Officers move a casket to the grave site during the simulated funeral. Photo Mike Deak
Officer Eric Ellison of Orange, Texas, salutes during gravesite services at the conclusion of honor guard camp. Photo by Mike Deak
Goshen Police Officer Kevin “Hollywood” Koontz gives instruction on flag folding at the gravesite during honor guard camp.Photo Jeff Schrock
FEATURED IN TRAINING
The Goshen (Ind.) Police Department formed its honor guard team in January 1999. This was one month after the death of Officer Thomas Goodwin, the only Goshen officer to die in the line of duty in the department’s history. In 2003, the team decided to host a basic honor guard school open to all police officers and firefighters.
To date, nearly 800 police officers and firefighters have gone through the camp. An additional 2,000 have been trained through a company founded by Lt. Randy Kantner, DFL Honor Guard Training, to provide training to agencies unable to send officers to camp.
My Time at Camp
In April 2010, I was asked to attend camp as a participant. There were only 17 officers attending, the smallest ever hosted. My fellow campers were firefighters and police officers from all over the country.
“For those who went before, that’s what you should be thinking about when you put on that uniform,” Kantner said. “You are honor guard. Honor guard comes from the heart. You can’t have any draftees. There has to be a reason to do this. You have to be driven.”
Held at the Elkhart County Fairgrounds, camp is, in a word, intense. It’s four days of training on the seven-point manual of arms, color guard, casket movement, casket watch, flag folding and more. The last day of camp is graduation, which simulates a funeral.
We marched from the commerical buildings across the fairgrounds to the classroom building. By the middle of the first day, we were marching with weapons—rifles for police officers, ceremonial axes or pike poles for the firefighters. Later in the week, we were marching in squadrons, carrying either a flag or weapon.
“You want people who are motivated,” Kantner stresses. “The best we can do is the least we can do. Those we’re honoring have given their all. Temper the grief with awe. This isn’t show business. Survivors during the week before the funeral are in a state of shock. Every now and then when the honor guard comes by, it takes them out of the fog. This is a team sport.”
At 5 feet, 6 inches tall, I was the shortest person in camp—and the only female. Marching proved to be hard, and I would often fall out of step. Officer Dave Pena, one of the instructors, pointed out that I would have to take longer steps to keep pace with the taller guys.
During a break on Wednesday, Officer Jeff Schrock, an instructor and friend of mine, asked if I’ve ever taken professsional dance lessons. “Not really,” I said. “Well, I took ballet for a few years. Why?”
“Because when you turn, you pirouette. It’s pretty, but it’s not right,” he says.
Great. I thought marching was hard.
We learn casket movement for police officers and firefighters. I always thought, a lift or crane is used to elevate the casket to the fire engine during a firefighters’ funeral. Nope. Eight pall bearers do a standing bench press, keeping the casket level the entire time.
Question: If the casket is extra wide, is anything done differently? Kantner says no, but warns the flag barely drapes the casket, which would cause a problem as it’s moved. The flag must remain centered on the casket and must never touch the ground.
I’ve quickly realized there’s no way for an agency to put together an honor guard team after experiencing a line-of-duty death. The small details are just as important as the big ones.
An honor guard team needs people behind the scenes covering all the details, from routing traffic for the procession, ensuring the weapons are in working order and the team is fed.
Kantner stresses the team is only as strong as its weakest member. This can be stressful to realize as you prepare for the honor guard. But it also serves to heighten your awareness and improve performance. With practice, even I was able to get it right.
For more information about the Goshen Police Department’s Honor Guard Camp, call Lt. Kantner at 574/533-8661 or visit www.honorguardtraining.com.