Serving beyond the service
By John Marshall, Base honor guard member
/ Published October 27, 2010
SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany --
When I was nine years old, my uncle took me to see the changing of the guard on a hot and muggy day. It was late summer at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was in awe. I wanted to be just like the soldier I saw marching back and forth so precisely. He was absolute perfection as I saw it, and I wanted to emulate that.
I was part of the base honor guard system off and on while I was posted to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in 1989 and fell in love with the honor guard program. While on active duty, I was associated in some way with a BHG program for about 14 years.
Honor guardsmen can always regale listeners with their stories of funerals and other ceremonies, but what sticks out in my mind are the ceremonies I did with the joint service honor guard that I created and trained for the 50th anniversary of World War II in 1994. I tell BHG trainees now that we who are lucky enough to be overseas are in the business of public relations. We are the ones who look our best, perform a (hopefully) flawless ceremony and then sit down to eat a sandwich with the locals. Who can ask for a greater honor or opportunity?
In 2000, Congress mandated that the services provide military funeral honors for all veterans, which created an immediate increase in the number of ceremonies BHG members performed. Congress also provided BHGs a program to help teams work together with local veteran and fraternal organizations to meet the increase in military funeral honors. The program is called the Authorized Provider Partnership Program, or AP3, for short. You can find out more information through their Web site: http://www.mfhcmdrs.osd.mil/.
In June of 2008, I approached the NCO in charge of the Spangdahlem team and asked if he needed help with training. He was open to the idea, and here I am a year and a half later suited in the ceremonial uniform performing in details when I'm needed to fill a spot. I do not ever replace an active duty member. I fill in as needed, but my main focus is to work on training the other members. I just may be the only BHG member in Europe called "Mr." The work makes my feet and back ache, and I have to iron my ceremonial uniform more than my civilian shirts, but I cannot wait to get back out there and do it again. Rendering honors for those who served or still serve comes from my heart. I spent 20 years in the U.S. Air Force as a reprographics specialist where I ran printing presses for 13 years and then as a unit training manager. I never deployed, and my TDYs were for training and schooling. I was meant to continue my service whether that means serving as a BHG trainer and performing.
I began work with a junior ROTC unit when I was in Air Force JROTC in 1979. I absolutely loved the drill team and wanted to continue working in that area. My days in JROTC encouraged me to write and teach drill to drill teams and marching bands that led me to judge those and other pageantry arts. All of this culminated in my writing three books that directly relate to the military drill world; 'Exhibition Drill for the Military Drill Team,' and two others. I am now working on my fourth and fifth books. They are aimed at helping with the creation of routines and the training and judging of military drill, both JROTC and honor guard. I love working with the high school students, and teams overseas don't have the same opportunities that many stateside have, so I decided to help where and when I can. Both of the Bitburg instructors have been so generous to give their students and me the opportunity to work together.
While my wife is stationed here at Spangdahlem as a nurse in the 52nd Medical Group, I plan to finish writing my books, clean the house, play with our dog, work with the JROTC unit at Bitburg High School and spend some time mentoring and training young Airmen doing what I enjoy the most: rendering honors.