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Showing their true colors
BOSTON – Patriot Honor Guard members march off the field after presenting the colors during the national anthem before a military appreciation game at Fenway Park July 28. In addition to representing the Air Force at sporting events, honor guard members are present at military funerals, retirements, change of commands, official military functions and numerous other ceremonies and parades. (U.S. Air Force photo by Rick Berry)
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Showing their true colors; Patriot Honor Guard looking for new members to join their team

Posted 8/10/2011   Updated 8/10/2011 Email story   Print story


by Peter Blackburn
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

8/10/2011 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- There are plenty of reasons why an enlisted member or officer would be interested in joining Hanscom's elite Patriot Honor Guard, but if you have the chance to ask some of the honor guard members why they joined, you'll notice that one reason in particular stands above all others: to honor fellow Airmen who serve or have served before them.

"The honor guard is the best way I know to honor those who served before me" said Staff Sgt. Carlos Carlo, who joined a little over one year ago. "I love it because it's a duty that really gives back. You get to see the results immediately."

Another member gives a similar perspective.

"I joined to honor the fallen," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Young, who has been an honor guard member for nearly three years. "It gives me a sense of purpose and pride in the Air Force. When I do honor guard details, it feels like I'm doing something really worthwhile."

The honor guard's primary mission is to cover every military funeral for which they are requested, something that is congressionally mandated. A typical active duty funeral service requires twenty honor guard members to assemble a pall bearing and flag folding team, a firing party and a colors team.

In addition to funeral services, honor guard details also include military retirements, change of commands, official military functions and numerous other ceremonies and parades. It even includes special events, such as rendering the colors at professional sporting events.

The Patriot Honor Guard, for instance, brought forth the colors at a Boston Red Sox game that was deemed Military Appreciation Night by the team.

"I don't know too many jobs that pay you to go represent the Air Force out on the field for a major league baseball game, so that's pretty cool," said Sergeant Carlo.

As many good reasons as there are for joining, Master Sgt. Aaron Marley, Patriot Honor Guard superintendent, acknowledges that participation and enrollment numbers are low.

"To be able to maintain day-to-day operations we try to have a group of around 37 honor guard members," he said. "We then split them into two teams, a red flight and a blue flight. We would normally have about 18 or so members on each flight, but right now we only have around ten members on each flight, so we're undermanned."

The red and blue flights alternate months, so a team is only on details every other month.

"For the months that your team is on, you can do however many details your schedule can handle," said Sergeant Marley. "Our only requirement is that you participate in 25 details over a one-year period."

The honor guard performs around 1,500 ceremonies and events each year, but Sergeant Marley doesn't want that number to scare away potential members. Eight guard and reserve bases around New England help perform about 70 percent of the details.

"Our guard and reserve support is a lifesaver," Sergeant Marley said. "We couldn't do our mission without them."

The number of details performed by the honor guard each year may also be a bit misleading because it covers nearly all of New England. The Patriot Honor Guard is responsible for more than 70,000 square miles.

"We cover a lot of land, but our max travel time is usually less than two hours," said Sergeant Young. "There are eight guard and reserve bases in the region that have honor guard teams as well, so our team alone doesn't have to cover all of New England. It helps limit our travel time and our time away from the office."

The small pool of enlisted personnel assigned to Hanscom is one of the biggest reasons for a drop in honor guard participation, according to the members. General reductions in staffing have also caused some managers to be less willing to give up their personnel for the time required to perform details.

"People get the wrong impression when they think that this is a very high demand, always on-call job," said Sergeant Young. "I think people are scared that we use the same Airmen every day and that those members are always out of the office and away from their jobs, which is not the case at all. A lot of the time it is volunteer based."

Supervisors of potential honor guard members should also consider the positive benefits their staff could gain from being members of honor guard team.

"The camaraderie is great. The enlisted Airmen get to network with the officers, which is a great experience to have as a young Airman on base," Sergeant Young said.

There are other benefits, as well.

"Another big draw is the team atmosphere and the unification of the Airmen through these great ceremonies," Said Sergeant Marley. "You can tell these Airmen really love working together and they gain a great sense of pride, and I think that translates in their work outside of the honor guard as well."

On average, new members can be trained to the point where they're ready to participate in events within a few weeks. Some can be fully trained faster, according to Sergeant Marley, if they're already strong in drill and ceremony.

The Patriot Honor Guard team stresses not only how important and meaningful honoring those men and women who have fallen or given their life in the line of duty is, but also how joining the honor guard can be a life-changing experience.

"I don't think I've ever had an experience quite like the ones that I've had in the honor guard, especially at a funeral when you're performing your job and you can see how appreciative the families of the fallen are afterwards," said Sergeant Carlo.

Sergeant Marley agrees.

"It's not only an exciting experience, but it's also an extremely humbling experience, as well, once you go out there and perform at a funeral."

Anyone interested in joining should contact the Patriot Honor Guard at 781-377-4850 for further information.

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