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To honor with dignity

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alexander Helling
  • 90th Civil Engineer Squadron
When joining the Air Force many of us look forward to the opportunity to serve, pursue our education or seek job security. All of these thoughts plus a few others crossed through my mind as I signed on the "dotted line," and committed the next six years to serving in the Air Force. Little did I know within the first two years of my commitment, I would understand a greater concept than I had ever before.

I was introduced to the Air Force Core Values during basic training. They were printed everywhere and continued as such through technical school. We reemphasized them in the First Term Airman's Center and further events thereafter. I knew them, I understood them, but it wasn't until I became a member of the F. E. Warren Honor Guard that I was able to fully comprehend them. Specifically Service Before Self and Excellence In All We Do.

These two core values became very clear to me when I was standing in Alliance, Neb., on a frigid, snowy, less than desirable day. The little town of Alliance provided an experience which will live with me until the day I die. On the outskirts of town lies its cemetery, the place where I experienced my first funeral as an Honor Guard member. This was not the typical funeral, but one of a fallen active duty member. It was at this point I comprehended the significance of Service Before Self.

The Honor Guard Charge requires we stand sharp, crisp and motionless and our performance will never be dictated by the type of ceremony, severity of the temperature or size of the crowd. The greatest highlight of 2011 was being a trainer for a two-week session, when I was able to take 20 individual Airmen and mold them into our team. Transitioning an Airman into the team is more than just movements and bearing, it's ensuring every member finds synchronization and mirrors every minuscule detail of the team rendering honors. To me, this is the epitome of Excellence in All We Do.

As an Honor Guard member, it is humbling to serve those who served before me. I am reluctant because an individual lost their life - however, I am honored to bestow their rightful honors as a servicemember. This became extremely apparent at the beginning of this year when I provided honors for the two fallen F. E. Warren members, one of them being a fellow 90th Civil Engineer Squadron member. It was an honor and privilege to pay tribute to these Airmen.

Being able to participate in three active duty funerals has given me perspective on how important it is to live everyday like it is your last. As much as we try not to think about our mortality, we could be the person receiving military honors within a split second. As I have heard in the past, I try to live my life to the motto of carpe diem, seize the day. I encourage each of you to do the same.

Serving as an Honor Guard member, I am representing F. E. Warren Air Force Base and every Airman serving in the United States Air Force. This alone drives me to be the best at everything I do.