LATHAM, New York--New York Army National Guard honor guard Soldiers performed more military funerals in federal fiscal 2022, than Army Guard honor guards in any other state.
During federal fiscal year 2022—which ended on October 1, 2022—the New York Army National Guard conducted 7,965 funerals, according to Ronald Thomas, the northeast regional coordinator for the honor guard program.
The California Army National Guard was the next highest, with 6,346 military funerals conducted during fiscal year 2022, he said.
For fiscal year 2023, the New York Army National Guard anticipates conducting 8,100 military funerals, while California is forecasting 6,000, according to Guard records.
Army National Guard honor guards conducted 105,241 funeral missions during fiscal 2022, according to Thomas.
For calendar year 2022, New York Army National Guard honor guards are expected to provide military funeral honors for the families of 7,753 former Soldiers by New Year’s Day.
In 2021, the honor guards conducted military honors at 8,275 internment ceremonies.
A 2000 federal law, amended in 2011, mandates that former members of the U.S. military who served on active duty or in the reserves and were not dishonorably discharged are eligible for a military funeral.
At a minimum, these honors are provided by a two-person team that plays taps with an electronic bugle, and folds and presents an American flag to the family.
Retired military personnel and those who passed away while on active duty are entitled to honors that involve as many as nine Soldiers or Airmen and can include a rifle firing party and pallbearers.
Each service is responsible for providing military funeral services for veterans of their service, so in each state and territory Army Guard honor guard’s provide honors for Army veterans, while the Air Guard conducts funeral for Air Force vets.
According to the Veterans Administration, New York’s veterans’ population is fifth largest in the nation with 745,157 former military personnel. California, which has the highest veteran population in the country, is home to 1.64 million veterans, according to the VA.
The New York Army National Guard maintains a centralized honor guard system with seven regional offices across the state.
Thirty-eight Soldiers are on active duty conducting funerals, and another 60 Soldiers are available for part-time duties, according to Sgt. 1st Class Charles Gabriel III, the honor guard non-commissioner officer in charge.
Gabriel said he isn’t sure why his honor guard Soldiers conduct more funerals than those in states with larger veteran populations.
Since each service handles their own veterans, there may not be as many former Soldiers in California, Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania, the states with larger veteran populations, Gabriel said.
Or in some states, like Texas, the active Army may handle more funerals than the 10th Mountain Division does in New York, he added.
But, he said, the New York Army Guard honor guard works to sell itself to the funeral directors who are the ones that usually help a family arrange for military funeral honors.
“We attend a conference with them every year, and put a good pitch out,” Gabriel said.” I am working on making that contact system smoother for them to reach us,” he added.
Another factor in New York honor guard’s numbers may be the relatively large veteran’s population in New York City and Long Island, and the proximity to the veterans’ cemetery in Calverton on Long Island, Gabriel said.
According to VA figures, there are 368,626 veterans living in the area. This is more than the veterans’ population of 38 other states.
The New York City and Long Island offices of the New York Army Guard honor guard have conducted 3,719 funerals so far in 2022, Gabriel said just before Christmas.
With a week before the end of 2022, the New York Army National Guard’s eight honor guard detachments have conducted these funerals:
• Albany: 770
• Camp Smith (Hudson Valley): 790
• New York City: 1,134
• Long Island: 2,585
• Buffalo, 947
• Rochester, 605
• Horseheads (Southern Tier) 236
• Syracuse: 578