DVIDS – News – Honored with dignity: Michigan’s longest-serving honor guard


BATTLE CREEK, Michigan — The US Air Force Honor Guard uniform has several features: epaulettes, formal white gloves, service cap, and the silver cord. Unlike other Air Force uniforms, it lacks the name of the person wearing it. This symbolizes that members of the Honor Guard represent not themselves but the US Air Force and its values ​​to the American public and the world. Members of the Honor Guard live by the mantras “Nameless and Selfless Service” and “To Honor with Dignity”. Master Sgt. Carmen LaGuardia is an example of both.

“I love wearing the uniform,” LaGuardia said. “It means everything to me.”

LaGuardia, the most senior member of the 110th Wing Honor Guard, has served in this capacity since April 1999. In over 24 years, she has honored more than 2,000 military funerals and color guard details. Her work and commitment did not go unnoticed. In 2005, Air National Guard Command Chief Master Sgt. Valerie Benton selected her Air National Guard-wide Base Honor Guard Member of the Year. This year she is again the Base Honor Guard Member of the Year for the Michigan Air National Guard.

In 2003, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base selected her for active duty to support the ever-growing military funeral honors workload here in Michigan. During this tour, she visited nearly every funeral home in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and educated funeral home managers on the new law and how to properly request Air Force military undertakers.

Over the years, LaGuardia has trained dozens of active-duty members from all branches of the Department of Defense, as well as Air Force and Navy reservists and Air National Guard members from at least three states. LaGuardia has also trained volunteers from the five Honor Guard teams serving the Ft. Custer National Cemetery.

One such member, Capt. Andrew Layton, a member of the 110th Base Honor Guard team, recalls that she helped him prepare for his first Honor Guard detail as an aviator in 2008. LaGuardia helped calm his anxiety and calmed him down with some simple words of wisdom.

“I remember her helping me set up with all my gear when I joined the team. And I was nervous about the first funeral I did,” Layton said. “She told me that was a good thing – one should always have butterflies. The day you don’t have butterflies is the day you shouldn’t do an event because you don’t take them seriously anymore.”

LaGuardia enlisted in the Michigan Air National Guard later in life. In 1995 she joined as an information management specialist.

“Joining the Air Force was a dream of mine,” LaGuardia said. “I was a customer service manager at Walmart. And one of my employees worked in the Air National Guard. And I told her my dream and my story. So she put me in touch with the recruiter and we did all the paperwork.”

LaGuardia had to train hard herself before she could even join.

“I was overweight,” she said. “I started dieting and exercising and four months later I lost 60 pounds. And I went back and raised my hand.”

LaGuardia has performed at over a thousand funerals. The most influential of these were her father’s and grandfather’s funerals.

LaGuardia’s grandfather, who served in the army, secretly asked her to present her with his flag
Grandmother at his funeral.

“My grandmother didn’t know until the Army folded the flag and then gave it to me at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Colorado,” LaGuardia said. “And then she knew when I turned to her with a flag. I just knelt and held the flag right in her eyes and said those words. It was just such an honor.”

LaGuardia also presented the flag at her father’s military funeral. Since he was a Navy veteran, she trained with members of the Navy Honor Guard for over a week to learn their honor guard customs. They even developed a number of signals as to whether, right now, LaGuardia would be able to present her mother with the flag without breaking her military stance.

“They held the flag when I folded my father’s flag,” LaGuardia said. “I gave them the signal that I will present. So they saluted the flag and then I went and presented it to my mother. It was an honor to do that.”

LaGuardia’s commitment to the Air Force’s core value of Service to Self is also evident in the way she lives her professional life.

“I haven’t had a civilian job my entire career because I didn’t want to keep going up to my civilian boss and asking for time off to do the honors,” LaGuardia said. “We have to think of these veterans. Perhaps your family is celebrating a birthday or an anniversary. But you know, I’d love to be there for a veteran. You have to sacrifice a lot.”

LaGuardia’s years of dedicated service are recognized even by other members of the Honor Guard.

“As the senior member of the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base team, she has conducted over 1,000 funerals over the past 23 years,” said Chief Master Sgt. Erik Morse, senior non-commissioned officer of the 110th Wing Honor Guard. “In the 20+ years that I have been involved with the Base Honor Guard program, I have never met an individual who is more dedicated to this program, to the veterans, or to the families we serve.”

LaGuardia sees their service as an opportunity to give back. She encourages others to thank veterans for their service.

“If you see just one veteran, honor them and go up and say thank you for their service. Some of them are very difficult to talk to. They don’t talk to their families about their ministry and the families don’t understand,” LaGuardia said. “But as veterans, we know what some of them have been through.”

“Nameless and Selfless Service” and “To Honor with Dignity” define those who serve in the Honor Guard. Master Sgt. Carmen LaGuadia exemplifies these mantras in her professional and everyday life.

Date of recording: 03.10.2023
Release Date: 03.10.2023 15:22
Story ID: 440173

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