To honor with dignity

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kelsey Martinez
  • 914th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

The U.S. Air Force Honor Guard was established in 1948. It is comprised of Airmen of all rank and status who have chosen to represent the service members who have come before them and those who will continue the legacy of greatness and excellence after them.

Although the country has been in a state of emergency since March due to COVID-19, the Air Force Honor Guard mission to represent Airmen to the American public and the world continues.

The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station Honor Guard team is comprised of six full-time members, along with nearly 60 part-time members from both the 914th Air Refueling Wing and the 107th Attack Wing.

“We cover 22 counties in Western New York and Northern Pennsylvania,” said Master Sgt. Ryan Snyder, NFARS Honor Guard superintendent. “It is a team effort to ensure coverage of all events are guaranteed.”

The NFARS Honor Guard team is one of six geographically separated units that support Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey’s area of responsibility.

“Our primary duty is to render military funeral honors to all Air Force members regardless of their time of service,” said Snyder. “Any veteran who served and was honorably discharged is entitled to honors, no matter the time, until they receive it.”

Military funeral honors consists of a two or more man sequence to perform the playing of “Taps,” along with folding and presenting the flag to the next of kin.

“It is a humbling and honorable experience to be a part of providing the family with comfort and closure,” Snyder said.

Honor Guard provides color teams and flag folding ceremonies for other various Air Force and civic events such as retirements, Change of Command ceremonies, and parades.

“Due to COVID-19 there have been a lot of restrictions placed on what we can and can not do,” said Snyder. “Essentially every single color team and civic event has been cancelled, postponed, or rescheduled.”

However, Master Sgt. Jewaun Victor, JB MDL base Honor Guard superintendent, stated that military funeral honors are a congressional mandated program and therefore teams are not authorized to say no to providing services.

“If a family asks for a service, no matter the time, or location, we are there,” said Victor. “We are there because we serve to honor that military member of service.”

Since it is a national state of emergency, individual wings are at liberty to postpone military funeral honors for the safety of the Airmen and patrons.

“Every family is reached out to personally with our sincerest condolences, and a letter of apology,” said Victor. “Reiteration of Air Force policy is sent out to reassure the family that until the member receives honors, they are always able to collect.”

The Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operation has stated Honor Guard teams can still provide honors with minimal support, two members, if a family chooses not to postpone or reschedule funeral honors.

“We are a nameless, faceless entity; we don’t exist as individuals,” said Victor. “We are part of a much bigger cause and to be a part of that is indescribable.”

Honor Guard teams are required to train and perform with excellence and professionalism for each and every service.

“I have found a lot of fulfillment in this job,” said Victor. “Knowing that we are potentially going to be the last glance of the military that these families get while paying homage to those who served before us in an honor.”

There are services available for those who may need it due to the nature of the mission; it is important to have a network of support whether that is through family, friends, coworkers or counseling.

“I can not express how proud I am of every Airman that serve in this capacity and choose to give their absolute best for those who have served before us,” said Victor.

Both Snyder and Victor stressed that once COVID-19 settles and the state of emergency is lifted there would be a flood of ceremonies and civic events to provide service for.

Any Airmen interested are encouraged to reach out the base Honor Guard team at 716-236-3182; there is continuous training and desire for new team members.