Guard provides honors at funeralsby jmaloni
The New York Army National Guard's honor guard was expected to perform about 10,200 military funerals by the time 2012 ended at midnight on Dec. 31.
This is 500 fewer than the 10,752 military funerals the honor guard conducted in during 2011, but isn't unexpected, said Honor Guard Coordinator Don Roy.
The number of World War II veterans whose families were taking advantage of the honor guard services peaked a couple of years ago, Roy explained. So the overall number of funerals for that era's veterans is declining.
In 2011, the honor guard performed 10,415 military funerals, and has been conducting more than 10,000 funerals annually since 2007.
The numbers have stayed above 10,000 in New York because the state is home to a large number of Korean War and Vietnam War veterans, Roy explained. The veterans of these wars are also starting to age and pass on, so that keeps the demand for funeral services high, Roy added.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 950,000 veterans in New York. Almost half are age 65 or older, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Of these New York veterans 306,000 served in the Vietnam War era and 170,000 have served in the Persian Gulf region since 1990.
The 50 New York Army National Guard soldiers who work full-time with the honor guard, along with 40 who perform duty on a part-time basis, work from nine offices located across New York.
Currently the honor guard conducts about 850 funerals monthly, Roy said.
The honor guard conducted the funerals of the 32 New York Army National Guard soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. There were no military funerals for New York National Guard soldiers killed in combat in 2011 and in 2012.
Another reason the number of funerals has remained high, is that more people realize that their deceased family member is entitled to military honors at their funeral, Roy said.
Any veteran, with an honorable discharge, whether they served during peacetime or wartime, whether they retired or not, is entitled to military honors at their funeral.
Since the program started in 1999, the New York Military Forces Honor Guard has provided services at more than 100,000 military funerals.
Federal law requires that at least two honor guard members, from the parent service of the deceased, be present to play taps, fold and present a flag to the next of kin for all former soldiers when requested by the family or a designated representative.
For most of those funerals, the honor guard sends three members whenever possible. Soldiers killed in action, general officers, retired general officers, retired sergeants major and Medal of Honor holders require many more soldiers.
The honor guard's primary function is to provide military honors at the funerals of Army, Army Reserve, Army Air Corps, and National Guard veterans, Roy said. The honor guard will fill in when the other services cannot provide military honors if time permits, he said.
Honor guard soldiers go through a weeklong training program before they go out into the community to represent the Army and the Army National Guard.
New York's Military Forces Honor Guard was established as a state-financed program in 1999 by then Gov. George Pataki. Soldiers who participated in funerals were paid by state active duty dollars.
In 2000, federal law changed to mandate military honors for all former soldiers and the federal government began funding the honor guard as well. Now the honor guard is funded entirely with federal tax dollars.