News: 2/24 supports Chicago’s community with funeral and color guard duties
Story by Cpl. Marcin Platek
CHICAGO - For a lone Marine unit in a large U.S. city, the responsibility to uphold the Marine Corps name weighs heavily.
In the third largest city in the country, the battalion bearing the title “Chicago’s Own,” undertakes the duty of supporting the local community with a number of community services.
“Community relations efforts are huge here in Chicago as it is a really military friendly town, so it is very important for us to be out here,” said Sgt. Erik M. Dortch, a legal services specialist with 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division.
The task of rendering military support to the Chicagoland area can prove to be complicated as the region has a population of more than five-million people, said Staff Sgt. Michael S. Keyser, the data chief with 2/24. The battalion provides support ranging from static displays and demonstrations, marching in parades, helping out with children’s events, to color guards and rendering final honors at funerals.
“Our biggest mission here for the community is the funerals,” said Keyser. Providing for funerals of active-duty, Reserve and veteran Marines alike proves to be critical for the communities, he said.
According to Keyser, 2/24 has been averaging 350 funerals per year. So far this year, the battalion has covered 254 funerals. Additionally, “Chicago’s Own” provided the second-highest number of funeral services in the nation last year, giving proper burial honors to 311 fallen Marines.
Supporting this mission has proven to be a challenge as the battalion’s staff consists of only 21 Marines, said Keyser.
To man a funeral detail, it usually takes four Marines: one Marine to play the bugle, two flag folders and a staff non-commissioned officer to present the flag to the family. If requested, some funerals might require eight more Marines for the rifle squad, which fires a 21-gun salute as the deceased is laid to rest.
“Our biggest and most important duty is when we have an active-duty Marine go down either by being [killed in action] or by accident in-country,” said Keyser. “We have upwards of 10-15 of these per year.”
The full-honor funeral detail can take up to three days to execute as the Marines will receive the remains at the local airport, escort it to the funeral home and then the cemetery.
“That is our biggest number one concern- the funeral honors,” said Keyser. “It will always overtake the precedence of anything else.”
Keyser said the staff is assigned by volunteer basis first and availability second. When there is no staff available or when there is more than one funeral in a day, Keyser has a reach-back capability.
“I have a list of Reserve Marines who volunteer to come out and do funeral support in addition to their drill weekends,” he said. “It lets them pay back their community, receive extra money on their paycheck and help their careers.”
Marines can volunteer for funeral honors duty, which can be tracked in the Marine Corps’ administrative systems and counts towards their drill hours and paycheck. Any Marine can volunteer for this service, from a Reserve Marine who drills every weekend to an Individual Ready Reserve Marine who musters once a year.
The extra assistance helps augment the small staff of Marines at 2/24 and ensures the myriads of other tasks assigned to the unit are accomplished.
Some other major tasks include color guard duty, which Dortch described as being a representation of the Marine Corps.
“Our main mission is to render honors to the flag,” he said. “We represent the Marine Corps for any events that are requested of us.”
A color guard detail carries the American flag and Marine Corps colors prior to public events so audiences can give their respects to the national ensign. Most of the time, the flags are accompanied by the playing of the national anthem.
“We do more than a 100 events per year,” said Keyser. “Some of them are sporting events like Bulls games and Cubs games. Events like these represent 2/24 in a big way because we are the only duty station here in Chicago so everyone knows about us and knows the great things that we are doing.”
The battalion’s primary mission is to provide trained combat personnel to augment and reinforce the active component in times of war, national emergency and at other times as national security requires. However, 2/24 and other Reserve units across the country provide these community services to remind the people one thing.
“They have their military that supports them,” said Dortch.