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New York National Guard provides military funeral honors for 11,300 families in 2014

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Mon, Dec 29th 2014 11:00 am

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New York Army and Air National Guard soldiers and airmen expect to provide military funeral honors for about 11,300 New York families before 2014 comes to an end.

The New York National Guard Honor Guards provided funeral services 11,585 for the families of military veterans this year. As of Dec. 22, the 124 members of the New York Army National Guard Honor Guard had performed 9,362 funeral honors missions.

The Honor Guard for the five New York Air National Guard flying wings - located in Niagara Falls, Syracuse, Scotia, Newburgh and Westhampton Beach - and the Eastern Air Defense Sector in Rome, conducted 1,798 military funerals as of Dec. 24.

New York Army National Guard soldiers expect to provide military funeral honors for 9,600 families this year.

In 2013, New York Army National Guard Honor Guard members performed military funeral services 9,997 times. In 2012, New York Army National Guard soldiers conducted 10,175 funerals.

The New York Air National Guard Honor Guards conducted 1,588 military funerals in 2013.

The largest number of military funerals conducted in one year was in 2011, when 10,752 military services were provided. The program began in 1999.

The lower number for Army Guard funeral services in New York appears to be due to the decline in the number of World War II and Korean War-era veterans still living, as well as a cutback in New York Army National Guard funeral missions that resulted from a temporary budget reduction in October 2013, according to Staff Sgt. Erwin Dominguez, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the New York Army National Guard's Honor Guard program.

The initial fiscal year 2015 budget for Army National Guard funeral teams would have resulted in reducing the money for New York's program from about $2 million to $1 million.

Faced with this constraint in money to pay for soldiers and vehicles, the New York National Guard made a decision to reduce the number of funerals done daily across the state from an average of around 27 to 15 or so, said Lt. Col. Robert Epp, the officer in charge of the Honor Guard program.

The New York Honor Guard began referring some requests for military funerals to the Active Army Casualty Assistance Centers at Fort Drum and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Epp said. These centers then assigned these missions to Army Reserve units, or active Army elements at Fort Drum, the United States Military Academy at West Point, and at Dix, Epp explained.

Some of New York's eight regional honor guard offices were closed to help conserve money, he said.

In November, the Army committed to making more money available for Army Guard funeral honors team, and New York's team began ramping up services again.

While the New York Army National Guard centralizes its honor guard program, each New York Air National Guard Wing maintains its own independent honor guard effort.

The Base Honor Guard of the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing at FS Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach performs more funerals than any other Air National Guard Honor Guard Team in the country.

The 106th Honor Guard conducted 619 military funerals in the 2013-14 fiscal year. Not only was it the busiest honor guard in the Air National Guard, but also it was the eighth-busiest in the Air Force.

The Air National Guard has recognized the Eastern Air Defense Sector Honor Guard program, as well. Tech. Sgt. Amy Ough, a member of that honor guard from West Winfield, was named Air National Guard Honor Guard member of the year for 2014 in August.

Since 2000, federal law has mandated any military veteran who did not receive a dishonorable discharge from the armed forces is eligible for military honors at his or her funeral. The ceremony must include the folding and presenting of the U.S. flag to the veteran's survivors and the playing of Taps.

At least two members of the armed forces must be present for the ceremony. The New York Honor Guard normally sends two soldiers to fold the flag and play Taps.

This year, the New York Honor Guard teams conducted 63 modified full-honors funerals, which included six pallbearers, a noncommissioned officer in charge, and a bugler.

Among those funerals were two for soldiers who died during the Korean War and whose remains were brought home to New York in 2014. The remains of Sgt. Michael James Barra, who died in a North Korean prison camp in 1951, were buried in Ithaca Nov. 22. The remains of Master Sgt. Lawrence Jock, who went missing in 1953 and was declared dead in 1954, were interred in Malone Aug. 1.

The New York Army National Guard Honor Guard has been performing around 10,000 funerals annually since the federal law in 2000 mandating military funerals for veterans.

New York is home to 943,000 veterans, according to the most recent Department of Veterans Affairs statistics from late 2012. Of those veterans, more than 300,000 are age 65 and older.

The New York Army National Guard Military Forces Honor Guard was launched in 1999 as a state-funded effort. Since 2000, the federal government has funded the program, with some state financial support in the past.

Military funeral services provided by New York Army National Guard Honor Guard regional offices for 2014 (as of Dec. 22):

  • Long Island, 3,433
  • Bronx, 1,519
  • Capital Region, 732
  • Rochester, 716
  • Buffalo, 1,155
  • Horseheads, 535
  • Syracuse, 738
  • Hudson Valley, 534

Military funeral services provided by the New York Air National Guard in 2014 (as of Dec. 24):

  • 106th Rescue Wing at FS Gabreski Air National Guard Base, Westhampton Beach, 643
  • 105th Airlift Wing at Stewart Air National Guard Base, Newburgh, 201
  • 109th Airlift Wing at Stratton Air National Guard Base, Scotia, 285
  • 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, Syracuse, 239
  • 107th Airlift Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, Niagara Falls, 380
  • Eastern Air Defense Sector, Rome, 50

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