A mile high final salute

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

Military members have a bond incomparable to any other career in the world; the sacrifice of another member is forever respected.

By performing at hundreds of funeral ceremonies annually, the members of the Mile High Honor Guard, located on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., displays that respect first-hand.

“It doesn’t matter what their job was, what branch they served in or how they passed,” said Airman 1st Class Paul Lombardi, prior Mile High Honor Guard ceremonial guardsman. “We, as service members, are a family. To be part of a ceremony that highlights the life of an individual in front of their families is beyond rewarding.”

There are Airmen who are unable to perform their job due to the long process of completing their clearance level. Because this process can be delayed months at a time, a handful of these Airmen are given the opportunity to join the honor guard. Lombardi was one of those selected few.

“Going into it, I honestly thought it was going to be a downer,” said Lombardi. “Looking back, however, I am extremely thankful that I was given to opportunity to join the team. Being in the honor guard is one of the rare jobs where you get to see the impact right there in the moment.”

Although this team, led by Master Sgt. Wolfram Stumpf, Mile High Honor Guard flight chief, enjoys being part of honor guard, they still experience many stresses that come with the job.

“There’s no amount of practice that will get you prepared for that first time getting down on one knee, and hand the flag to the next-of-kin,” said Airman 1st Class Lacey Jackson, Mile High Honor Guard ceremonial guardsman. “The first time I handed off the flag, the next of kin was very emotional, and grabbed my hands tightly. Although, we keep our military bearing at all times, it was a very emotional experience for me as well.”

With the leadership well aware of the amount of stress weighing on each guardsman, morale is kept as a high priority.

“The success of the Mile High Honor Guard mission depends heavily on high morale,” said Stumpf. “With the heavy volumes in military funeral honor we are providing and just the sheer fact that we deal directly with community members that have lost their loved ones, we make a point to do things throughout the week that will keep our morale high and truly enjoy our time while on the Buckley AFB honor guard team.”

The support provided for each individual by the honor guard leadership has been noticed by all. Stumpf has been there for each of his guardsmen, whether it’s for emotional support or training an individual to ensure they’re prepared for an upcoming ceremony.

“From the short five months that I have been here, there isn’t a single person on this team that has ever embodied the core values of being an honor guardsman better than him,” said Jackson. “When I think of the ideal honor guardsman, I think of Master Sgt. Stumpf. His military bearing is on point; you would never know if he made a mistake during a ceremony. Honestly, when you think of the whole Airman concept, that’s Master Sgt. Stumpf.”

His track record speaks for itself. Stumpf not only won the 2016 Air Force Space Command Honor Guard member of the year, but he is now up for the award at the Air Force level.

The Mile High Honor Guard doesn’t spend all their time providing support for funeral services; they get opportunities to support several different events.

“We get to participate in professional sporting events, retirement ceremonies, change of command ceremonies and even get involved with the local community,” said Lombardi. “One of my favorite memories was going to a local elementary school, presented colors and we taught the students the importance of the flag and how to properly lower and raise the flag every day.”

Many people don’t realize the importance of the honor guard’s relationship with the local community. Their role is vital not only to the base, but to the entire Denver Metro area.

“We help bring a positive Air Force image to everyone we work with both on and off base,” said Stumpf. “That positive image translates into growing that incredible bond Buckley AFB already shares with the Aurora and Denver communities. We, by uniform association, act as ambassadors and recruiters within the community; every single Airman that has been a part of the Mile High Honor Guard takes the upmost pride in helping our wing and group commanders put Team Buckley's best foot forward every single day.”