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Honor Guard: I gave it a second chance

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

Back in January 2017, when I went to Basic Military Training at Joint Base Lackland in San Antonio, Texas, that’s when I first heard about the Honor Guard. At the time, I was terrible at facing movements and unable to get in sync with 48 other people in formation. It was frustrating and my initial thought of the Honor Guard is that it could be even more difficult and scrutinized than BMT. So naturally, I thought, "why would anyone want to join it?”

However, as the weeks went on, I became immensely better at facing movements and everything else in BMT. When I heard about Honor Guard again, I gave it a second chance.

That’s when I found out about the prestige and profound reward of what it means to serve in any military honor guard and from that moment, it became a goal of mine to take the opportunity to do it if it was ever afforded to me. The first chance it was offered in my office, I didn’t even get a say before it was offered to someone else. Fortunately for me, I got a second chance to join the Honor Guard last November. This time, I took it. 

Now, it is a 6-month obligation with 135 days actively participating in the MacDill Air Force Base Honor Guard as your primary duty with a 45-day period of being on standby in case there are more funerals and details than the primary duty Honor Guard roster can man.

A typical day starts at 8 a.m. and from there, if you don’t have any earlier or upcoming funerals for that day, there is training. This doesn’t need to be said, but improving facing movements and cadence in an environment where someone isn’t screaming at you when you make even the littlest of mistakes is so much more enjoyable. I despised that during BMT, but in the Honor Guard, I felt like I was in a learning environment that I am much more accustomed to.

I remember the talks of sports and the camaraderie I built with people. The laughs over stupid jokes all the while perfecting my craft. I didn’t have many days when I didn’t have a funeral, but I loved the downtempo work days far more than any other job I have ever had before. It never felt like the day dragged and I never looked at the clock to know when it’s time to leave, which has been rare for me in any job before it.

When I had a funeral to go to, in a weird way, those were the best days. I know how that sounds, but I lived for the moment to be a family member’s potential last impression of the military. I wanted to do something memorable, I felt like each funeral was an opportunity to give someone something that was everlasting, so I relished at every opportunity I had.

I memorized our speech of condolence on my first day of working in Honor Guard, but I felt like when I said it especially, that it was heartfelt. I never sounded like I was reading from a script, I slowed down my speech, emphasized certain words like “a grateful nation” and “for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.” I wanted the recipient of the flag during military funeral honors to feel like this mattered to us that their loved one served in the United States Air Force.

I never went to any funeral looking at it as a job. With every flag crease and fold, with every salute I presented, and with ever rifle I fired, I thought about what it would mean if I was in the chair watching an active duty military service member perform military honors at a funeral I could be attending one day. That constant thought in the back of my mind motivated me to become better and to stay sharp because we don’t get a second chance if we mess up, so it must be done right the first time. 

So, I kept coming in early, worked during my free time during the day, stayed late, and skipped some lunches to become even better at my job. I did it willfully and gladly. It wasn't just for myself, but for those who would receive military honors from me. This job inspired me on a subconscious level that I became constantly driven to do more. I didn’t even realize how much this job impacted me until I wrote this commentary about what the Honor Guard meant to me. Now, I undoubtably know that it meant a lot. 

I would do this job all over again if I could, and I was disappointed that I could not extend my time there, but I am grateful that I even had the opportunity to do it once. To those who wonder, “Is this is something for me?”, then I highly encourage you to look into because I am glad I got a second chance to, especially since not everyone in life gets that luxury. It was the best time I have had since being in the United States Air Force. In fact, it was the best job I ever had.