Airman tells about his first week on Honor Guard

  • Published
  • By Airman David Salanitri
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: This is the first in a series of three first-person articles on Keesler News staff writer Airman David Salanitri's experiences with the Keesler Honor Guard.

A service member from your family passes away and you want the honor guard to render military honors at the funeral. What would you expect from those Airmen?

Perfection is what I believe people would expect and perfection is what my supervisors in the honor guard demand.

Preparing for my first week of training, I ironed and starched my uniform so much it seemed the sleeves were wooden. I practiced some facing movements and just hoped I wouldn't embarrass myself on my first day.

Right from the first day, our leadership expected us to be on point. They didn't expect us to know everything, but they did expect us to always have military bearing and to show we were trying.

My technical school was at an Army post, so that influence was apparent in my command voice, the voice I use to order facing movements. The first time I tried taking charge of the marching unit, I caught everyone off guard by my loud and heavily-accented tone. I was told my New Jersey accent kind of got in the way, so I knew this was something I had to work on.

After we learned how to take charge of the flight and the honor guard way of moving about, we started to learn routines for specific ceremonies.

Perfection was the goal every time we moved. This was stressed for the first time when my class was learning how to carry a casket. Our trainers wanted us to carry the casket level and with little swaying, so the head trainer filled up a cup of water and placed it on top of the casket. He then told us to carry it. Soon we were carrying that pretend casket level with little sway.

As my class observed a more seasoned team fold a flag that had been draped over a coffin, I realized someday I'd be in their shoes and not as an exercise. There'd be a fallen service member in there, and the family would be looking on. I won't be thinking about what I'm doing for lunch, but of what I can do to make this sad occasion a prideful one.

As the initial training concluded, my group was transported to a cemetery where we witnessed a veteran honor guard team perform a funeral for a retired service member. I noticed his family's reaction to the honor guard's performance. Their appreciation was apparent on their faces.

After my first week, I knew without a doubt I was part of a mission that would always be needed and greatly appreciated.

Next: Memorable funeral details.