JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. —
When a civilian raises their right hand to swear in to the United States Air Force, they know they could possibly give their life defending their country. Likewise, when volunteering for the base honor guard flight, Airmen know they could possibly lay to rest one of those Airmen who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
That was the case for Joint Base Charleston, S.C.’s honor guard flight when Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, they laid to rest an active duty Airman after he lost his life.
“Initially, when you get out there it kind of feels like a usual detail,” said Airman 1st Class Omar Nasir, 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief honor guardsman. “The difference for this one, to me, was at the dignified arrival, they brought the family out and once the casket came out on the conveyor belt, it was obviously very emotional for the family. It was for me too. It puts it all into perspective. You realize that’s someone’s family member and it’s the last time they’ll see them.”
The process of assigning honor guard detail duties goes a little differently for funerals like this one, as they need more than twice as many guardsmen for active duty details than for retiree and veteran details.
“We start by separating people into what they’ll be doing during the funeral detail and the dignified arrival,” said Nasir.
“For retiree funerals, we normally send seven people; six of them handle pallbearer duties and three are rifleman. They still get the same services in the detail, just at a smaller capacity,” said Airman 1st Class Christian Graham, 437th AMXS crew chief and honor guard head trainer. “For active duty, there’s 20 guardsmen: six pallbearers and six flag folders, seven firing rifles in the firing party, four people for colors and one bugle player.”
This was Nasir’s first active duty funeral detail and he volunteered for it to be a part of one of the family’s final memories of their loved one.
“I wanted to volunteer for this active duty funeral, because they don’t come around often and I wanted to be able to say I was a part of one and was able to honor one of my brothers in arms,” said Nasir. “Their family deserves the honor and respect that comes with a military funeral and I wanted to be a part of that.”
As a part of the firing line at the funeral he gets a distinct feeling after the 21-gun salute.
“There’s a few feelings I have toward that moment,” said Nasir. “I read somewhere the history behind the 21-gun salute ꟷ it’s a call to truce to the battlefield and that moment is hard to put into words. But every time I do it, it’s kind of like the final sendoff for that Airman.”
With funeral details being one of the main missions for the honor guard flight, each one is different, which comes with different emotions towards specific moments in the details, especially when you realize it one day could be you or someone you know, explained Graham.
“Every detail is different, but active duty is rough seeing because it’s so unexpected,” said Graham. “You see the emotion in the family and it kind of rubs off on you. It’s rough handing that flag off to someone who just lost a loved one days prior. It really sinks into you. It’s tough, but I try and remain calm so we can try and be their support.”
Understanding military funeral honors could be the last impression family members get of the military and of the Air Force. JB Charleston’s honor guard flight does their best to ensure every detail is perfect.
“It’s something I preach to my guardsmen all the time. It’s respect for what has happened for active duty members,” said Graham. “This was someone’s coworker, someone’s father or mother, someone’s husband or wife. Just giving them the honor and respect they deserve after losing their life while serving is very important to me and I try to pass that to the other guardsmen.
For another guardsman’s first active duty detail, the reality of the situation set in for him during the designated arrival.
“It’s heart dropping. The last thing you want to do is carry an active duty member’s casket off a plane in front of his family,” said Senior Airman Jonathan Dixon, 628th Force Support Squadron administration journeyman honor guardsman. “An active duty funeral feels more real. It’s an active duty member, so it could be anyone. It’s something you really don’t think about every day.”
Although it’s something they hope to not have to do often, the base honor guard flight understands their duties and responsibilities to those who are serving and have served and continue to respect and honor them with every detail.