August 27, 2014 in DrillCenter News
RAF MILDENHALL, England – Traditions are a valued part of the Air Force and its history. Traditions must be passed down from generation to generation — otherwise they may be lost forever.
Currently entrusted with teaching Airmen the Air Force traditions are honor guard trainers U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Michael Sternberg, 100th Civil Engineer Squadron pavement and construction equipment operator from Panhandle, Texas; U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. James Stay, 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron flight service center supervisor from Chicago, Illinois; U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Aaron Klarenbach, 352nd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron aerospace propulsion journeyman from Vancouver, Washington; and U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jesse Dunsmore, 100th Maintenance Squadron aerospace ground equipment journeyman from Wichita Falls, Texas.
These Airmen are looking for more service members to become part of their elite team. Everyone is welcome to try out.
“No matter who comes in, we can always train them up. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow someone learns. We have individuals here who will work closely with them to help them,” Dunsmore said. “Come along to a few practices. Try it out. We’re not going to come and hunt you down. Basically if you want to join it’s on you. We’re looking for those individuals who want to be here. We want that enthusiasm.”
It takes dedication to represent the Air Force at public events, and the team trains hard. The role of an honor guard can be challenging and the trainers ensure their Airmen are prepared.
“One challenge is the unknown, we train a specific way to do a detail the same every time but no detail is ever the same,” Stay said. “It’s always different so we have to adapt to or overcome. That’s the biggest challenge, but it also makes it interesting. Nothing is ever the same twice.”
The trainers don’t take their duties lightly. They know the importance of training the next generation of Airmen entrusted with the responsibility of Air Force history and culture at ceremonies. They are a huge part of events such as funerals, where a grieving family will look to the honor guard to represent the career, and life, their loved one was a part of.
“I enjoy being a part of the tradition. Knowing that I can make the retirement ceremony, funeral or whatever ceremony that we are doing a little more meaningful for those involved is important to me,” Sternberg said.
For many people who join the honor guard, it’s the families they want to help. To make a somber day a little more bearable and memorable using the honor and traditions their loved one was a part of.
“Seeing that grateful expression on somebody’s face, that’s why I joined — to make a small difference to someone’s life,” Dunsmore said.
The skills these Airmen learn can continue when they move to another base. Once learned these skills stay with them for life. The enthusiasm that brought them to the honor guard in the first place stays with them for their career. Klarenbach has prepared well for his time in the honor guard.
“Read the honor guard manual. It gives you everything that you will ever need to know,” Klarenbach said. “The honor guard is something I hope to do my entire career so I wanted to be prepared.”
It’s not an easy skill to learn and it takes a great deal of practice and teamwork. Everyone must work as a unit and help the other Airmen.
“It’s about keeping everyone together. I know everything as far as details and training, so it’s getting everyone on the same page so we all perform as a cohesive unit, making sure all our movements are exactly the same — standardizing,” Klarenbach said.
This training serves the Airmen well, not only when all eyes are on them at a public event, but also in their primary role on base and in their lives in general. What makes these people great Airmen also makes them great honor guard members.
“I would say to stay flexible. Things can change at the drop of a hat, and you will have little to no control over it. The places you go and the people you work with are always changing. So stay focused on the things you can control. Don’t stress about the things you can’t change,” Sternberg said. “It’s not for everyone. Just like the military isn’t. It takes a lot of dedication, a lot of commitment. A lot of times we are spending our weekends and time after work to go train. But it’s definitely worth it.”
Practice is held Tuesdays from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Training is all day the second Tuesday of each month.