One chance to get it right: NCO helps Airmen perform funeral services to standard

  • Published
  • By Capt. Kathleen Ferrero
  • Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations
Today is a weekday. Besides him, his wife, and those helping with the funeral, the cemetery is empty.

His father died in combat before he was born. This is the closest he's ever been to the man who helped give him life. The coffin housing his dad lowers into the ground as a team of Airmen raise their rifles to fire a 21-gun salute.

Although the honor guard team is silent, they're telling him things he didn't know about his father - their brother in arms - through their concentrated precision and proud professionalism.

One noncommissioned officer is responsible for making these values and standards clear for Air Force honor guard teams performing funeral honors across the country.

Staff Sgt. Alexandru Stoica is the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations honor guard policy program manager. He answers a couple hundred requests per month about how to perform funeral honors and tracks funeral events of more than 100 active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve honor guard teams - an average of about 30,000 military funerals per year.

Stoica also provides mandatory biannual training for honor guard program managers (the noncommissioned officers in charge), helping them learn how to manage their budgets and execute policies.

In addition, Stoica oversees every honor guard team's ammunitions budget for both training and ceremonial functions.

"Providing the right information to program managers is vital, because they perform a function that leaves a lasting impression on a father, mother, sister, brother or child of a past or present military member," Stoica said.

"They're going to remember that day, and how the honor guard members carried themselves. It's very important."

There are definitely challenges to helping more than 100 teams perform detailed ceremonies the same way at any given time. For example, there's a high turnover rate, especially during the last decade due to operations tempo. Base honor guard team members can be volunteers or non-volunteers and typically serve for months at a time.

As different faces on the teams come and go, development and execution of policy changes.

Stoica recently executed changes to the policy for dignified arrivals, which honor guard teams perform when a fallen Airman arrives via aircraft at their final resting place. Prior to the policy change, dignified arrivals were performed for war casualties at the Dover Port Mortuary. Now a team is there to meet every active duty member.

While it's no easy job, the payoff of getting funeral honors right every time for family members is rewarding, according to Master Sgt. Edwin Del Castillo, who is the new program manager.

"In our business, there's no undo, there's no remake," Del Castillo said.

"You're commemorating a member's career and their service. You're trying to exemplify that to the family members and people present there, so they can see what their loved one stood for."