CORTLANDT MANOR, N.Y. - Some of the rifles fired at Camp Smith Training Site weren't loaded with rounds and yet their impact could still stop you in tracks.
The ceremonial rifles, along with a folded American flag, a bugler playing taps and a weighted casket were all part of the specialized training that 12 Army National Guard Soldiers from across the country were conducting here.
Four New York Army National Guard Soldiers, along with eight other Guardsmen from across the country, were selected by their respective states and territories to attend the 80-hour, Train-the-trainer Military Funeral Honors (MFH) course held at Camp Smith Training Site May 1-12, 2017.
Soldiers who successfully complete the course will return as state level training instructors.
The course is designed to be both physically and mentally challenging to ensure Soldiers are ready and able to perform their duties. Each day starts early with physical training and goes long into the evening for studying and practice.
Training tasks include:
• Rehearsing the honorable transfer of remains;
• Casket team sequences;
• 2 or 3-Soldier funeral procedures;
• Inspections of the ceremonial uniforms;
• Familiarity with the M14 Rifle used by Honor Guard member;
• Firing party sequences, drill and ceremonies;
• Chapel sequences;
And the 9-Soldier "modified" full military funeral honors sequences.
Since 2000, federal law has mandated that any military veteran who did not receive a dishonorable discharge from the armed forces is eligible for military honors at his or her funeral.
The ceremony must include the folding and presenting of the flag of the United States to the veteran's survivors and the playing of Taps.
The size of the detail varies from a minimum of two service members to nine or more personnel for deceased service members who retired from the military after a full career or were awarded medals for valor.
Because the Army National Guard is a community based force located in places where the Active Army can be far away, the responsibility for performing many of these funerals falls upon Guard Soldiers.
The New York Army National Guard, for example, has a 31-member Honor Guard which conducts about 98 percent of military funeral details for Army veterans within the state.
Sgt. Stephanie Imenndorf, a food service specialist in the New Jersey Army National Guard, wasn't surprised by the intense training. Guard Soldier for seven years, she noted that "repetition makes it hard to do something wrong, which is a good thing."
Every move must be precise and every command executed must be flawless. The exacting nature of the training mirrors the expectations of the Soldiers when they're performing military funeral duties, the instructors explained.
"We change minds with our performance, not our words," said Brian Hise, a Military Honors Senior National Trainer.
Hise, who is prior military with 26 years of experience, explained that Soldiers who complete this training and perform these duties are held to a higher standard.
However, any of the trainers or participants will tell you that it's not about the Soldier, it's about the deceased service members and their families. Even the Army Service Uniform worn by the Soldiers has their name tapes removed to show that it's not about them, Hise explained.
Spc. Jeremy Cardenales, a field artillery automated tactical data system specialist assigned to the 1st Battalion, 258th Field Artillery Regiment, New York Army National Guard, said he performs these challenging duties to give back to those who came before him.
"Our veterans gave their all for us," said Cardenales a Woodhaven, N.Y, resident., "I want to give what I can back to them and their families."
The New York Army National Guard has the second largest funeral honors program in the country performing between 9 and 10,000 military funeral services per year.