Face of Defense: Honor Guard Soldier Strives to Leave Lasting Impression
By Army Sgt. Tresa L. Allemang
Special to American Forces Press Service
ALEXANDRIA, La., Oct. 16, 2008 His look is piercing. His movements are sharp. His skills are among the best. He wears a patch on his left shoulder that identifies him as the first National Guard soldier in the state of Louisiana certified to train others to meet the high standards embodied by a member of the Military Funeral Honors Program.
Shreveport, La., native Army Sgt. Michael A. Huff is the first Louisiana National Guard soldier to complete the Army’s Honor Guard Train the Trainer Course at Camp Robinson, Ark. U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Tresa L. Allemang
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“It’s important that we look our absolute best,” said Sgt. Michael A. Huff, the first Louisiana Guardsman to complete the Army’s honor guard course. “For some people, you are the first military impression, … and for some you are the last.”
The Shreveport, La., native graduated from the Honor Guard Train the Trainer Course at Camp Robinson, Ark., where his instructors were members of “The Old Guard,” the famed 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, based at Fort Myer, Va. Trained by the best, Huff is now a team leader for the Shreveport area Military Funeral Honors Program. With its demand for excellence and precision, the program represents the epitome of perfection as soldiers exemplify Army traditions and standards.
“The course was both physically and mentally demanding, but the honor guard is what a soldier should be, and our deceased veterans have earned the right for us to be at our best,” Huff said. “It’s my job to make sure they get the respect they deserve.”
Huff now trains the honor guard teams around the state. “It is a challenge to take soldiers who have never done this and get them ready to look their best for a funeral or ceremony,” he said.
Though the team is made up of volunteers, only those who are highly motivated and maintain exceptionally high standards of appearance and conduct are considered to be a member of the honor guard, Huff said.
Huff, who is also a mortar platoon squad leader for B Troop, 2nd Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment, said he was looking for a full-time job when his readiness noncommissioned officer presented the honor guard idea to him.
The Military Honors program through the Louisiana Army National Guard started in December, with Command Sgt. Maj. Steven R. Stuckey as the state coordinator.
Huff explained that prior to a funeral, he must mentally prepare and focus on the mission at hand. “I am going over everything in my mind,” he said. “I am going over movements and making sure that I am ready to represent and show that soldier and his family the respect they deserve.”
The duty can challenge soldiers’ emotions, Huff said. “The hardest part of this job is knowing that when you go to a funeral, people are going to be upset and they are going to cry,” he said. “But we must remain professional at all times. I have lost friends in combat and understand how difficult death is to a family, but if I don’t find a way to focus and detach, I can’t give them the funeral that they deserve. … I can’t afford to get emotional then.”
Huff said that he tries to incorporate the importance of professionalism into the honor guard soldiers he trains. “It can be hard, … especially when it’s someone we know, but we have to be in that focused mental mind frame before any funeral.”
Army Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth R. Wagner, senior enlisted advisor for the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said he is impressed with the state’s program. “I’ve been to five funerals since Command Sergeant Major Stuckey started this program,” he said. “On short notice, the honor guards have come together and formed a good team. Their execution is extremely well done and very professional.”
“I am proud of my team and what they represent,” he said. “Most people do not understand what they give up. These guys have to be ready at any time. Some of them have families at home and have civilian jobs, but at a moment’s notice, with their uniforms maintained to perfection, they are ready to drop their plans and give our veterans the respectful funeral they deserve.”
Stuckey said that most families of veterans do not know that the benefit of a military funeral is available to all veterans. Family members should request a military funeral through their funeral home director.
“It’s a benefit that everyone who has served in the military is entitled to, whether they were honorably discharged or retired. It’s an honor for us to be able to give them respect as a comrade, and we want the opportunity to do it,” Huff said. The four Louisiana National Guard honor guard teams have conducted about 225 funerals in eight regions of the state.
Huff said that even though he originally joined the National Guard to pay for school and earned an associates degree in biology, he does not plan on getting out any time soon, and that he plans on making a career as an honor guard soldier.
“I achieved my goal of earning that degree, and that is a great feeling, but I am very proud of my service,” he said. “I feel like I am supposed to be in the military, and I love what I do.”
(Army Sgt. Tresa L. Allemang serves with the 199th Brigade Support Battalion.)