TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – At 4 a.m. on Travis Air Force Base, California, the air is still. There’s a certain eerie calm in the silence of the early morning. What scarce signs of life that are awake at the time are usually animals; stray cats and birds leery of movement and sound. In an instant, the small, timid tremors of a baby wren are shattered by the massive bellowing of drill commands. Shouts of “left flank, right flank, halt,” signal the transition between the night, somber and delicate, and the next day of strenuous training for the Travis Honor Guard.
“Casualness towards training is never an option,” said Master Sgt. Sofia Ronquillio, 349th Force Support Squadron Honor Guard superintendent. “Striving towards perfection is a must and the sharpening of our skills is never complete. Countless hours are spent prior to details and on off time to perfect our craft.”
Training so early in the morning is common for the Honor Guard. Despite whatever loss of sleep is likely among those in the Guard, they always show up and execute their movements with clarity and precision, not because it’s easy, but because that’s what it means to be in the Honor Guard; to be ready, said Ronquillio.
The Travis Honor Guard, which is an aggregate force made up active-duty, reserve and guard personnel, completed a total of 129 details over the course of the month of December last year. Distinguishing this figure, the Honor Guard conducted honors for 105 funerals and presented colors during 24 ceremonies, combining to require 656 man hours.
“A huge part of our success and of our ability to handle the sort of workload we had in December is definitely the persistent and competitive training,” said Senior Airman Donaven Rodriguez, 60th Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural technician. “As with any great organization, the ethos, or culture, of it must be strong. Ethos and training are huge parts of one another and where one lacks, the other will too. If you look at any great team or organization they all have the same goal, which relates somewhat to the goals and values its members maintain and live by personally.”
Those in the Honor Guard aren’t born with a flag in their hand. Their training consists of long hours of repetitive movements, longer hours away from their respective comforts and, by the end of it, a sense of pride and respect not only for what they do, but also for why they do it.
This makes for a duty that, perhaps, is not for the faint of heart, according to Rodriguez.
“The Honor Guard is not for everyone,” said Rodriguez. “But if an Airman should find themselves holding themselves to a higher standard, joining the Honor Guard is a natural extension of that mindset. The purpose of the Travis Honor Guard is to deliver a flawless ceremony for past and present military members. The way an Airman attacks this purpose is through continuous hard work and dedication, with a perfectionist mentality.”
The unyielding professionalism and dedication that have, over the years, become a benchmark by which all Honor Guardsmen are measured by are attributes that Ronquillio echoes in addressing any potential recruits.
“Something that sometimes gets overlooked is that the Honor Guard knows no holdiays,” said Ronquillio. “Our mission is 24/7. Our area of responsibility covers a population of over one million veterans and 45,000 square miles. This isn’t a weekend duty. The Honor Guard is not a hobby and was never intended to be treated as such. Each member here understands the importance behind the mission and respectfully approaches the day with that mentality.”
As the sun rises, three hours after the beginning of their training session, the Travis Honor Guard stays practicing. Though tired, sore and calloused, the energy with which they approached their first movement is unrelenting, and even though December has passed, they’re ready for the next day’s mission, whatever and however long it will be.
“Readiness and pride are two sides of one coin,” said Ronquillio. “We understand the importance and the lasting impression that we as Guardsmen leave with the families of our fallen heroes. Our training and attention to detail are driven by the fact that we don’t get do-overs. We have one opportunity to render honors to our fallen comrade and it is our accepted duty to perform as flawlessly as possible.