Perfection in the name of honor
December 29, 2006
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 29, 2006) - Preparation for rending honors at a state funeral in Washington, D.C., is a meticulous procedure for the 3rd U.S. Infantry, "The Old Guard," Salute Gun Platoon at Fort Myer, Va.
The platoon will provide the Presidential Salute Gun Battery at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and at the U.S. Capitol for Gerald R. Ford, 38th President of the United States, who died Tuesday at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
So the Salute Gun Platoon doesn't take their duty lightly.
"We rehearse to stay sharp and ahead of the game," said 1st Sgt. Danzell Harrell, Headquarters and Headquarters Co. first sergeant, who also participated in President Ronald Reagan's state funeral. "Inspections and rehearsals are the cornerstone of success."
The Old Guard Salute Gun Platoon also conducts final salute ceremonies for many funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, and has a broad schedule of more than 300 ceremonies each year.
The Soldiers constantly perform firing drills and, ultimately, "practice" with the ceremonies at Arlington, according to Sgt. Luke T. Renken, HHC squad leader, who is scheduled to serve as back-up gunner at President Ford's funeral and also participated in President Reagan's funeral.
Each death, whether a dignitary or a Soldier, is treated the same - with honor for service to the nation, said Harrell.
The platoon has some challenges to overcome each time they roll the guns out for ceremonies.
They fire and maintain eight World War II 3-inch anti-tank guns, which fire 75-milimeter blank shells. The Soldiers shine tires, remove oil from steel parts, buff the steel to a glossy finish, and wax the remaining exterior.
"The guns must be handled easily and moved gently since they are old, which takes time and care," said Harrell.
Age also presents other challenges.
"These are WWII guns and they misfire sometimes," said Harrell. "We don't want to miss a shot and that's our biggest area of concern."
For the Soldiers of the Salute Gun Platoon, practice and maintenance are merely the stepping stones to perform perfectly at state funerals and other important ceremonies.
"We strive to be perfect. It shows the country we have great respect for them the deceased," said Renken.
The platoon has a special mission and provides a service to families of fallen soldiers and heads of state, said Harrell.
"We want to make it perfect so they'll always remember it."