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Elite training unit visits Patrick

PATRICK AFB, Fla. -- Twenty-five students representing seven Air Force Honor Guard units honed their skills this week at Patrick AFB due to training by an elite team.

The three-man instructor team from the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard, headquartered at Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C., arrived at Patrick Aug. 19 for the nine-day course in proper honor guard procedures.

"The training provided by the team of instructors is critical in ensuring all base honor guards in the Air Force are standardized in performing military funeral honors," said Master Sgt. James Hawkins, superintendent of the Patrick Honor Guard.

Tech. Sgt. Toby Farr, team chief, was the pallbearing instructor, and was previously a member of Patrick's Honor Guard before receiving his assignment to the Bolling unit. "It's neat to come back to where I started," said Sergeant Farr, "To see some faces of people I remember and to get to train them again."

"By [Sergeant Farr] being able to come back as team chief for one of the elements, that's really special," said Sergeant Hawkins.

There are three main elements of funeral honors protocol: pallbearing, firing party and color. The instructors each have had extensive experience in one of these areas. Each element presents its own unique challenges.

"With a firing party, there are a number of different steps and each step is built upon the previous one," said Sergeant Hawkins. "It takes a while to learn all the steps to make the movement look nice and sharp."

The days began at 7 a.m. and continued to the end of the duty day, with only a break for lunch. The students were broken into three groups to study and practice the three elements of honors. The course culminated in a mock funeral, which served as a final exam.

The students in this course weren't newcomers, but seasoned veterans of the honor guard. "The course is really geared around the folks who are identified by their bases as the primary trainers of their honor guard programs," said Sergeant Hawkins. The training is therefore meant as a refresher course to hone the skills of the students, he continued.

"The biggest challenge for these members since they all pretty much know the movements would be learning how to overcome bad habits ... to change things they've gotten used to doing that are incorrect," said Sergeant Hawkins.

The commander and superintendent of the Air Force Honor Guard, Lt. Col. Anthony Taylor and Master Sgt. Jon Wedel respectively, arrived at Patrick Monday to observe the final test and spoke at the graduation.