News: Selfless service: a 24-hour duty
Story by Sgt. Lauren Twigg
PHOENIX - In the sting of a cold winter morning, a group of soldiers clad in dark blue dress uniforms prepare to present honor services for the soldier who was killed in combat. They shuffle through the fresh, powdery snow to where the funeral was to take place.
This particular funeral was being held on Christmas Day. They chose to be there on this day to honor a fallen comrade and provide services for the family of the fallen, despite being separated from their own families – both Christmas Eve and Day.
Each of the soldiers from the five-man team volunteered for the service, which would require them to travel up to Flagstaff the night before, on Christmas Eve, and stay overnight for the Christmas morning funeral service.
The elite group, all members of the Arizona Army National Guard Funeral Honors Guard, was recently recognized by receiving a coin from the assistant adjutant general for providing selfless service on Christmas morning to a fallen active duty soldier.
“The five members of the Honors Team I coined, who volunteered for funeral duty on such a significant holiday, and knowing it would take them away from their loved ones, represent the best of the best the AZARNG and U.S. Army have to offer,” said Brig. Gen. Alberto Gonzalez, the assistant adjutant general for the Arizona Army National Guard. “I simply wanted to express for myself and on behalf of this great organization and the affected families, how much we appreciate what they do.”
“It was a surprise and it felt good to be recognized,” said Spc. Michael Rasmussen, who has been a member of the team for more than two years. “We had enough people who volunteered to provide the services on that day, so we went.”
For many, taking time from family on a significant holiday may be a difficult commitment however, for the members of the Honors Guard, it is a duty they accept.
“My wife was a little upset with me, but we were home by that afternoon to spend the rest of the day with our families,” Rasmussen said. “I chose to sign up for this duty and I want to provide soldiers the honor they deserve, whether it’s a regular workday or on Christmas Day - it makes no difference to me.”
The Honors Team represents the Arizona National Guard in ceremonial functions, to include rendering military funeral honors, in accordance with service tradition, and religious custom, and to all eligible veterans.