By Mike VrabelJanuary 2, 2019
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- Army National Guard Soldiers from several states completed Level 1 Military Funeral Honors training hosted by the Virginia National Guard's Military Funeral Honors Program Dec. 10-14, 2018, at Camp Pendleton in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Eight enlisted Soldiers, from Ohio, North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia, completed the rigorous five-day course, learning all aspects of providing a perfect military service for any eligible veteran. With the help of the VNG Funeral Honors team and instructors from each of the represented states, the group learned the finer points of properly folding and presenting the U.S. flag to the veteran's next of kin, as well proper handling of the casket as pallbearers. They also learned how to provide a perfect rifle salute during the service.
Staff Sgt. Jason Cain, the senior instructor for the program, said bringing multiple states and regions together to train the same way is vital to properly honor all veterans as they are laid to rest.
"For me, starting out as a trainer, the goal was let's get Virginia all on the same page," said Cain. "Once we did that, we started branching out. We're going to try to get this program on the same page from coast to coast. This is the first step."
For Cain, seeing the gratitude expressed by a fallen veteran's loved ones makes the countless hours of preparation and detailed training worth the effort.
"To me, it's a way to be in the Guard and work every day and do something that's good for all veterans," explained Cain. "To honor the veterans who've come before us, to see the appreciation on the families' faces when you go up there and do a great job, is very rewarding. It's tough, but it's rewarding."
Spc. James Reed, part of the Maryland Honor Guard, agreed.
"It's about giving back to the veteran and the family," said Reed. "It's good for them to see the military is still there for you, even in death."
Part of what is taught during the course is perfect military discipline, and making sure each nuance and detail of the ceremony is perfect in all aspects.
"It's a lot of little key details," said Reed. "Anything from having your thumbs tucked the whole time, so everyone looks crisp and in unison."
"This isn't just some normal job, you can't just get relaxed after a while," said Maryland Honor Guard instructor Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan McGlone, who's been training funeral honor details for five years. "With most new jobs, you're tight at first but then start relaxing. This is job that requires 110 percent focus in every aspect. Once you're on that curbside, you're locked in. You can't get relaxed, you can't get complacent."
Cain said the Soldiers who complete the course work hard over the five days, putting in between 50 and 60 hours, including daily physical training and uniform detailing. Ultimately though, Cain said the Soldiers need to realize why they are putting in the effort.
"It's not about them," said Cain. "They're not here for themselves, and if they are, they shouldn't be here. They're here for veterans and their families.
"It's not for everybody. It takes a special kind of Soldier to go out and do this everyday. As trainers, we're doing this for these Soldiers so they can go out and represent their state and represent the Army."
Cain continued to highlight the importance of the service they are providing for grieving families.
"This is the last thing the family is going to see. If these guys aren't where they need to be, the family is going to have that memory forever. So, we try to make sure they understand hey, it's not about you. It's about them.
"A lot of people might not know this, but that's one of the reasons we don't wear name tapes on our dress uniform when we go to services, because it's not about us. When we are there in that ceremonial capacity, it's about that veteran."
Reed hopes to take that valuable lesson back with him to Maryland and share it his fellow Soldiers.
"You take what you learn here back to your state's program," said Reed. "Maybe you're already doing 90 percent of it right, now you can teach that last 10 percent."
The class was hosted by the Petersburg, Va.-based Virginia National Guard Funeral Honors Program, which has performed more than 22,500 services since its inception in 2007. Military funeral honors are required by law for any eligible veteran if requested by the family. Anyone wishing to make such a request should contact their local funeral home to initiate the process. Proof of military service is required. More information is available at http://vaguard.dodlive.mil/mfh/.