AFMAO honor guard team focal point for all base honor guards

  • Published
  • By Christin Michaud
  • AFMAO Public Affairs
Air Force honor guard teams across the nation provide funeral honors almost daily for Air Force veterans.

A two-person team at Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations provides oversight of policy and programs for those base honor guard teams and their managers in 57 areas of responsibility.

Each year, Air Force honor guard teams provide more and more funeral honors throughout the country, said Master Sgt. Jill Swanson, Honor Guard Policy Program manager.

Last year alone, teams from their respective AORs performed funeral honors for more than 37,000 Air Force active-duty members, retirees and veterans.

Military funerals are the primary mission for base honor guards, but they also perform secondary details such as presenting the colors at official functions and retirements, said Staff Sgt. Mario Super, AFMAO Honor Guard Program manager.

"If the honor guard is scheduled for a colors presentation and a funeral request comes in during the same time, they put the funeral first," said Super.

Together, Super and Swanson serve as a resource for honor guard teams across the Air Force.

From answering calls on policy or ensuring funeral honors are being conducted properly to providing management or reporting to Headquarters Air Force on congressional inquiries, the two managers at Dover serve as the voice to what is going on in the field and ways to improve base honor guard programs. 

"This position is important," Swanson said of her role. "Here, we assist with AOR issues and program changes.  We have a direct line to the field and can understand and work through issues."

Each of the managers started their honor guard career as a young Airman.

Swanson was a guardsman with the Ellsworth Honor Guard Team in 1997, when she was stationed in South Dakota and went on to serve as the NCO in charge of the Nellis AFB Honor Guard in Nevada. She also managed honor guard programs at two deployed locations. 

Super performed two tours with Hurlburt Field's Honor Guard program in Florida and one at a deployed location prior to his arrival at AFMAO. At Hurlburt, he became the lead trainer.

"As the trainer, I was able to train two flights of 15 members during my 6-month rotation," said Super.

After six years at Hurlburt Field, Super applied for a special duty at AFMAO, where he could use his honor guard experience to continue serving fallen service members.

"Everyone is looking for that one thing that they can do and feel proud about doing," said Super. "This is the one job I enjoy doing ... knowing the positive impact it has on the families. I have a soft spot when it comes to honor guard, so putting me in charge of all base honor guards throughout the Air Force is perfect for me. You have to have some deep connection with honor guard to do this job."

Swanson is equally passionate about working in this role for mortuary affairs.

She initially deployed to Dover's Port Mortuary in 2005, when operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom were in full swing. Swanson said she was honored to support the mission and fell in love with the area. 

"It was the most honorable thing I had done in my career, and I said at that time that, 'a dream assignment would be working (here) as a permanent party member,'" said Swanson.

In addition to providing oversight on policy, the team here conducts Honor Guard Management training three times a year for new honor guard managers at the base level. The online course covers resource management for manning and budgeting as well as operating instructions, policies, reporting procedures and overall responsibilities.

While the base honor guard is typically a services function, the duty is open to other career fields for guardsmen positions as well as the base honor guard manager. The manager position is a 3-year controlled tour special duty assignment and is usually a local hire.

"Managing an honor guard offers management experience for a team of many different (Air Force Specialty Codes) and ranks," said Swanson. "It can be challenging and very rewarding."

It was her experience as a manager that led Swanson to her 3-year tour at the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs.

"When I was an honor guard manager I felt it was the best job in the Air Force and now I believe this one at AFMAO is - and might always be in my career," said Swanson.

Super echoed Swanson's sentiment and passion for what they do here. 

"Other than being in honor guard and on the funeral details, I think this job is the best, most honorable job to do," he said. "If anyone has a chance to do either one, they should. If I could be in the honor guard the rest of my career, I would."

Together, the team works to deliver and oversight to the honor guard teams who provide funeral honors for fallen service members across the nation.

"I can't imagine the military without the honor guard," said Super. "You want the families to know that their loved one's dedicated service will be known and not forgotten. It's our way of saying thank you for your service and your loved one's service, because we all know the member doesn't serve alone, the family serves as well. I make sure every fallen member's family gets that."