Published on May 3rd, 2014 | by Millennium Magazine Staff1
Fort Jackson Honor Platoon Provides Funeral Detail Everyday
FORT JACKSON, SC — The post’s Honor Platoon offers daily “no fail” missions to dozens of Fort Jackson Soldiers.
Launched in March 2013, the Honor Platoon includes representatives of the NCO Academy, Moncrief Army Community Hospital, the Soldier Support Institute, drill sergeants from across the installation and others. All told, there are 40 Soldiers in the Honor Platoon, which provides military honors to 46 counties in South Carolina, as well as three national cemeteries.
“We also participate in high-profile ceremonies, changes of commands, parades and color guards,” said Capt. Bryan Schmidt, commander of Headquarters and Company A, 4th Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment. “But, the main job we have is providing military honors for veterans and occasionally active duty members who pass away.
“Basically, every unit on post has a couple of Soldiers assigned to us, but 75 percent of it is from the 4th Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment,” Schmidt said. “We had the manpower in our battalion, and we have a lot of infantry guys that had done things like this before.”
As of February, the Honor Platoon has participated in more than 1,200 events. Most of those events were funerals, Schmidt said.
“We have multiple funerals every day,” said Staff Sgt. Patrick Carter, of the 4th Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment. “It’s definitely a daily mission. I’ve been there for more than a year, and not a day has gone by where there hasn’t been a funeral.”
He said Honor Platoon duties can be stressful because of their importance to everyone involved. First sergeants participating in military honors at funerals have the most challenging job.
“They’re the ones responsible for handing over that folded flag to a family member … and you have to maintain your military bearing and composure,” Schmidt said.
This isn’t always as easy as it sounds, he said. While participating with his first funeral with the Honor Guard, he said a grieving family member almost brought him to tears.
“She was crying, looking me right in the eyes,” he said. “I had to keep my military bearing and say what was necessary, and give her that respect. It could be the last memory that family has of the U.S. Army. It’s a no-fail mission every time.”
Consequently, the Honor Platoon requires Soldiers with expected levels of competency and responsibility. Because events arise with little notice, Carter said it’s almost impossible to count on having free time for himself on weekends.
“You don’t want to send somebody who’s a troublemaker or has disciplinary issues, because there’s a lot of autonomy in it,” Schmidt said. “If you have a funeral that’s three hours away, you have to coordinate with the funeral home and families, drive yourself there while obeying the speed limit, have your uniform ready at a moment’s notice … it’s demanding at times.”
“You want to do the best you can, because this is going to be a family’s last memory of the military,” Carter said. “Once you know what you’re doing, it gets easier.”
“We also know that, somewhere down the line, our families will be receiving military honors, and we would expect those men and women who show up … execute the mission as perfectly as possible to underscore the importance of a life dedicated to the military,” Schmidt said.
He said it doesn’t make a difference to him if the Soldier was a retiree or if he or she was killed in action in Afghanistan — the mission of the Honor Platoon remains the same.
“One of the most humbling things a Soldier can do is render military honors to one of our brothers and sisters,” he said. “We’re representing not only the best of Fort Jackson, but the best of the U.S. Army.”