OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. – Vowing to stand sharp, crisp and motionless, members of the 102nd Intelligence Wing, Massachusetts Air National Guard Honor Guard practice every day to represent the Armed Forces in events in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
They provide the final honor for the fallen men and women who served their country.
The 102nd Intelligence Wing Honor Guard is a selectively manned unit with 10 members whose primary mission is to render military honors to service members and their families during funeral services at the Massachusetts National Cemetery or other burial ground. The Honor Guard also conducts military ceremonies at various other venues.
"Being in the Honor Guard provides a deeper perspective to service," said Master Sgt. Mark Sheridan, 102nd Intelligence Wing, a one year member of the Honor Guard. "It's a genuine opportunity for Airmen to demonstrate a greater respect for those who have served before them."
The Honor Guard consists of three main elements - the Color Guard, which handles various responsibilities affiliated with the United States Air Force and state flags; the body bearers who escort and carry the remains to burial sites and fold the flag for presentation to the next-of-kin; and the firing party, which consists of a 7-person team who performs the firing of three volleys to honor the fallen. Although each unit performs a specific function at ceremonies and funerals, all the members of 102nd Honor Guard are proficient in all areas.
In 2000, Congress mandated that every veteran is entitled to a military funeral honors at a funeral; since then the Otis Honor Guard has been averaging about 30 funerals a month on top of the various other ceremonies it conducts.
"Because we have a different mission than any other unit in the wing, our scheduling can be unique and challenging," said Sheridan. "Three 102nd members are on Title 10 (federal) orders for these duties at all times."
When Color Guards or more extensive honors are required, 102nd personnel can be placed on annual training orders or a daily stipend for performing the ceremony. A member must be on military pay status to perform a ceremony.
Another misconception is the difference between Honor Guard and Color Guard. The Color Guard represents the 102nd Intelligence Wing and the Air Force at parades, community events, sporting events, changes of command, retirement ceremonies, etc. If a member is unwilling to perform in Military Funeral Honors, they can still serve the Honor Guard as a Color Guard member. The Otis Honor Guard performs more than 30 Color Guards a year in various locations, to include Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium. The Color Guard performs many of their events in a joint capacity, with all other military services.
The 102nd Honor Guard has forged partnerships with several veteran service organizations, to include the VFW and American Legion. Honor Guard members have traveled to Martha's Vineyard to work and train with these organizations, as well as organizations here on the mainland. The VSO's are also paid a stipend for performing the ceremonies as needed. The 102nd sent six members to the formal Honor Guard training in 2011.
According to Sheridan, whether its mornings or evenings, rain or shine, time and weather has never had an impact on either Honor Guard members being available or performing their duties to the highest standards. "We always strive to go above and beyond doing the best we can because we are rendering honors to a fallen comrade and we are the face of the Air Force to either a grieving family or audience," said Sheridan." The 102nd Honor Guard has been a highly respected unit for many years, and we strive every day to maintain and improve that reputation."
While the job has many challenges and requires dedication and hard work, it is also filled with rewards and personal satisfaction. "Being a member of the Honor Guard requires a lot of training and discipline," said Sheridan. "It's not a job for everyone, but for those who understand the magnitude of taking care of others and recognizing their service," he said.