Final tribute: honoring sacrifices of nation's fallen heroes a full-time job.Click, click, click. The crisp, unmistakable sound of heels tapping together in unison breaks the silence as members of the honor guard at Homestead Air Reserve Base Homestead Joint Air Reserve Base (JARB) (formerly Homestead Air Force Base), is a United States Air Force base located in South Miami-Dade County, Florida adjacent to the city of Homestead. It is the home of the 482d Fighter Wing. , Fla., slowly and methodically take their position in the funeral procession.
Adorned in pristine Air Force dress uniforms and spit-shined shoes, they are the epitome of professionalism.
Most Americans take one day a year, Memorial Day, to celebrate and honor those service men and women who have given their lives in the service of their country. But for Air Force honor guard units, every day is Memorial Day.
An Air Force bugler stands 50 paces from a flag-draped casket. Two Airmen stand perfectly still at opposite ends of the fallen hero in a display of honor.
As the funeral director finishes reading the eulogy, the bugler plays "Taps" to signal the end of the duty day for the resting veteran. The first note is the cue for the two Airmen flanking the casket to slowly raise their right hands in a final salute The Final Salute is an informal form of saluting performed by Aircraft pilots particularly in the Air Force. Even though many various Air Forces of countries use salutes which are similar to the British Army (i.e. to the veteran.
After the bugler has finished, the Airmen begin the ceremonial flag folding. An Airman kneels in front of the deceased veteran's next of kin The blood relatives entitled by law to inherit the property of a person who dies without leaving a valid will, although the term is sometimes interpreted to include a relationship existing by reason of marriage. Cross-references
Descent and Distribution. and presents the American flag with these words, "On behalf of the president of the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. and a grateful nation, our country's flag is presented as a token of appreciation for many years of faithful and honorable service."
"The ceremony is enough to draw tears from even the most strong-willed spectator," said Staff Sgt. Ryan Ayers, a member of the 482nd Fighter Wing and Homestead honor guard.
Like all Air Force honor guards, the Homestead unit covers a large area. Its area of responsibility covers nearly all of South Florida, more than 5,500 square miles--from West Palm Beach in the north to Monroe County in the south. Honor guard members stay very busy, working most weekends and often driving for hours through heavy traffic only to stand perfectly still without flinching for hours during ceremonies.
"The sacrifices made by members of the honor guard are nothing compared to the sacrifices made by those we pay tribute to," said Staff Sgt. Luis Pacheco, a two-year veteran of the Homestead ARB honor guard.
"We get to meet heroes every day," said fellow honor guard member Tech. Sgt. Francisco Navarro Francisco Navarro was vice-president of Nicaragua in 1937 , under Anastasio Somoza García.
Navarro married Lucia Richardson, daughter of William Blaney Richardson and Rosaura Ojeda, and the aunt of New Mexico governor Bill Richardson. .
In addition to providing solemn military funeral A military funeral is a funeral given by a country's military for a veteran, a soldier who died in battle, or another prominent military figure. When heads of state die, they often receive military funerals. honors, Air Force honor guard units represent the Air Force at community events. In 2004, the eight-member unit from Homestead ARB marched in 13 parades, presented the colors during the national anthem 15 times at large public events and honored 172 veterans at military funerals.
"We are sometimes called ambassadors in blue," Sergeant Navarro said.
Military funeral services, a time-honored custom, predate the Air Force. In January 2000, they became a mandated function. With the passing of the fiscal year 2000 National Defense Authorization Act, the military is required to provide at least basic funeral honors for all eligible veterans.
With the sheer number of ceremonies the ambassadors in blue perform each year, common sense would lead one to believe that honor guard members become immune to the emotions of a funeral. Staff Sgt. Natasha Jamass, another member of the Homestead ARB honor guard, doesn't think that way.
"We do this every day, but no matter how many funerals we attend, it's impossible to escape from the emotions involved," she said.
That's because the military is one big family, according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. Sergeant Ayers.
"When we attend a funeral, we're saying farewell to one of our own family members with a professional ceremony," he said. "Providing a final tribute and giving military families a sense of closure is not just a job, it's an honor."
(Mr. Shaw is assigned to the 482nd FW public affairs office at Homestead ARB.)