Honoring those who served

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Caleb F. Butler
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. – Five verses, three days, and one goal – an acrostic that spells out HONOR. 

The Honor Guard Charge is a sacred creed memorized by every ceremonial guardsman since the 1980s. Upon arrival to the Luke Air Force Base Honor Guard building, trainees are immediately tasked with their first assignment: to learn the Honor Guard Charge and recite it from memory. 

The first letter “H” stands for “Handpicked to serve as a member of the Luke Air Force Base Honor Guard, my standards of conduct and level of professionalism must be above reproach, for I represent all others in my service.”

Honor Guard consists of Airmen from various career fields nominated by their leadership to represent Luke AFB, as well as the Air Force, in local ceremonies.

“When you step out onto that platform for a detail you have to lock in, there’s no room for mistakes,” said U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Bryce Evans, 56th Fighter Wing ceremonial guardsman. “It takes an incredible amount of professionalism, and it's definitely made me think twice about how I go about my daily business now, with both the way I talk and how I act. I recognize that I represent myself, as well as Luke, the Air Force and the service member that I am performing for.” 

After graduating from training, Airmen receive ceremonial blues. The “O” in HONOR explains the importance of this uniform. “Others earned the right for me to wear the ceremonial uniform, one that is honored in a rich tradition and history. I will honor their memory by wearing it properly and proudly.”

“When I get to my detail and I put that ceremonial coat on, it flips a switch, I'm in my uniform now and it's showtime,” said Evans. “I just get into a zone where I lock in and don't focus on anything other than the mission at hand – paying my respects.” 

Honor guard members at Luke often perform in harsh conditions, wearing wool suits in over 110 degree weather. In addition, they encounter distraught families and difficult emotional situations. “N” stands for “Never will I allow my performance to be dictated by the type of ceremony, severity of the temperature or size of the crowd. I will remain superbly conditioned to perfect all movements throughout every drill and ceremony.”

“To maintain my bearing, I try to put myself in a mental state of whoever I'm performing for,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Sheene, 56th FW Honor Guard training lead. “If I'm there for a family at a funeral, I internalize that emotion that they're feeling through my past experiences, like funerals that I've been to for my loved ones. I do my best to see through their eyes and use that as motivation to do the best that I possibly can.”

The fourth letter is “O,” which stands for ‘Obligated by my oath, I am constantly driven to excel by a deep devotion to duty and a strong sense of dedication.’ 

“When my grandpa passed away, they had the honor guard at the funeral and it was really cool at the time,” said Evans. “However, during my time here, I came to realize there were a lot of mistakes made during his ceremony. I refuse to make their mistakes now that I have my chance to fill those shoes. I just want to be able to honor that service member and their family with every aspect of my performance.” 

Often, the only interaction community members may have with the Air Force is with a base honor guard. According to the Honor Guard Manual, the image portrayed by honor guard members must be one that instills confidence and pride in our service and country. 

“R” stands for “Representing every member, past and present, of the United States Air Force. I vow to stand sharp, crisp and motionless, for I am a ceremonial guardsman.”

“We represent the Air Force’s gratitude toward families for the time that they put into supporting their loved one throughout their military service,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Ramirez, 56th FW Honor Guard flight chief. “It is also a chance for us to give the service member a final send-off in the most respectful and dignified way that we know how to in the military.” 

The ceremonial guardsman is an individual of good reputation responsible for protecting and overseeing the maintenance of high standards on and off duty. Honor guard personnel are expected to exceed the Air Force standards and present a flawless image to the public. 

“We don’t perform for the crowd per se,” said Sheene. “We celebrate with ceremony. It’s a mission of gratitude. That is what’s important, giving thanks to those who served before us.”