Like most Soldiers assigned to Fort Gordon's Installation Support Detachment Spc. Armando Alverio did not expect to be conducting funeral honors for fallen Army personnel. But when called upon by his command to do so, he responded without hesitation, setting aside his full-time job as a medical logistics specialist for the next 90 days.
The ISD consists of 36 personnel: 30 Soldiers along with a few Sailors and Airmen. Service members are selected by commands from across Fort Gordon and serve on the detachment for 90 days before a new cycle of service members takes over.
From setting up and tearing down for special events and ceremonies to being tasked with last minute undertakings, the ISD performs a variety of significant duties. But the detachment's primary mission -- and perhaps most crucial -- is conducting military funeral honors for fallen Army personnel.
"They're the power behind the throne," said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Carlos Simmons, Fort Gordon and the Cyber Center of Excellence's previous highest ranking Soldier.
Fort Gordon provides manpower for funerals in 49 counties throughout Georgia, with added support from the Georgia Army National Guard when needed. Considering the average number of funerals each cycle, they need it. According to the previous cycle's NCOIC, Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Thomas, his Soldiers received more than 350 funeral requests over the span of 90 days but were only able to fulfill about half of them.
"The most we had in a single day was 16 services," Thomas recalled. "We had just enough personnel to accomplish that."
Being on the ISD requires a special level of commitment. Schedules are unpredictable, weekends are often consumed by work-related events, and Soldiers must be incredibly detail oriented. Yet many go on to say it became one of the highlights of their careers. Some have even volunteered to extend and go on to serve another cycle. Having served 18 years in the Army, Thomas said his time with the ISD was one of the most meaningful times in his career -- primarily because of the funerals.
"I loved the job, I loved being there -- I just found it so fulfilling and rewarding to be there for the loved ones," Thomas said. "Hundreds of families were touched by what we did, and you leave knowing that you've really made a difference."
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Pena, a former NCOIC of one of the ISD's funeral teams, expressed similar sentiments.
"It hurts … I've handed out more folded flags to weeping widows and crying fathers than I would ever have hoped to in a lifetime, but I would gladly do it again," Pena said. "There's no question that it matters."
Recognizing the ISD's significance, Simmons recently gave eligible ISD service members an opportunity to earn an Honor Guard tab for wear over their unit patch. The tab, he explained, is fitting of the detachment's duties.
"It is truly an honor for the individual service member when it comes to performing those last burial rights, being part of that ceremony, or any of the ceremonies they perform either on or off the installation," Simmons said. "When they go out, they are truly the face of Fort Gordon -- of the Army, really -- and representative of all units that are here."
Soldiers must successfully complete a certification process before being allowed to wear the tab. The process includes successful completion of a seven-day transition training, scoring at least 90 percent on a written exam, drill and ceremony, uniform inspection, completion of four military funerals (two two-person funerals and two full military honors), meet the Army's body composition requirements, and pass a record Army Physical Fitness Test. Service members who were part of the ISD before the Honor Guard tab's implementation may also request to go through the certification process so they can wear the tab.
"We want people to know that this is the best of the best, and these are the people who are going to go out and represent us on a daily basis," Simmons said.
It is a role Sgt. David Dote, of the Cyber Protection Brigade, doesn't take lightly. The intelligence analyst has served more than one cycle with the ISD, said he enjoys it.
"It's good to get out there and give back to the community more or less, because we're usually the last face of the military that those families are seeing," Dote said. "It's a humbling experience."
With only a few weeks into his term with the ISD and six funerals under his belt, Alverio, of Eisenhower Army Medical Center, said he had no idea what to expect when told he was going to the ISD. Within the first week of training, he found himself looking forward to his new temporary assignment.
"I feel proud of what I'm doing," Alverio said.