Airman 1st Class Maria Baca has been a member of the Robins Air Force Base Honor Guard for two months.
“It’s been an honor to go to funerals for retired military and veterans,” said Baca, a pharmacy technician at the 78th Medical Group pharmacy.
The Robins honor guard not only serves funerals but also performs in parades, sporting events, military retirement ceremonies and change of command ceremonies.
Last year, the honor guard performed at more than 1,300 events.
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The Robins Air Force Base Honor Guard comprises 22 airmen from the 78th Air Base Wing, the 461st Air Control Wing and the 5th Combat Communications Group who rotate in and out every 90 days.
These members, who are chosen by their superiors, cover 70,000 square miles in parts of Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. Ten members of Dobbins Air Reserve Base and 10 members of the Tennessee Air National Guard also help in the area. The team averages four details per day.
Adorning the entryway wall at the honor guard office is the motto for the honor guard, an acronym of the word “honor.” The last line states, “representing every member, past and present, of the United States Air Force, I vow to stand sharp, crisp, and motionless, for I am a ceremonial guardsman.”
Each member is required to wear the formal attire of a jacket, button-up shirt, long pants, a hat, black patent leather shoes and gloves.
No matter the weather or the crowd, the guard has to keep its professionalism.
Among the challenges the team faces is the constant change of members.
New recruits are shown a video of various ceremonies. They often wonder how they are going to learn, in 90 days, how to handle the different ceremonies, said honor guard trainer Tech Sgt. Joshua Arnett.
“We do bite-size portions, and every day we build upon what we learned the previous day,” said Arnett.
Arnett worked in the honor guard for two years at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.
His most memorable funeral was that of Gen. David Baker in 2009. Baker was the only Vietnam prisoner of war who also flew in Desert Storm.
“What I try to express is that this may be the last time this family will have contact with the military. We want to leave a lasting impression,” Arnett said.
Military funerals are a benefit for veterans, retirees or active duty members.
In the active-duty funeral ceremony, a 20-person team does more than 150 movements. Practices last for most of an eight-hour day.
To perfect those movements for a funeral or any type of ceremony, the unit practices every day during the week going over movements and doing physical training.
Before an event, the group practices the drill in the space where the ceremony will take place because sometimes there will be obstacles during the paces, said Tech Sgt. Juan Garcia, the flight sergeant at the 78th FSS Honor Guard.
“There is nothing we don’t tell them” about what to expect during funerals and ceremonies, Garcia said.
The 22 members of the Robins unit also sacrifice their weekends and evening hours in order to serve with the guard.
The experience was well worth the cost for Baca, who is glad to have participated despite the hard work.
“It’s strict training that we do in here. We also get along, and when we leave I’ll be heartbroken. It is like having a new family,” she said.