Honoring with dignity

  • Published
  • By Staff Sergeant Matthew Coleman-Foster
  • 50 Space Wing Public Affairs

The High Frontier honor guard that provides detail services to Schriever and Peterson Air Force Base, is unique. It is unique in the sense it is comprised of members from Air Force bases within the front range including Schriever, Cheyenne Mountain and Peterson AFB. The rotation for a ceremonial guardsman is six months in active service, followed by six months of stand-by duty.

The previous rotation leads two weeks of training to include hundreds of push-ups, flutter kicks, iron chairs and cherry pickers every day. We had those two weeks to learn and be completely ready to perform colors, retirements and veteran, retiree and active duty ceremonies flawlessly. I performed two details the day I graduated.

When you see a member of the base honor guard, it is usually at some type of official ceremony. They come up to their designated position, present or post the colors and then leave. What you do not see is what happens in the training building or beyond the confines of the base.

Let me provide you with a few important details: the High Frontier Honor Guard is responsible for over 93,000 square miles, which encompasses parts of Colorado and some of the western portion of Kansas. The team consists of 13 individuals from the front range of all different ranks and Air Force Specialty Codes. I am proud to have been selected to be one of those 13 members during the summer rotation.

One honorary service provided outside the confines of the base is military funeral honors, the High Frontier Honor Guard’s primary duty.

I feel that anyone who has served in the military should have some understanding of what it entails to provide honors for a deceased military member, whether they are a veteran, retiree or active duty.

We have seen it in the movies when a flag is presented and the presenter states, “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Air Force and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

It is different, however, when you have to deliver these words to a grieving individual. Grief varies from one person to the next and is always painful to witness.  Anyone can memorize the speeches that ceremonial guardsmen deliver, but to be able to deliver them with genuine empathy and to truly embody the creed in the performance of your duties takes professionalism.

To know that you are that family’s potential last impression of the United States Air Force is a humbling experience. It also instills a matter of pride, not for one’s self, but for their service. Many of the individuals we laid to rest in our time were members of a great generation of heroes; people who paved the way for all of us serve today.  In a sense, I always felt that being able to lay them to rest with dignity and respect was a form of saying thank you.

It feels as if the six and a half months I was on rotation just began last week, but as I write this, it is already over. 

In that time, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with 12 fine professionals whose time in service varied from just over a year to 16 years. While 13 of us was a good number, but there were simply not enough of us to handle the volume of request.

Rank was not a factor in our dealings with each other. What mattered was that we were a team, and we had a job that demanded our trust in one another.

Being a member of a base honor guard is not an easy assignment and should not be viewed as such, but I can say it was one of the most rewarding duties I have been assigned. It ranks right up there with my time spent as a military training instructor.

I have now transitioned to ‘stand-by’ status with the honor guard. While I did not want to leave, and I would do another rotation in a heartbeat; the one thing I would pass on to those looking to become a ceremonial guardsman is - be ready to work hard and not ask for anything in return. Being in a duty such as this requires you to be selfless.

To the leaders who get tasked with sending their Airmen to honor guard, I say this - I know it is not easy losing people from the mission, but send your best and brightest. Send your most fit. Send someone who wants to do this.

At times it can be physically demanding and a mentally draining job. Your Airmen are potentially the last impression these families will have of the Air Force. They must be able to handle it.