Virginia Guard Funeral Honors Program ‘trains the trainer’ during 2-week course

Nearly a dozen National Guard Soldiers from six states complete a National Military Funeral Honors Instructor Certification Course March 5, 2020, at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The Virginia National Guard Funeral Honors Program hosted the two-week training course, which certifies instructors to teach fellow Soldiers the skills, procedures and standards for providing final respects to military veterans. Graduates of the program are certified to return to their state or territory and lead Level 1 training for their fellow Soldiers. (U.S. National Guard photo by A.J. Coyne)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia — Nearly a dozen National Guard Soldiers from six states participated in a National Military Funeral Honors Instructor Certification Course Feb. 24 to March 6, 2020, at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The Virginia National Guard Funeral Honors Program hosted the two-week training course, which certifies instructors to teach fellow Soldiers the skills, procedures and standards for providing final respects to military veterans.

Graduates of the program return to their state and will now be able to lead Level 1 training for their fellow Soldiers.

Eleven Soldiers from New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Massachusetts and Virginia participated in the training and when they arrived, their level of experience differed.

“Some have done 100 funerals, some have done 1,000,” Staff Sgt. Jason Cain, the senior instructor for the Virginia Program explained. “It depends on their state and their tempo. But this is to tighten them up and make sure they know and keep the standard.”

Nearly a dozen National Guard Soldiers from six states complete a National Military Funeral Honors Instructor Certification Course March 5, 2020, at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The Virginia National Guard Funeral Honors Program hosted the two-week training course, which certifies instructors to teach fellow Soldiers the skills, procedures and standards for providing final respects to military veterans. Graduates of the program are certified to return to their state or territory and lead Level 1 training for their fellow Soldiers. (U.S. National Guard photo by A.J. Coyne)

The certification for Level 2 training lasts for three years. Level 3 training is a recertification course and was last hosted in Virginia in September 2019.

The training is important because it ensures all National Guard Soldiers nationwide who perform funeral honors have the same standards and procedures.

“A Soldier from California should be able to work with a Soldier from Virginia,” Cain said. “There should be no difference. Each state has trainers to make sure each state is maintaining their standard.”

In addition to hosting the training, the Virginia Guard Military Funeral Honors Team continues to perform services throughout the state. There are approximately 14 Soldiers on active duty operational support orders and 30 traditional, M-Day Soldiers assigned to six offices throughout the state- Hampton Roads, Petersburg, Fredericksburg, Roanoke, Shenandoah and Bristol.

They are currently averaging between 185-205 services a month for fallen veterans, Cain said, and in fiscal year 2019 they performed more than 2,400 services to veterans and service members throughout Virginia. 

“I have seen no greater level of dedication than that which is exhibited by the Soldiers assigned to the Funeral Honors Program,” said retired command sergeant major Ron K. Posey, the Virginia state coordinator for military funeral honors. “I am honored to work with them in honoring our veterans and their families.”

“We couldn’t ask for better Soldiers,” Cain said. “They put in countless, endless hours of work for this program.”

In addition to conducting honors, participating in training and conducting training, the Soldiers also need to perform uniform maintenance, weapon maintenance, vehicle maintenance and many other duties. 

“It’s Monday through Sunday,” Cain said. “We don’t get a day off. If we don’t have missions one day, we’re still answering phones and prepping for the next week.

“We stay busy, there’s no doubt about that and the teams just pull together,” he said. “We really look out for each other.”

Nationwide, Army National Guard Soldiers conduct 83% of the Army’s funeral honors mission and 42% of the total Department of Defense mission, according to the Army National Guard. ARNG Honor Guard Soldiers total approximately five million community interactions per year, making the Honor Guard one of the most visible programs in the Army. 

“It’s not for everyone but it’s very rewarding,” Cain said. “Every day I hear from one of the teams about how appreciative families were and how much our presence at the service meant to them.”

For more information about the Virginia National Guard Military Funeral Honors Program, please contact the following offices:

Hampton Roads Area Coordinator: 434-298-8513
Petersburg Area Coordinator: 434-480-7469
Fredericksburg Area Coordinator: 434-294-0904
Roanoke Area Coordinator: 434-264-2933
Shenandoah Area Coordinator: 434-264-6114
Bristol Area Coordinator: 276-634-7485

Photos: Virginia Guard Funeral Honors Program ‘trains the trainer’ during 2-week course