An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Sheppard Honor Guard serves with dignity, professionalism at military ceremonies

  • Published
  • By Julie Svoboda
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

Two Airmen solemnly practice folding an American flag in a room with floor-to-ceiling mirrors, their carefully choreographed motions bringing military precision to the dance studio-like setting. But the flag-draped caskets and fully-staged POW/MIA table reveal the true reason for the multiple angles of view. For members of the Sheppard Air Force Base Honor Guard, every movement has a purpose – to honor the service members who came before them.

According to Tech Sgt. Alexander Matej, the Honor Guard Program manager, the Sheppard Honor Guard covers 23 counties in Texas and Oklahoma and averages 30 funerals per month and 15 additional details, such as colors for retirements, parades, and Change of Command ceremonies.

Matej explained that the Honor Guard trains constantly for every type of engagement. He points out the caskets, which rest on a simulated hearse.

“This has all the same pieces that hold the casket in and secures it in the hearse,” Matej said. “We’ll practice taking it out and putting on the piece that sits over the grave. We have all the pieces here to practice the different types of funerals.”

Matej watches seasoned Honor Guard members practice marching in sync with the newest member, who has been there for three days, stopping to correct missteps.

“We also practice rifle movements and sword cordons,” he said.

Members of the Honor Guard are permanent personnel from squadrons on Sheppard.  Due to the importance of the mission and dedication required, Matej ensures potential members have the qualities it takes to become a successful part of the team.

“We try to get the people who are motivated and you know, top tier from their squadrons because this is such a serious thing that we do for people,” he said. “We want people to come here that are motivated and we have to be looking at their enlisted performance report, which is where they get their awards. We look at all those things to make sure that they're going to be a good fit.”

Perhaps most importantly, Matej wants people who want to be there. To foster this, he plans activities meant to boost morale and provide breaks from what are often somber engagements.

“We train together and we also try to plan a flight breakfast every month, and have an outing where we go and we play volleyball or some kind of a sports event and then at the end of the month, we'll have a barbecue or something like that,” he said. “We try to keep it fun because it is a lot of gloom around here sometimes.  It can get you down if you're working long hours. Driving two and a half hours from here or for a 15 minute funeral, and then driving two and a half hours back can be a little draining.”

For Tech Sgt. Mark Lopez, his two tours in Honor Guard fulfilled a long-term goal. He said he tried to join Honor Guard at earlier points in his career but the opportunity eluded him until he was an instructor at Sheppard. He found his time at Honor Guard rewarding for multiple reasons, including working with people outside his career field.

“There’s an unseen side to it,” Lopez said. “I've learned here because I get to work with a lot of people that aren't maintenance, so I have folks from finance, some people from air traffic control.”

Lopez described the experience of posting colors for a wounded warrior gala. In addition to being met with thunderous applause, the organizers of the event asked the Honor Guard to return the next year to participate in some of the activities. They also met a Medal of Honor recipient.

“I never would have had this opportunity if I hadn’t been a part of this” he said.

Matej sees Honor Guard as a way to develop Airmen of character.

“The biggest thing about Honor Guard to me is the fact that most of the time, we are the families’ only experience with military,” he said “When we do these funerals, it is extremely important that we portray a good image not only for the Air Force, but for the Department of Defense. The Airmen that come to Honor Guard sometimes are not excited about the tasks that we do, but after a few of their first funerals and seeing the gratitude that most families have, they leave here with a sense of pride for the Air Force, and it makes them a better Airman.”