By Airman 1st Class Rose Gudex
21st Space Wing Public Affairs Office
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The church was filled to capacity and every eye was on him as he knelt down to present the folded American flag to the eight-year-old grandson of a retired Air Force veteran. The little boy’s eyes filled with tears and he started to cry out for a man he knew would never return home.
For that honor guard member, it was all he could do to keep his bearing. That Saturday in September was Airman 1st Class Austin Whiting’s first funeral as a High Frontier Honor Guard member and it’s one he says he’ll never forget.
Whiting joined the Air Force a year after high school to continue the family legacy and follow in his father’s footsteps. Being that his father was in the Air Force and they moved a lot, there isn’t one particular place he calls home, but the pride the military brings is more than enough for him.
Whiting’s primary career field is command post controller, but he said the honor guard caught his attention with its uniformity and consistency.
“We are a group of people trained in all things ceremonious,” he said. “We are the last taste of the Air Force for a lot of families. It’s a way to pay remembrance.”
Each day in the honor guard varies, Whiting said. They meet at the training hall and do physical training together and then, depending on the upcoming drills they have, practice until they’ve got it just right.
“It’s about maintaining proficiency,” he said. “We practice things like flag folding, rifles, facing movements. We (practice) until we feel confident.”
No matter their confidence level, how prepared they are or how precise each move is completed, it doesn’t come close to facing the families at funerals. Whiting said they are able to meet and speak with the families beforehand, which helps.
“We’re doing it for them,” he explained. “It shouldn’t be hard for us — it should be hard for them. It’s not about us.”
His instructors stressed to them during training the importance of bearing. Whiting said, especially while presenting the flag to the fallen veteran’s grandson, bearing is sometimes difficult to maintain.
“It takes practice,” he said. “You can’t break bearing or it breaks the whole atmosphere.”
Bearing and discipline is something the honor guard is known for, along with pristine and flawless uniforms. Whiting said it is important to stand out and represent the Air Force well.
“We are a direct ambassador for the Air Force,” he stated. “If we look crisp and sharp, it helps shape (the public’s) view of us.”
Sometimes after wearing the uniform day in and day out Airmen lose sight of why they wear it, Whiting said. By taking such delicate care of the uniform, it is obvious the sense of pride taken in representing the Air Force.
“You get a gigantic sense of pride,” he said. “When people see you and come up to shake your hand, it hits home that you’re doing something special — it means something.”
While the High Frontier Honor Guard is a highly visible entity tasked with representing Peterson and the Air Force at official events, it is the duty of each Airman to take just as much care in how they wear the uniform.
Airmen interested in joining the honor guard should discuss it with their leadership first before contacting the High Frontier Honor Guard directly. Only your leadership can recommend you for the prestigious temporary-duty assignment.
For information about the High Frontier Honor Guard and how to request their service, go to http://www.21fss.com/about/honor-guard/.