By Rachael Tolliver-IRAHC PAODecember 1, 2017
In October filmmaker Ryder Haske visited Fort Knox to direct a documentary he was filming for the U.S. Army about military cemeteries. Haske and the film crew he assembled were here for three days videoing footage of the installation's award winning cemetery, and as part of the documentary they used the Ireland Army Health Clinic funeral honor team.
The funeral honor team is made up of a team of IRAHC Soldiers who rotate with other teams across post--their mission is to attend veteran funerals across the region and render honors.
Sgt. Robert Puente, a radiology specialist, Spc. Joshua Price, a combat medic, and Spc. Luke Sward, a medical laboratory technician, were three of the Soldiers selected from the honor team to participate in the filming. But all were quick to say that the jobs they hold in the facility had nothing to do with their selections.
"This may not be something that every Soldier will have the opportunity to do," Sward said. "If any Soldier finds themselves tasked out for funeral honor detail they should take a step back and realize they have the privilege of showing respect to a fallen Soldier and their family.
"Rendering honors for the Soldiers who have served our nation is extremely important. It shows the value we put on the lives lost of those who raised their hand and recited the oath to protect our nation. So, it's truly an honor to be part of this military funeral honor team."
Puente served with the Army North's Honor Guard Caisson Platoon at Fort Sam Houston, TX. The Army North's Caisson Platoon is only one of two active caisson platoons within the Army--the other is at Arlington National Cemetery. Through his service Puente said he has rendered over 300 honors.
"Funeral honors are important because it's the last ceremony that the service member will receive," he explained. "The percentile of those that raised their right hand (to serve their country) is a small percentage of the U.S. population."
"I treat every ceremony with the utmost respect it deserves, it is the least I can do for the friends and family of the deceased. Each team sent out leaves an everlasting memory to all in attendance."
And Price said he thought filming the documentary was important because it shows the differences and similarities in ceremonies.
"Each installation is different in completing military funerals," he said. "They are all similar, but (the film) shows the different details units instill to show the upmost respect and honor to soldiers that have passed."
Puente's experience helps Soldiers like Sward and Price who had not performed this detail until they were picked earlier in the year. Sward said the IRAHC team practiced regularly.
"We trained over a two week time period and followed up (with weekly training) for the full funeral details," Sward noted. "We took care of the funerals for a six state zone (to include) the local Kentucky area."
Price added that the training included how to properly fold a flag as well as proper processes to follow before and after the flag is folded.
While they were filming the crew told the honor team they would have the opportunity for multiple takes if something went wrong. But according to Puente the team wanted to be perfect.
"Spc. Sward made an everlasting comment to everybody at the shoot," he remembered. "Sward said, 'we only have one shot when we perform MFH, today will be no different.'"
He added that he felt their part of the documentary went well and credited it in part to cooperation.
"Team work was essential to the success of the mission," he said. "The staff at the (Casualty Assistance Center) was outstanding, the four mission coordinators were extremely friendly, professional, helpful and a pleasure to work with," he said.