VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. –
The Virginia National Guard Funeral Honors Program hosted Level 1 funeral honors training for nine National Guard Soldiers from four states June 27 to July 1, 2022, at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Va. Soldiers from Maryland, North Carolina and Ohio joined Virginia Soldiers for the five-day course, which prepares Soldiers to conduct professional military funeral honors in accordance with service tradition.
“It feels great knowing that one day someone will be doing this for me,” said Spc. Raativ Rahman, a Virginia National Guard Soldier assigned to the Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band. “I’m honored to be a part of it.”
Rahman has been assisting with the program for about a year and has performed a handful of funerals. But the formal training program provides insight and guidance into exactly how and why the services are performed a certain way.
“Coming here you learn why you do things a certain way,” he said. “Everything builds upon something else.”
Sgt. Byme Taylor, a Maryland National Guard Soldier assigned to the 175th Infantry Regiment, has already performed more than 1,000 services for the Maryland National Guard Funeral Honors Program but, because of COVID-19, was unable to attend the Level 1 training sooner. As a result, he has found himself assisting the instructors with some of the newer Soldiers.
“Sometimes Soldiers are more receptive to a peer telling you what to do and it makes it easier to learn from them,” he explained.
After graduating from Towson University, Taylor worked in the civilian world for a while before deciding he needed a break and volunteered for the Funeral Honors program.
“I ended up loving it and seeing the faces on the family after the services,” he said. “After services they come to us and thank us and tell us they are grateful for us. I really love that feeling.”
Drill and ceremony and physical fitness are two of the primary topics covered in Level 1 training.
“Attention to detail is so important,” Rahman said. “You want to look crisp. It carries over to other parts. Even in the band, you are what people see and hear.”
Soldiers in the course quickly learned why physical fitness is so vital to the program and performing ceremonies successfully.
“I’ve done up to four services a day and you have to stand there and you have to be mentally and physically strong,” Taylor said. “You have to stay focused and do everything properly, even if you’re hurting, because at the end of the day the service is not for you. You’re there to honor that veteran and their family and you just have to power through.”
Taylor pointed out that some families record the service.
“So it’s a lasting memory,” he said. “We want them to see perfection every time they go back and watch that service.
Begun in January 2007, the Virginia National Guard Military Funeral Honors Program is composed of six teams located throughout the state which provide funeral details, not just to National Guard Soldiers, but to veterans of the active Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard.
The program’s Soldiers have performed more than 28,000 funeral services throughout the Commonwealth and average more than 200 services each month.
There are three levels of training in the military funeral honors program. Level 1 is the foundation and how to perform the services. Level 2 goes into instructing and how to become more of a trainer. Level 3 is used as a recertification for anyone who has an expired Level 2 certification.
The program is always looking for more Soldiers interested in joining the program. There are six teams throughout the commonwealth and each team is led by an area coordinator. Interested Soldiers should contact the area coordinator in their region and, after an interview, the area coordinator will contact the Soldier’s unit to make sure they are in good standing.
“Everyone here is dedicated,” Rahman said. “We’re all here for a reason and I feel like we’re excited to take all of this back to our unit and hopefully get some more people to perform funeral honors.”
For more information on the Virginia National Guard Funeral Honors Program please visit https://va.ng.mil/Programs-Resources/Funeral-Honors/
or call 434-480-2599.