Volunteering for the honor of it
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- At least a year's worth of your time. That's the contract Airmen sign when they volunteer for honor guard. One year to be one of the sharpest troops on the base, to represent Yokota when distinguish visitors arrive and to be solemn guardians who are present at retirements and funerals. One year or more.
The Air Force Honor Guard has a long standing history that dates back to 1948 when Headquarters Command, U.S. Air Force, directed the creation of an elite ceremonial unit. For five Yokota Airmen, their journey to join those elite few has just begun.
They start by dumping everything they learned about facing movements from basic training. The commands are the same, but the movements have changed. The training process can usually takes three months. It's part of the reason why the Airmen dedicate themselves to a one year commitment.
"Every base's honor guard is different," said Capt. Joshua Locke, Honor Guard officer in charge. "Some bases have Airmen on for a month, off for a month for a year, or strictly honor guard for six months straight. Since we don't have that robust of a mission and the Airmen work their job and participate in honor guard at the same time, we have the Airmen sign up for a year long commitment."
That transformation from a trainee with uncoordinated movements to a professional honor guardsman is what excites Senior Airman Michael Natalello, Honor Guard equipment custodian and assistant flight trainer.
"It's really rewarding to see Airmen come in and not really know what they're doing transform into an Airmen who's confident in each and every detail and eventually lead details themselves," he said.
Natalello says that their OIC always tells them that "we're the face of the base." He speaks the truth. Every ceremony, from Airman Leadership School graduations, change of commands, retirements, funerals, off-base events and everything in between, an honor guard presentation begins them all. All eyes are on them. Perfection must prevail.
It's this high level of professionalism that attracted one of the new trainees.
"For me, honor guard was always the best individuals," said Airman 1st Class Marissa Antillon-Loya. "I did junior ROTC before joining the Air Force and we had normal drill and ceremony teams, then the color guard and finally the honor guard, which were the best of the best. So it's an opportunity to join those ranks and excel as an Airmen, and I pride myself on that."
For the five new Airmen, they'll eventually get the chance to shed their trainee moniker and become an honor guardsman and join the others who hold that title. After enduring the training they'll be ready to perform their ceremonial duties while a new group of trainee Airmen take their place, to continue the long standing tradition, for one year. Or more.