By Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne
Virginia National Guard
SANDSTON, Va. (2/20/13) — The Virginia Army National Guard Funeral Honors Program performed at its 10,000th military funeral on Feb. 13. The program, started in January 2007, provides funeral details not just to National Guard Soldiers but to veterans of all branches of the military across the state.
“I am extremely proud of the great work by the members of the Virginia National Guard Funeral Honors Team and how well they represent the Virginia National Guard,” said Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the adjutant general of Virginia. “I know from talking to them how proud they are to be a part of honoring the men and women who served before them. I think there is some comfort to the families to know that our Funeral Honors Team will help make sure their loved ones will be laid to rest in a highly respectful and professional manner that pays tribute to their great service to our country.”
The program has grown considerably over the past six years. In fiscal year 2007, it provided 157 funerals. It now averages 230 funerals a month, according to Bob Huffman, the director of the program and retired state command sergeant major of the Virginia National Guard. In January 2013 the program had its busiest month ever, providing services at 284 funerals, which more than 14,000 people attended.
“Most of our requests come from funeral homes who, once they work with us on a veteran’s funeral, ask to work with us again,” Huffman said.
The Virginia Guard Funeral Honors Program also gets great support from the three state veterans cemeteries in Amelia, Dublin and Suffolk, he said.
In addition, they work with many veteran service organizations and have established relationships with them.
“That’s a really good partnership,” he said. “Our guys really enjoy being around them and I think they really enjoy being around our guys too.”
The Army National Guard now performs 85% of Army funerals across the country and that doesn’t appear to be decreasing any time soon, according to Huffman.
“We’re still at a growing stage,” he said. “We average 230 ceremonies a month and we still only cover about two-thirds of the state.”
The program recently established a new office in Woodstock, which will cover the Shenandoah Valley area and increase their numbers in that part of the state. They are also beginning to see more requests from the Northern Virginia area. The Northern Virginia team has recently doubled the number of funerals it performs each month, from 30 to 60.
“They now perform all the basic Army funerals at Quantico,” Huffman said. “That’s three to four funerals a day.”
Although there are 104 traditional Guard Soldiers serving in the program and 12 Soldiers on temporary orders, Huffman and his team are always looking for additional Soldiers to serve in the program.
“They’re highly dedicated and professional,” Huffman said of the Soldiers in the program. “They put a lot of hard work into what they do. But we still need about 60 more Soldiers in order to meet our need.”
All members must meet Army height and weight standards and must have passed the Army Physical Fitness Test. New members are then trained by certified instructors who have been to the Military Funeral Honors Course at the National Guard Professional Education Center in Little Rock, Ark.
For more information on the Virginia Army National Guard Funeral Honors Program or for Soldiers interested in joining the team, please contact Huffman at 804-722-8902 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.