Guardians of the Air Force legacy

  • Published
  • By Rebecca R. Imwalle
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
A select group of Airmen on Ellsworth carries the responsibility of epitomizing the Air Force's standards, image and heritage.

They are the members of the Ellsworth Honor Guard, an elite group responsible for conducting ceremonies as a part of funerals for Airmen, retirements, weddings and other special events.

Staff Sgt. Ismael Rodriguez, 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron sortie support shift supervisor, helped build Ellsworth's Honor Guard from the ground up, and has been in the Honor Guard since 2001.

"Our job is to give back to those who served before us," said Rodriguez, one of the 35 Airmen currently serving on the Ellsworth Honor Guard. "We enforce traditions and standards a lot of Airmen may have forgotten or aren't familiar with."

The men and women who make up the Ellsworth Honor Guard carry the standard of representing every Airman--past and present--and pride themselves on the vital role they play.

"I take pride in being able to provide families with one last military honor during funerals," said Senior Airman Christian Bovill, 28th Maintenance Squadron Non-Destructive Inspection laboratory technician, is one of the base's Honor Guard trainers, and has been in the program for more than eight months. "It is important to show what the military stands for."

A key part of the precision required to conduct ceremonies stems from the vast amount of training the team does routinely.

Senior Airman Bradley Sutter, 28th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels distribution technician, who is a flight lead and a trainer for Ellsworth's Honor guard, said he enjoys training new Airmen because they're the future of the Air Force.

"Initial honor guard training is challenging," said Rodriguez. "We teach trainees a lot in four days and expect them to execute what they've learned on the fifth day during their final test."

Rodriguez explained that while training can be grueling and stressful at times, it allows Airmen an opportunity to break out of their shell and do things that they never thought were possible.

"Everyone learns differently," Sutter said. "Sometimes the material we teach won't stick, so we have to figure out how to provide students with instruction in a different way."

Staff Sgt. Bobby Pantfoeder, 28th Logistics Readiness Squadron petroleum, oil and lubricants technician, has been in the Honor Guard for two and a half years and is the NCO in charge of the Ellsworth Honor Guard program.

"Just because Airmen graduate from initial training doesn't mean they're done learning," said Pantfoeder. "Airmen can expect a lot of on-the-job training while they're on their three-month rotation. There are a lot of ceremonies to cover and a lot of stressful moments to deal with."

Rodriguez said that many things can occur during ceremonies that can range from dealing with inclement weather to traveling long distances and standing at attention for hours on end.

"Funerals are very important," Rodriguez said. "Handing the flag to the next of kin and keeping military bearing can be very overwhelming, but is also very humbling. Oftentimes the last contact these people have with the military is with a member of the honor guard."

Rodriguez added that being a member of the Ellsworth Honor Guard has been a life-changing experience.

"I encourage everyone to experience being a member of the honor guard at least once in their life," said Rodriguez. "Even if they just come out and see a training class, they will learn a lot about what we do."

For more information on how to join the base Honor Guard, call Pantfoeder at (605) 385-1186.