VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. –
Ten National Guard Soldiers from seven states participated in Military Funeral Honors Level 2 training Feb. 26- March 11, 2023, at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Soldiers from Alabama, California, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, South Carolina and Virginia participated in the two-week course, hosted by the Virginia Army National Guard Funeral Honors Program.
The Virginia program regularly hosts regional and nationwide training at SMR and the hope is to make the location a permanent regional training center for the National Guard funeral honors program, according to retired Sgt. Maj. Ronald Posey, state coordinator for the Virginia Army National Guard Funeral Honors Program.
“Not only would it increase the number of trainings we host but it would increase our relationships with other states,” Posey said. “It would also put Virginia in the limelight, enhance our exposure and hopefully increase recruiting efforts to bring Soldiers into the program.”
One reason for that possibility is the facilities at SMR and the support the program receives there.
“We volunteer to host a lot of the national courses already because we have everything they need here,” Cain explained. “The SMR staff is great and it’s a great facility for training. They’re always working with us and if we have any issues, they’re right there helping us out. We definitely wouldn’t be able to function without their support.”
The Virginia Army National Guard Funeral Honors Program started in January 2007 and is composed of four 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.
Posey, who has served as state coordinator since 2019, said there are currently 42 active traditional Soldiers in the program as well as 13 Soldiers on Active Duty Operational Support orders. These Soldiers average 200 missions a month throughout the state. In total the program averages 2,500 missions a year, including some in North Carolina and Tennessee.
“They’ll help us out with missions and we’ll help them,” Posey explained. “We have a great relationship with our bordering states.”
Earlier this year, Soldiers in the program performed 18 missions in one day. It’s a grueling tempo but they still can’t get to every service where they are requested.
“One of the things people need to understand is that the basis of what we do is 24/7 and there’s no schedule,” Posey said. “The phone rings Sunday through Sunday at any hours of the day.”
“The team has built great relationships with funeral homes, casualty assistance centers, and VSOs [Veteran Service Organizations] since the program started in 2007,” Posey said. “They’ll call us directly for services.”
In addition, they are seeing more veterans doing preplanning for their service so they’re calling the program now trying to get information for when they pass.
“The most disheartening aspect of this is when we don’t have the resources to perform a service because we’re all tapped out,” he explained. “But we don’t want just any Soldier in this program. We want the best of the best because this is the last true honors to these veterans. Just because Soldiers are interested doesn’t mean they get into the program.”
This is why proper training is so important.
There are three levels of training in the military funeral honors program. Level 1 is the foundation and teaches Soldiers how to perform the services. Virginia conducts a 40-hour, Level 1 training course several times a year.
Level 2 covers instructing and how to become more of a trainer.
Level 3 is used as a recertification and is required every three years. It also ensures each state is maintaining the national standard.
The next Level 1 course is scheduled for April at SMR. Interested Virginia Guard Soldiers are encouraged to 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.
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.