by Airman 1st Class Zachary Kee
35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
7/22/2013 - MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- A
handful of service members here take on a task few will attempt in
their lifetime. It requires countless hours of practice no one sees, and
if they don't execute perfectly when it's show time, there's no hiding
They are a group of service members who have volunteered to display a
higher standard of discipline and dedication and to represent the 35th
Fighter Wing on and off base; they are the Misawa Honor Guard.
"It's great - I love doing this," said Airman 1st Class Juan Hernandez,
Misawa Honor Guard member. "We have to be sharper than all other Airmen
and we represent the entire Air Force."
Hernandez is one of about 25 members that make up the Misawa Honor
Guard, a group that thrives on upholding military tradition and
heritage, all the while knowing all eyes are on them. Like Hernandez, a
fellow guardsman Airman 1st Class David Anderson says the heightened
expectation brings out the best in them.
"It makes us push that much harder to do a good job and provide the best
service we can for details and ceremonies," said Anderson.
Being at the heart of a ceremony doesn't make these Airmen celebrities.
In fact, they see it just the opposite. They're not there to get the
attention - they're out to give it.
"By participating in these ceremonies we get to give back to the public
and let them see what we do first-hand," said Master Sgt. Nicholas
Valdez, Misawa Honor Guard superintendent. "We get to take part in
community events such as Tops in Blue, Misawa Boys Scouts and American
The term perfection is often used as a goal many people aim to achieve. In the Honor Guard, it's the standard.
"We are always striving for perfection," said 1st Lt. Matthew de
Bernardo, Misawa Honor Guard officer in-charge. "The details we do, no
matter how many times we do them we are always trying to correct a
Valdez echoed the lieutenant's thoughts and said Honor Guard members are held to a higher standard and are constantly improving.
"We are going above and beyond and we hope that carries over to their
daily jobs and they become even more productive military members," he
The Misawa Honor Guard is a team that is known for professionalism and
standards of conduct. What's more impressive is they all chose to be
here - it's purely a volunteer duty.
"Honor Guard here is an additional duty where service members are
excused by their work sections to come in and perform their duties,"
said de Bernardo. "The majority of the time they spend practicing is on
their own free time."
To become a member of the Honor Guard team, trainees -- as they are
called before officially being a team member -- must go through an
"The training we go through here goes through different standing manuals
that come from 'big' Air Force Honor Guard that teaches facing
movements that are different from any commissioning program or training
you may have been through," said de Bernardo.
Throughout this eight-week process trainees learn how to do the facing
movements, the importance of dress and appearance, what it's like to be
on a team, and the different aspects to a colors team detail such as
rifle movements and posting of the colors.
"When it is the end of the eight weeks we run through a colors team
detail one last time and we have a final evaluation," said de Bernardo.
Once members of the Honor Guard pass their final evaluation, they are
given their ceremonial uniform which they wear to every detail they
perform - an accomplishment some consider a personal graduation of
"The first time I got into my ceremonial uniform and performed my first
detail with it on was one of the proudest moments I've ever had," said
Hernandez. "I knew I was representing the Air Force and it felt great."
Historically, the Honor Guard program primarily operates to provide a
formal military presence to honor fallen service members at funerals.
While this tradition remains true across the service, Misawa's unique
location usually steers this team in a different direction.
De Bernardo said here they focus on colors team details. Although they
may have a different focus, he says they are still the same Honor Guard
"It requires the same professionalism, the same standards and the same
sense of duty (required to support funerals)," he said. "This gives us
an opportunity to focus primarily on the details we perform here."
Another unique quality of the Misawa Honor Guard, that many bases in the
military don't have, is three branches working side-by-side. Airmen,
Soldiers and Sailors work together to perform the various ceremonies
"It's a true team," said de Bernardo. "I think it really adds something
to the dynamic of the team and adds to the experience as member of the
Some might not have a definitive answer of what serving in the military
means, but members of the Honor Guard answer without hesitation.
"We are part of the best military in the world," said de Bernardo.
"Representing it in some of the most sacred and dignified ceremonies and
traditions is what being an ambassador to the military is all about. I
believe it is our duty to take the word honor and represent how amazing
and awe-inspiring it is to be a part of."