Respect, service, honor

  • Published
  • By Amber Baillie
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
Staff Sgt. Matthew Duggie has been a part of the Academy's Base Honor Guard for three years and said the best part about the job is not the recognition he receives for being a part of the team or opportunity to perform at major events rather, the opportunity to give back to military families, particularly active duty members who have lost their lives in combat.

Duggie, along with 22 noncommissioned officers and junior enlisted volunteers, comprise the base's part-time honor guard. They perform ceremonial duties such as casket carry, flag fold, flag presentations, color posting and taps at Academy retirements, change of command ceremonies and funerals.

"It's a feeling of accomplishment," Duggie said. "When we perform, we don't wear name tags and wear our hats low so we remain nameless, faceless and can honor the fallen."

Staff Sgt. Michael Watson, an Academy biomedical equipment technician and trainer on the team, said the Academy is the only Air Force installation that has an active cemetery and is the team's area of responsibility.

"Our average during busy season, May through August, is to attend 25-30 details a month," Watson said. "During our off season, we receive roughly 10 details a month and have attended approximately 100 this year so far."

Members practice the second and fourth Wednesday of every month from 1-4:30 p.m. and must sign a one-year contract. A training class for new members is held every quarter, the next one being on Nov. 5-9.

"During that week we teach them the basics and then evaluate them individually to see if they'll make it on the honor guard," Duggie said. "All ranks are welcome. We've had chiefs and lieutenant colonels on the team."

The honor guard's mission is to "honor with dignity". Watson said occasionally the team will perform at sporting events, weddings and parades.

"We try to be involved in the community as much as we can," Watson said. "We need people on the team who will be able to lift, bend and stand on their feet for long periods of time."

Duggie and Watson recently returned from temporary duty travel in Washington D.C. to train with the Air Force Honor Guard for two weeks and prepare for the upcoming class.

"Being trainers or in a leadership role, you have an opportunity make an impression on other people," Watson said. "There are many who don't know military people so we try to represent the Air Force for them."

Watson said every time the honor guard receives a letter of appreciation, the team reads it together.

"We do this so everyone remembers why we do this and what it means to family members," Watson said.

Watson said the team needs 40 members to cover all honor guard requests. He said the team needs members who are committed and will care about what they're doing.

"You're the last military person in some cases who the family is going to see at the funeral," Watson said. "It takes a special person to do what we do because we're around funerals all the time and are ambassadors for the Air Force."

Graduation for new Academy Base Honor Guard volunteers will be Nov. 9 at 3 p.m. at the Academy Memorial Pavilion.