VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. –
Army National Guard Soldiers from Virginia and North Carolina learned the finer points of rendering honors to military veterans during Level 1 funeral honors training Dec. 11-15, 2023, at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Hosted by the Virginia National Guard Funeral Honors Program, the five-day course prepares Soldiers to conduct professional military funeral honors in accordance with service tradition. Four Virginia National Guard Soldiers and two N.C. National Guard Soldiers were led by five trainers, two from Virginia and two from North Carolina.
“The training is a challenge both physically and mentally,” said Spc. Gabriel Joines, a Virginia Guard Soldier who is assigned to the Cedar Bluff-based 1033rd Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group. “Physically you’re not used to using a lot of these muscle groups. And the mental part is tough because you’re trying to get it right every single time. You need to be perfect for that family because they are in a lot of pain.”
Joines knows because he’s been on the other side. He saw a funeral honors team perform at a funeral for a family member.
“I was really impressed by them and I thought it was something honorable to do and would be good for my future,” he explained.
Sgt. Brooke Hullings of Greensboro, North Carolina, hasn’t been on the other side of a service but she realized how important the mission would be.
A North Carolina National Guard Soldier assigned to the 882nd Engineer Company, 105th Engineer Battalion, 130th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Hullings received a message from her twin sister, who is also in the NC Guard, who saw a flyer about the program.
“This is something a lot of people can’t do but I think I can totally do and they need the help,” she said she thought to herself. "That was in March. I started full time with the program in June.”
Hullings has already been performing ceremonies but the Level 1 training was important because it provided her with training for services she often doesn’t get to perform, such as rendering full honors.
“In my region we don’t do full honors because we don’t always have the personnel,” she explained. “So learning more about performing full honors has been huge for me.”
The hardest part of training and performing ceremonies is to not get into your own head, she explained.
“You’re going over every single motion and then you’re getting frustrated,” Hullings said. “The muscles and the strain on them, trying to hold everything the proper way. You have to keep that constant posture the whole time.”
There’s a reason the Soldiers need to keep their posture for the families.
“I think the key is to keep your composure so you don’t take away from what they’re experiencing,” she said. “If you perform flawlessly and without any mistakes, they’re going to see it as a beautiful thing.”
Begun in January 2007, the Virginia National Guard Military Funeral Honors Program 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.
They have performed more than 26,000 funeral services throughout the Commonwealth and average 200 services each month.
The Virginia National Guard Military Funeral Honors conducts a 40-hour, Level 1 training course once a quarter throughout the fiscal year with Soldier trainers from Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina. Virginia also annually hosts the Level 2 National Training Course and the Level 3 National Recertification Course with Army National Guard Soldiers from around the country.
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.