By Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen, 108th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 17, 2016
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst -- And the recipient of the 87th Air Base Wing Honor Guard Member of the Year for January 2015 to December 2015 award goes to...
Staff Sgt. Brianna M. Eason.
As a traditional Guardsman, Eason is an orderly room clerk with the New Jersey Air National Guard's 108th Wing Maintenance Operations Flight.
But during the week, Eason serves as the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of training for the 87th ABW Honor Guard.
The award is all the more impressive because the 87th Honor Guard is the Air Force's busiest honor guard rendering military funeral honors to veterans residing in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
"We have been AMCs' (Air Mobility Command's) honor guard of the year for 2011, 2012 and 2013," said Eason.
The honor guard is comprised of approximately 30 Airmen who are rotated on a quarterly basis. This period is referred to as a rotation. Members come from all the Air Force units - active duty, Guard and Reserve - at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
This means that during the year there are 120 to 140 members who are eligible to be nominated and go before the awards board.
Eason was the third quarter award winner, so she qualified for the annual board.
"Everyone I went up against were all worthy nominees, so it was humbling," said Eason.
Eason joined the honor guard in January 2012. Once Eason completed her initial training, her rotation was extended and she was offered a position in September 2012 as an instructor to keep up the continuity of training.
"Subject matter experts are what I strive for as a trainer - where everyone understands what their responsibility is and why it is that way," said Eason.
Because of her success as an instructor, her three-year tour has been extended a year.
"My biggest thing is trying to train a replacement," said Eason. "It's basically knowing the manual, having the experience and making sure that during each rotation continuity isn't lost."
That experience covers a lot of ground.
The Honor Guard is divided into five elements, training flight, funeral detail, firing party, colors and other details.
The training flight runs the ten-day basic technical training course for all newly assigned members to the Base Honor Guard.
"As a trainer, the most difficult task is making sure every member feels very comfortable, as everyone learns differently," said Eason. "So I make sure that that when people go out there, they've got plenty of training and they are certified."
That initial training covers presenting colors, flag folding, marching, formations, commands and rifle handling. This is done by repetition creating muscle memory making the movements second nature.
"By the end of training, 99.9 percent of the individuals want to be extended," said Eason. "It reminds people why they joined the Air Force."
The funeral detail literally performs the heavy lift portion of the honor guard. The body bearers carry the casket, which generally weighs between 450 to 600 pounds, to the gravesite while keeping the casket perfectly level and without showing any visible sign of strain.
"We have to have superb military bearing, sharp crisp and motionless, that is part of our charge," said Eason.
Once they reach the grave-site, they continue by holding the flag tight and level while at rigid attention until the service is complete.
The firing party, which is comprised of either a three or seven-person team, performs the firing of three volleys during the funeral service.
The color guard flight presents the colors during Air Force specific events and with other services' honor guards for joint service missions.
"Some events are in front of thousands of people, sometimes on national television," said Eason. "You are representing so much more than just yourself, your base, your branch; it's the military as a whole."
Other details include POW/MIA table ceremony, retirement ceremonies, dignitary arrivals, parades, and saber and rifle cordons.
"It gives us an opportunity each every time we put that uniform on to let people know what we're about," said Eason.
Funerals though are the biggest part of what the honor guard does.
"We cover 25-30 funerals a week, more than 120 a month, annually about 1,700," said Eason.
And when it comes to funerals, there are no do overs.
"I train hard because this may be the first or the last image they have of the Air Force. We make sure it's done right."
Initially, the toughest part of funeral service for an honor guard member is presenting the flag to the family and reciting the next-of-kin speech.
"A lot of people say I could never do honor guard because I couldn't get through that speech, but you'd be surprised what you can accomplish once you apply yourself and realize it's not about you, it's about what you are doing for this family."
"For me every time I say 'for a loved one's honorable and faithful service' I always remember that this was somebody's father or child, mother, son, daughter, grandchild, or cousin."
"As members of the honor guard, its way bigger than you," said Eason. "There is no other job like it."