Firefighter honor guards have the unique ability to use two implements of their trade for ceremonial use: the pike pole and fire axe.
The Pike Pole
First used to unhorse and attacker in the middle ages, it is now used to pull ceilings down and sort of other things to search for hazards. There are two ceremonial versions, one about 4-feet tall and one about 43″ long. Click here for nomenclature and information.
Is Variety the Spice of Ceremony Makeup?
This is a matter of opinion. My opinion, based on my experience, is that any ceremonial element (colors, cordon, casket watch) should stick to one piece of equipment and here is the rationale: military color teams do not mix rifle types (M1 Garand, M14, M1903), they do not mix a rifle with a sword or a rifle with a sidearm. Mixing a pike pole and a fire axe is the same- it just looks odd. My advice is to carry similar equipment in the same element.
To many in the honor guard world the term casket watch, is an unknown term. That is unless you are on an LEO, firefighter or EMS honor guard. These members have known of and performed a casket watch for many years for their fallen. Let’s get into what casket watch is and how it is performed.
There are three parts to a casket watch:
Watch Guard Entrance/Initial Post
Watch Guard Change
Watch Guard Final Watch
The members of the casket watch are:
Watch Members (These members can be specifically identified, if you choose)
If selected as part of the funeral protocol, two unarmed or armed (rifle, sword/saber, fire axe or pike pole) Honor Guard members watch over the casket of the fallen during the viewing or wake. In most cases these members take their positions at the foot and head of the casket at Attention/Stand at Ease. Depending on the duration of the viewing or wake, watch shifts established. The Watch Commander (WC) can be armed with a sidearm. If a WC is not present, either of the watch guards will call the commands. Armed/unarmed does not matter.
Watch Guard Initial Post
At the beginning of the first watch, two guards and the Watch Commander (WC) enter the room (from either side or the front) where the watch is taking place. For this manual we will assume an entrance from the front. All commands are subdued. No facing movements (except Three-Count About Face) or flanking. (If unarmed, ignore weapon commands.)
The Watch Guards and the Watch Commander enter the room and form up at the back of the chapel at Attention. The WC gives the subdued commands, Port, ARMS and, Step, and all three members begin marching toward the casket at Slow Time (60-90 steps per minute).
Within approximately four steps of the casket the WC gives the command Mark, TIME, beginning on a left step and ending on the next right step. On the next left step all three members begin their mark time. The WC calls, Guards, HALT on two consecutive left steps and the team halts (see the Colors Turn-halt for this). Alternativelywhen WGs are within four steps of the casket, the WC can call a long HAAAAAAAAALT on a left step and all members can then bring their right foot alongside the left and come to Attention.
The WC commands, Present, ARMS, and all three salute (with a three-second count up and down).
The WC commands, Port ARMS (or Order, ARMS if unarmed), and all three drop their salutes. Upon assuming Port/dropping their salutes, both watch guards then step off and move directly to their positions in the same amount of steps without flanking.
When each guard arrives, they simultaneously execute a Three-Count About Face and assume Stand At Ease.
The WC executes a silent salute, executes a modified Three-Count About Face (“T”, “L” Step) and departs.
The time between changes of the guard is entirely up to you. It is an honor to stand watch over a fallen comrade and as many who would like to should be given the opportunity.
NOTE: When changing Watch Guards, the guards should NOT salute each other, they are to only salute the flag/deceased.
The new Watch Guards and the Watch Commander enter the room and form up at Attention. The WC gives the commands, Port ARMS and Step, and all three members begin marching toward the casket at Slow Time (60-90 steps per minute).
Within approximately four steps of the casket the WC gives the command Mark, TIME, beginning on a left step and ending on the next right step. On the next left step all three members begin their mark time. The WC calls, Guards, HALT on two consecutive left steps and the team halts (see the Colors Turn-halt for this). When the new watch halts, the current watch come to Attention on the command of the guard at the head of the casket.
The WC commands, Present, ARMS, and all three salute. DO NOT SALUTE EACH OTHER, the salute is for the flag.
The WC commands, Port ARMS, and all three drop their salutes (for the salutes, the WC executes his/her salute with a three-second count). Upon assuming Port/dropping their salutes, both of the current watch guards then step off and move directly to their positions next to and outside of the new watch in the same amount of steps without flanking and execute a three-count about face. At the same time, the new watch moves directly to their positions at the head and foot of the casket, replacing the current watch. When all guards reach their spots, they all salute, on command and after dropping their salutes, and simultaneously execute a modified Three-Count About Face (“T”, “L” Step) and depart.
Casket Watch Guard Change: Entrance
Casket Watch Guard Change: New Guards Posted
Casket Watch Guard Change: Old Guards Move Inward
Casket Watch Guard Change: Old Guards and WC Salute Flag and Depart
Watch Guard Final Watch
The Final Watch ceremony can be used before the pall bearers enter the room to retrieve the casket for transportation to the burial site.
The WC enters the room and marches to a position approximately six paces from the casket, halts and gives a silent salute.
When the WC drops his salute, he calls the guards to Attention and each guard automatically posts in front of the WC to each side and simultaneously executes a Three-Count About Face.
The WC commands, Present, ARMS, and all three salute.
The WC commands, Port, ARMS, (Order ARMS, if unarmed) and all three drop their salutes and simultaneously execute a modified Three-Count About Face (“T”, “L” Step) and depart.
Final Watch: WC Arrival
Final Watch: Final Salute of the Flag
Final Watch: Departure
Why doesn’t the military perform Casket Watch?
The simple answer: it isn’t tradition. The only exception is in special circumstances like when a president dies and lies in state at the rotunda of the Capitol building.
All information and images are from The Honor Guard Manual (DrillMaster Press, 2012) and are (c) John K. Marshall
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