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Tradition, honor in the time of COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Lauren Russell
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

HANSCOM PUBLIC AFFAIRS, Mass. – In spite of COVID-19, life has not stood still for veterans’ families across New England and New York.

Through it all, members of the 66th Force Support Squadron Patriot Honor Guard had to reevaluate and overcome to ensure their mission continued.

“We had to take a step back at first, but everyone has adapted like total professionals,” said Master Sgt. Peader Clark, superintendent of the Patriot Honor Guard here. “We have a job to do.”

The team supports areas throughout the Northeast, providing military honors to veterans’ funerals and offering comfort to the families left behind. Typically, the honor guard supports more than 2,000 services a year.

After COVID-19 jeopardized large gatherings and made physical distancing a must, the guardsmen had to find a way to ensure they could provide a proper send off.

“Our heroes need to be honored properly,” said Tech. Sgt. Daniel Fox, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Patriot Honor Guard. “We all banded together to create a safe and sustainable way to do that.”

Fox said the members have modified their drills to keep themselves and the veterans’ next of kin safe; only two guardsmen attend each service, and their ceremonial portion is now the first portion of the program.

“One of the hardest challenges has been being unable to hand the flag to the families,” said Fox, who explained the guardsmen still fold the flag and offer the statement of condolence, but must place the flag on the casket to maintain a safe physical distance. “There’s so much emotion in those moments.”

In such an unprecedented time, the team has felt their impact stronger than ever, said Fox.

“The families are so grateful every time we go out, but it’s our honor to be there,” he said. “If it’s even possible, it makes us love our jobs twice as much.”

Clark invites anyone interested in the Patriot Honor Guard to join its weekly trainings sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 to 9 a.m. at Building 1210.

“Our augmentee program allows Air Force members to volunteer for ceremonies without being full-time guardsmen,” said Clark. “It’s an opportunity build a unique relationship with the base, the community and the Air Force.”