VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – The Virginia National Guard Funeral Honors Program hosted Level 1 funeral honors training for nine National Guard Soldiers from four states.
Soldiers from Maryland, North Carolina and Ohio joined Virginia Soldiers June 27-July 1 for the five-day course, which prepares Soldiers to conduct professional military funeral honors.
“It feels great knowing that one day someone will be doing this for me,” said Spc. Raativ Rahman, a Virginia National Guard Soldier assigned to the 29th Infantry Division Band. “I’m honored to be a part of it.”
Rahman has been assisting with the program for about a year and has served at a few funerals. But the formal training program provides insight and guidance into exactly how and why the services are performed.
“Coming here, you learn why you do things a certain way,” he said. “Everything builds upon something else.”
Sgt. Byme Taylor, a Maryland National Guard Soldier assigned to the 175th Infantry Regiment, has performed more than 1,000 services for the Maryland National Guard Funeral Honors Program but, because of COVID-19, was unable to attend the Level 1 training sooner. He assisted the instructors with some of the newer Soldiers.
“Sometimes Soldiers are more receptive to a peer telling you what to do, and it makes it easier to learn from them,” he explained.
After graduating from college, Taylor worked in the civilian world for a while before deciding he needed a break and volunteered for the funeral honors program.
“I ended up loving it and seeing the faces on the family after the services,” he said. “After services, they come to us and thank us and tell us they are grateful for us. I really love that feeling.”
Drill and ceremony and physical fitness are two of the primary topics covered in Level 1 training.
“Attention to detail is so important,” Rahman said. “You want to look crisp. It carries over to other parts. Even in the band, you are what people see and hear.”
Soldiers in the course quickly learned why physical fitness is so vital.
“I’ve done up to four services a day, and you have to stand there, and you have to be mentally and physically strong,” Taylor said. “You have to stay focused and do everything properly, even if you’re hurting, because at the end of the day, the service is not for you. You’re there to honor that veteran and their family, and you just have to power through.”
Taylor pointed out that some families record the service.
“So it’s a lasting memory,” he said. “We want them to see perfection every time they go back and watch that service.”
Begun in January 2007, the Virginia National Guard Military Funeral Honors Program includes six teams throughout the state that provide funeral details to National Guard Soldiers and veterans of the active Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard.
The program’s Soldiers have performed more than 28,000 funeral services throughout the commonwealth and average more than 200 services each month.
There are three levels of training in the military funeral honors program. Level 1 is the foundation and how to perform the services. Level 2 covers instructing and how to become more of a trainer. Level 3 is used as a recertification for anyone with an expired Level 2 certification.