FORT HOOD, Texas -- Memorial ceremonies for fallen Soldiers are both dreaded and revered by fellow team members. They are a one-time opportunity for a unit to come together to honor and grieve as a family.
For this reason, practicing and rehearsing a memorial ceremony to ensure its proper execution is as important as any other unit battle drill.
"A well-planned, well-executed memorial ceremony is integral to the unit's ability to heal and continue on with the mission," said Chaplain (Maj.) Michael Hart III, senior brigade chaplain, 120th Infantry Brigade (Multifunctional Training Brigade), First Army Division West. "It is vital that the Unit Ministry Team, along with the staff, coordinate and execute a polished, professional ceremony."
Hart and Sgt. 1st Class Charlie Fields, the brigade chaplain's assistant, have been working with a ministry team of the North Dakota Army National Guard's 136th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, which is currently mobilizing here for an upcoming overseas deployment.
A UMT has many responsibilities both at home and while deployed, and a fallen Soldier memorial ceremony is of paramount importance.
In the North Fort Hood Chapel, the 136th recently held a practice ceremony led by Chaplain (Capt.) Scott Noyes, battalion chaplain, and his assistant, Staff Sgt. Richard Bryant. Attendees were a mix of organic unit members and role players.
Hart and Fields serve as observer coach/trainers for the 120th and oversee the functions of all mobilizing ministry teams. As the 136th UMT performed their ceremony, both Hart and Fields took careful notes on the placement of memorial items, timing and tone of the speakers, even proper usage of related terms. The accuracy of these details can help to ensure the fallen are properly honored.
"It is tremendously beneficial for us to walk through a complete ceremony," Noyes said. "It gives us an opportunity to see where we can improve and also to identify those who may need assistance now."
Throughout the ceremony, both those training and those in attendance were expected to treat every action as if it were a genuine event. Many of the unit's Soldiers were visibly solemn and later expressed the feeling of sadness brought about by the realistic nature of the exercise.
With the last step of the ceremony complete, and after a brief moment of total quiet, the announcement was made that the exercise had ended. Noyes and the remaining role players gathered around Hart to conduct an after action review.
"When this ministry team leaves Fort Hood, I know they will be prepared to provide religious services to the Soldiers in their unit," Fields said. "They will be a force enhancer for their battalion and for the Army."