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Honor Guard benefits ‘immeasurable’

  • Published
  • By Tech. St. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
Ultimately, it is about the veteran and his or her family, says Master Sgt. Thomas Barjaktarovich.

A member of the 127th Wing's Honor Guard at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Barjaktarovich has participated in more than 100 funerals for Air Force veterans, working with one or more other Honor Guard members to fold the U.S. flag and present it to the next of kin to the deceased.

"It is one of the most genuine and heartwarming things I have ever done," the master sergeant said. "To render final honors to a veteran, it is just the best way that I can think of to give back not only to the Air Force, but to my country."

Barjaktarovich is an aircraft maintenance specialist, working on A-10 Thunderbolt IIs with the 127th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. When his schedule allows, however, he is one of the half-dozen or so most active members of the 127th Wing's Honor Guard. The group, made up of volunteers from around the Wing, renders final honors for Air Force veterans at about 300 funerals per year around the Detroit region, said Technical Sgt. Ninette LeRay, the Honor Guard coordinator at Selfridge.

The 127th Wing Honor Guard works in conjunction with the Honor Guard at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. The WPAFB Honor Guard oversees Honor Guard operations for a six-state region and relies on Air National Guard units, such as the one at Selfridge, to be present at veterans funerals in its particular area.

LeRay said the 127th Wing Honor Guard has been present at funerals at the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly, Mich., as well as in churches, funeral homes and cemeteries around the metro region. In addition to providing final honors at funerals, the local Honor Guard also serves as a Color Guard at ceremonial events both on and off the base around the Detroit area.

Senior Airmen Eric Kim, another Honor Guard member, said the group was particularly busy on the recent Veterans Day holiday, participating in ceremonies at Great Lakes and at several schools.

Barjaktarovich said at most veteran funerals, two members of the Honor Guard are present. For veterans who are retired from the Air Force or in instances where currently-serving members of the Air Force are the deceased, a six-person Honor Guard renders the honors.

"The nerves and emotions are there every time," Barjaktarovich said. "But if you focus on the honor, on presenting the flag correctly, that's what gets you through it."

And while the Honor Guard Airmen are at a funeral to pay homage to a veteran, Barjaktarovich said the Honor Guard members also gain from the experience.

"The benefits to the Honor Guard member are immeasurable," he said. "I really think that every member of the military should experience it, even just once."

LeRay said the 127th Wing Honor Guard is in the process of recruiting new members to be part of the team. Honor Guard members can be currently-serving members of the Wing in any status, traditional Guard, technician or active. Traditional members and technicians receive one drill pay period and one retirement point for every day in which they attend a funeral.

In addition, she said, given the nature of their service, the camaraderie of the Honor Guard is tight.

"We really do become like a family, working so closely together," she said.

The 127th Wing Honor Guard is currently actively seeking new members. Information is available by contacting the Honor Guard office at the Selfridge Dining Facility. The Honor Guard periodically holds week-long training sessions to train new members. The team also meets periodically to keep their skills sharp.

About the 127th Wing
Comprised of approximately 1,700 personnel and flying both the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the KC-135 Stratotanker, the 127th Wing supports Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operation Command by providing highly-skilled Airmen to missions domestically and overseas. The 127th Wing is the host unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which marks its 97th year of continuous military air operations in 2014.