CAMP SMITH TRAINING SITE , N.Y. - Soldiers always want to train on the newest weapon systems, ride in the most modern vehicles, and learn the latest tactics.
But 16 New York Army National Guard Soldiers volunteered to spend a week firing wooden-stocked rifles developed sixty years ago, and practicing a ceremony composed of drill movements dating back over two-hundred years.
The Soldiers, who came from units across the state, were learning the basics of conducting military funerals.
They successfully completed the 40-hour Level One Military Funeral Honors (MFH) Course at Camp Smith Training Site, Cortlandt Manor, N.Y., from Feb. 26 through Mar. 1, 2018, taught by members of the New York Army National Guard Honor Guard.
This physically demanding course is designed to train and test Soldiers' abilities at the nine unique positions of the modified funeral honors.
The Soldiers learn to execute the manual of arms with M-14 rifles which equipped the Army in the 1960s and also learn the proper way to fire a funeral salute.
The 18-hour training days start with early morning physical training and lead into weighted casket carries, drill and ceremony, uniform inspections and non-stop rehearsals for all of the funeral detail positions.
"The units only recommend Soldiers to participate in the program who stand out from their peers," said Staff Sgt. Tomas Couvertier.
Couvertier, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Honor Guard program that spans the entire state, has been in the program for over eight years and is a graduate of this course as well.
"It's challenging because we expect perfection in a wide range of positions within a short amount of time," Couvertier said.
Soldiers who are able to show proficiency at these positions will graduate from the course and are able to perform all military funeral honors details except for the full military honors detail, which is reserved for level two graduates and above.
The New York Honor Guard has been performing over 700 military funerals a month and expects to surpass 9,000 by the year's end.
Any former service member who was not dishonorably discharged is entitled to funeral honors consisting of at least two honor guard members, the playing of Taps, and the presentation of a flag during services. New York Army National Guard Soldiers perform these duties across the state.
Pfc. Luis Rodriguez, an infantry Soldier with C. Co., 69th Infantry Regiment, has only been in the military for a little over two years and has served almost half of that time in the Honor Guard.
"This is our family," Rodriguez said when talking about the Soldiers whose funerals he's worked as part of the Honor Guard. "It gives me a sense of pride to put in the long training hours and be able to give something back."
The course is especially demanding because of the long training day, said Sgt. Josh Sanzo, a military police officer with the 206th Military Police Co.
"It teaches you time management," Sanzo explained. "You're aware that you're always graded and evaluated; you are putting in 100% effort the entire time."
The rigorous standards of the course not only instill the precise movements required of the ceremony, but reinforce fundamental military lessons as well.
'Honor Guard training teaches Soldiers valuable military knowledge that they can take back to their units," Couvertier said. "We're helping to develop future leaders, not just for the Honor Guard but for the National Guard as well."