Upholding tradition, honor
By Staff Sgt. Alexx Pons, 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 15, 2016
CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
You see them at nearly every base ceremony, change or assumption of command, retirement, and award ceremony. You hear them coming; whether from the distinctive click of their highly-polished shoes or the sound-off of their movement commands. Wherever or whenever respect and heritage need to be upheld, base honor guardsmen are there.
“To put it bluntly, you need to be a stellar airman,” said Senior Airman Trevor Goodwin, 27th Special Operations Force Support Squadron base honor guardsman trainer. “After two weeks of evaluation, if you cannot exceed the standards laid before you, you cannot be part of our corps. And people do fail out, not for lack of trying; it is just not for everyone. Baring is critical; some are just not sharp enough to make the cut.”
Cannon’s Honor Guard is charged with representing every member, past and present, of the Air Force. Base honor guard is a congressionally mandated program, managed by Lt. Col. David Nuckles, 27th SOFSS commander.
The requirements for base-level honor guard programs are significantly less stringent than those of the Air Force Honor Guard; however, all guardsmen are considered the ‘best of the best’. As Goodwin alluded to, a ceremonial guardsman is an individual of good reputation, displaying integrity, ethical conduct and exhibiting standards that depict respect. These select few are responsible for protecting and overseeing the maintenance of standards on and off duty.
The program is open to all ranks on both the enlisted and commissioned sides; the Cannon Honor Guard program has the primary mission of providing funeral and memorial services. Air Commandos without current disciplinary actions or medical and physical limitations preventing them from performing ceremonial functions are encouraged to volunteer.
“There are few programs within the Air Force that give Airmen an opportunity to step outside their career fields and do something that really impacts all Air Force members,” stated Senior Airman Alix Rosa, 27th Special Operations Contracting Squadron and base honor guardsman. “Having so many personalities and career fields come together can be challenging, but we are all professionals and we know when it is joking time and when it is time to lock it up - we know when the moment comes to represent the Air Force, there is no room for error.”
And what can prospective recruits expect? Enduring an intense two-week training course that includes rifle movements, color ceremony procedures, flag carrying and folding, and casket carrying along with other necessary techniques before being evaluated and qualified. While the number of funerals, base ceremonies and community events will vary each year, Cannon’s Honor Guard lends services nearly 200 times annually.
“We are expected to be proficient in all honor guard positions,” Goodwin said. “Our honor guard program has a no-fail mission that requires us to be selfless, ready and available everyday —weekends and holidays are no exception.”
A food services airman by trade, Goodwin’s demonstration of expertise within the base honor guard set him apart from peers, allowing him to lead this group of nearly three dozen Air Commandos as an airman himself.
“I was originally volunteered to do honor guard by my chief; while it was not my original choice to join, I love what I am doing here and this job is the most humbling I have ever had,” Goodwin stated. “I do my best daily to ensure all Cannon members involved in this honor guard program are mentally, physically, technical and spiritually prepared to represent all others in the service while exhibiting superb professionalism. It is our responsibility to honor every service member and the legacy of the Air Force; we are meant to be the picture-perfect example of highly-motivated Airmen – we take enormous pride in what we do here.”
Aside from testing themselves physically and mentally, being eligible for unique wing-level awards, receiving an Air Force Achievement Medal after a year of dedicated service and receiving free haircuts during their base honor guard tenure, ceremonial guardsmen have the opportunity to walk away from the experience with a much more invaluable reward.
“You can execute everything perfectly, but there are few words to describe the emotional impact of the first time you hand a ceremonial flag to a fallen member’s surviving next of kin,” Goodwin said. “There is no way to prepare anyone for a moment like that – it changes you forever. We are not permitted to get emotional ourselves; as honor guardsmen, we guard honor; we are preserving dignity – it is not about being a robot. The moments we share with the families of the fallen are deeply moving.”
Cannon’s Honor Guard allows Air Commandos from all career fields, ranks and levels of experience to join in the valiant effort of maintaining history, tradition and exceptionally high Air Force standards. These guardsmen are essential in ensuring base honor guards will continually be regarded as beacons of excellence.
Editor’s note: Since this article was written, Goodwin was named the 2015 Cannon Honor Guardsman of the Year.