ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
If you’ve ever attended the funeral of an active duty member or military veteran/retiree in the past, you likely heard an honor guard member playing Taps, saw several honor guard members presenting colors and serving as pallbearers, and remember the sound of the gunshots of a firing party paying last military respects.
While the Coronavirus Disease 2019 pandemic has changed how military honor guards like Robins Honor Guard at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, serve, it has not diminished the level of respect demonstrated nor reduced the dedication to their mission.
The Honor Guard is congressionally mandated to send a minimum of two airmen for veteran and retiree funeral honors. Active duty military funeral honors require 20 Airmen consisting of pallbearers, a bugler, a firing party, a colors team and a noncommissioned office- in-charge of the detail.
Master Sgt. Ellis Coley Jr., Robins Honor Guard Program Manager in the 78th Force Support Squadron, said his group prides itself on providing the best services for those it serves.
However, Coley said the Robins Honor Guard recently received guidance from the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Office to send only two Airmen per military funeral honors detail, regardless of the member’s military separation status.
“Robins Honor Guard normally goes above and beyond with retiree military funeral honors providing six Airmen rather than two,” he said. “This allows us to perform as pall bearers, firing party and a bugler for taps, as opposed to the minimum congressional requirement of a flag folding and taps.”
Coley said his group has also been forced to suspend all colors details, which its program would normally perform for retirements, change of commands, parades, major sporting events, etc.
Additionally, Coley said honor guard members are wearing protective face coverings while they perform their duties at this time.
“The Robins Honor Guard is still rendering the respect due to military and former military members who have passed away by performing a flag folding and presentation to the next-of-kin in addition to the playing of taps,” he said. “The most significant difference is the new requirement to wear a mask while performing the details.”
The Robins Honor Guard has a 70,000 square mile area of responsibility, stretching from the top two thirds of Georgia through the top of Tennessee, as well as a couple of counties in North Carolina. Additionally, the Robins Honor Guard provides services in three counties on behalf of Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida., as part of the Hurricane Michael relief effort.
“Since the Robins Honor Guard has up to 12 Guard and up to 13 Reserve personnel stationed in Nashville, Tennessee, and Atlanta, respectively, the program is still able to fulfill its requirements throughout that AOR,” Coley said.
While the Robins Honor Guard has remained resilient, continuing to perform their duties without complaint, Coley said the demand for the group’s services has decreased.
“Our operations tempo has reduced significantly however, we expect a surge in operations immediately following the COVID-19 restrictions being lifted,” he said. “There are many families of retired members that are waiting until we can provide full honors again before requesting honors for their loved ones.”
Moreover, Coley said with travel restrictions in place, many families are postponing until more of the family can travel to the place in which honors will be provided.
For those families that choose to hold services now for their deceased military and military retiree loved ones, Coley said Robins Honor Guard is proud to be there for them.
“It’s important to keep providing these honors because at some point these members raised their right hand and swore an oath to protect our country against all enemies,” he said. “The Robins Honor Guard proudly delivers on the nation’s promise to fulfill this commitment, without being deterred by the current threats. Many of these members being honored have also faced threats while serving our great nation so honoring that service is the least we can do.”