WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – The Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Honor Guard ended 2021 with more than a million miles traveled, a milestone never reached before, while participating in nearly 4,300 funeral ceremonies and over 160 color postings.
“It’s significant because, as far as we can tell, no other Honor Guard in the Air Force has ever done it before,” said Master Sgt. Gregory Linker, the WPAFB Honor Guard superintendent. “I went back at least 20 years in our history, and we’ve never come close — and we are consistently the top-ranked base for most details completed.”
There have been many COVID-19-related challenges in the past two years, but the Honor Guard was able to meet all and complete their missions.
“In 2020, we had restrictions on the radius that the Honor Guard at Wright-Patterson was able to go out to, but in 2021, we mitigated a lot of things,” Linker said.
The Honor Guard added its own personal protocols, as well as safety precautions within the unit, such as wearing masks and conducting ceremonies with a minimum amount of Airmen on each detail.
“We’ve been wide open this entire last year, and COVID did not slow us down much at all,” he said. “We did a quarter-million more (miles) this past year than our average, which is a huge amount.
“Another big piece of that is we did this all during COVID, so while people are scaling back doing less, we are pushing forward and doing quite a bit more than what we normally do through these times.”
In previous years, the Honor Guard traveled about 750,000 miles. In 2021, the number of funeral ceremonies performed also increased from an average of 3,600.
The WPAFB Honor Guard is the Air Force’s largest and most tasked. It is made up of 30 augmentees who rotate every six months, six permanent Air Force Installation Honor Guard Program managers from the 88th Force Support Squadron, five full-time reservists and 220 Guard members spread across 12 installations. The detachment’s area of responsibility is Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky and a small part of Pennsylvania.
“Our Guard and Reserve members of the WPAFB Honor Guard provided support on 37 percent of Honor Guard taskings in 2021, which is up from 30 percent,” Linker said.
Nearly 60% of the base’s Honor Guard details were out of state, with 19 events being nationally televised. Ohio appearances included Columbus Crew, FC Cincinnati, Cincinnati Reds and Bengals games.
“We’ve done pretty much every professional sports team around here,” Linker said.
The Honor Guard once provided an honor cordon for then-Vice President Mike Pence with 12-hour notice, something it had never done before, he added.
On Jan. 15, 2021, the WPAFB Honor Guard took part in its most high-profile event, providing final honors for Retired Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager during his “Celebration of Life” service at the Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center in West Virginia. Yeager was an Air Force flying ace and test pilot who became the first in history to exceed the speed of sound in level flight in 1947.
“Being in the Honor Guard has been one of the greatest experiences of my Air Force career,” said Master Sgt. Joshua Lane, NCO in charge of the unit. “It is immeasurably humbling to honor the men, women and their families who fought, bled and died for our nation and for my right to serve this country. It is also one of the greatest opportunities to represent the Air Force to the American public and the world.
“The Honor Guard is sometimes the first and last encounter that families will ever have with the military. It is our job as ceremonial guardsmen to ensure we carry on the legacy, promote the mission, protect the standards, perfect the Air Force image and preserve our great heritage.”