JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. – An American flag is symbolically folded 13 times into a recognizable triangular shape. The sound of rounds being chambered and fired echoing in unison from an M-14, followed by the playing of Taps. The ceremony concludes with the presentation of the flag to the next of kin of the passed service member with a final salute.
Public Law 106-65 requires every eligible Veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony, to include folding and presenting the United States burial flag and the playing of Taps, upon request of the family.
“For me, it’s about honoring those who have served before us to give us this great country that we have,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Christian Zahler, Naval Support Activity religious program specialist. “They fought to ensure that our freedom is secured. Being a part of these ceremonies allows me to honor them.”
Navy and Air Force members of Joint Base Charleston are tasked with this honorable mission. From the northernmost regions of the Carolinas to the southern areas of the "Peach State", squadrons nominate their sharpest members to lay these veterans to rest.
“Watching an Airman transform into a guardsman is very interesting,” said Staff Sgt. Victoria Medina, 628th Force Support Squadron NCO in-charge of the base honor guard. “By the end of their time at honor guard, you notice a new level of professionalism and it seems to fine-tune their character.”
Guardsmen go through a two and a half week-long training course, covering ceremonial drill, flag folding, firing party and situational customs and courtesies. Upon graduation, the guardsmen are capable of representing their individual branches and rendering the final honors for a service member.
“The training was difficult at times but it prepared me to take on this unique opportunity,” said Senior Airman Wayne Lee, 628th FSS honor guardsman. “Getting the opportunity to wear the ceremonial uniform and represent Joint Base Charleston and the Air Force overall is both a prideful and humbling experience.”
All ceremonial movements and commands are standardized by the Air Force Honor Guard in order to alleviate deviation between base level honor guard units. This, along with a seasoned group of leaders like Medina, allows each generation of guardsmen to continue the traditions of the Air Force.
“The favorite part of my job is facilitating the guardsmen and women,” said Medina. “Although every detail is special, some of them bear a personal experience for the guardsman. Either way, I take pride in ensuring my guardsmen are taken care of emotionally and logistically.”
Veterans from the conflicts that shaped our nation into what it is today, from World War II to current operations, may find their final place of rest in the South. For some, it’s an honor for JB Charleston and those who serve it to be the final chapter of a story that may have started before any of the guardsmen themselves were born.
“It’s a way to let the families of those who served know that we have not forgotten them, even in their final hours,” said Zahler. “It is an honor being able to help the families bring closure and peace knowing that their loved one was honored with dignity and respect.”