard give the U.S. flag the first of 10 distinctive folds recently during a practice session designed to ensure ceremonial procedures are accurate and comply with all applicable instructions. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Abner Guzman)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash.-- Members of the base honor guard practice their flag folding skills during a recent practice session. (U.S. Air Force photo/Abner Guzman)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash.-- Members of the base honor guard practice their flag folding skills during a recent practice session. (U.S. Air Force photo/Abner Guzman)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash.-- Honor guard members prepare to give a 21-gun salute during a recent mock funeral ceremony on base.
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Abner Guzman)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash.-- Honor guard members prepare to give a 21-gun salute during a recent mock funeral ceremony on base. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Abner Guzman)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Airmen in base honor guard operate under a microscope each time they are out in the community on a detail.

Their movements are crisp and in perfect unison. Their uniforms are neatly pressed and their shoes shine like they're brand new. But one slight misstep can ruin everything.

"One word describes [our performance] -- perfection," said honor guard trainer Airman 1st Class Robert Tingle, 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. "Each time we're at a detail, we're representing the military and the Air Force."

That's why a tremendous amount of practice and discipline go into becoming a member of the honor guard, said Airman Tingle. 

Airmen from each squadron on base are part of the honor guard, he said.

Upon becoming a member, each Airman must learn pall bearing and flag folding duties and how to perform a 21-gun salute.

Airmen learn the duties during two weeks of training inside Hangar 8 and two additional weeks of on-the-job-training, said Staff Sgt. Brandon Pandes, 62nd Civil Engineer Squadron.

"Getting it to the point where the rifle and firing party are in sync is one of the hardest parts [for new members]," he said.

Learning all the movements involved with the details is just like learning how to dance, said honor guard trainer Senior Airman Dan Vice, 62nd Comptroller Squadron.

"Everything is on a count," he said. "The difficult thing is coordinating it with the eight or nine other members."

The honor guard team usually gets together only once a week for practice -- to knock off the rust -- because they usually have so many details to work, he said.

But there is no substitute for experience on certain aspects of the job, said Airman Vice. Keeping everything together emotionally at a detail can also be hard for new members to get used to, he said.

"That's one thing you can't teach -- keeping the military bearing," he said. "We can't really give them advice on it. It's just a matter of staying focused on the ceremony. The more you can do that, the more honor we're doing the person and their family."

However, there is a concentrated effort by the instructors to teach every other detail of each performance, said Airman Tingle.

"Each detail has to be perfect because it can have a huge impact on the family," he said. 

"We want them to learn the correct way to do everything so they can teach the next generation of members."

The consequences of not delivering a perfect performance at a detail can be embarrassing, Airman Vice said.

"There are no second chances," he said. "If you make a mistake during a detail, it leaves a lasting impression. Our performance is burned into the families' minds."

Despite the extreme concentration that goes into each detail, the experience can be extremely rewarding for those who become members of the honor guard.

Members come back from each detail with a great sense of accomplishment when it comes to that attention to detail with accord to military standards, Airman Vice said.

"You know you've made a difference in somebody's life," he said.

The feeling really hits home when families ask honor guard members to stay and eat after the funeral, Airman Tingle said.

Even though the team has to turn the invitation down, there is an extreme sense of thanks felt by each member.

"It gives you a sense of gratification you can't get almost anywhere else in the Air Force," he said.