211 soldiers and airmen conduct military funeral services across state
New York National Guard soldiers and airmen provided military funeral services for more than 10,000 families of veterans during 2021.
As of Dec. 21, New York Army and Air National Guard funeral honor guards had conducted 10,353 military funerals across the state. Honor guard officials anticipate conducting another 318 military funeral services by New Year's Eve.
There are 211 New York National Guard military personnel – 99 soldiers and 112 airmen – who provide military funeral honors on either a full-time or part-time basis.
In 2020, New York National Guard funeral honors teams conducted 8,807 military funerals. This was lower than the 10,859 conducted in 2019, because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, according to honor guard officials.
A 2000 federal law mandates that former members of the U.S. military who served on active duty or in the reserves and who did not receive a dishonorable discharge are eligible for military funeral.
At a minimum, these honors are provided by a two-person team, which plays taps with a bugle and folds and presents an American flag to the family.
Retired military personnel and those who passed away while on active duty are entitled to honors, which involve upward of nine personnel and can include a rifle firing party and pall bearers. Military funeral honors are requested through the funeral home, which is handling arrangements for a family.
The New York Army National Guard conducted 8,235 military funerals in 2021, according to 1st Lt. Melisa Rosario, the honor guard officer-in-charge.
In 2020, the New York Army National Guard conducted 7,122 military funeral services.
Demand for Army funeral services increased in 2021, Rosario said. In 353 instances, the New York Army National Guard teams had to inform the Army Casualty Assistance Centers, which coordinate military funerals, that the active Army or Army Reserve would have to provide the services, she added.
There are 40 soldiers assigned to the funeral honors mission on a full-time basis. Another 59 soldiers are available on a part-time basis to provide funeral honors.
The New York Air National Guard's honor guard teams conducted an additional 2,118 services in 2021, a 25% increase over the COVID-19 restrictions of 2020.
In 2020, the New York Air National Guard provided military funeral services 1,685 times.
There are 25 airmen who work as funeral honors coordinators or team members on a full-time basis. Another 87 airmen are available as part-time funeral honors members. Soldiers and airmen are carefully trained before they can be part of a military funeral service.
Many families decided not to hold a formal burial or funeral in early 2020, and this resulted in fewer than normal funeral missions that year, according to Master Sgt. Terra Martin, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 109th Airlift Wing's honor guard at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia.
Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Alan Sanchez, who is responsible for the 106th Rescue Wing honor guard at F.S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach, said his team performed services in 2021 that had been deferred during the onset of the pandemic.
The 106th Rescue Wing honor guard, which conducts funerals at the massive Calverton National Cemetery, provided military funeral honors 650 times in 2021. This was the most of all the New York Air National Guard honor guard teams.
While funeral numbers have gone up since 2020, the New York Army National Guard honor guard teams are still following COVID-19 precautions, Rosario said.
For example, instead of handing the folded American flag to a veteran's family member, the team will fold the flag and leave it on the casket to avoid the close contact, she said.
And while most military honors take place at cemeteries, they can be conducted in other locations.
The 174th Attack Wing honor guard, based at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, provided military funeral honors for a Vietnam War POW at his vacation home on Wellesley Island in the St. Lawrence River's Thousand Islands, according to Master Sgt. Donald Anderson, the wing honor guard program manager.
New York Army National Guard Funeral Honors by office in 2021:
•Long Island: 2,513 in 2021, 2,228 in 2020;
•Camp Smith (Peekskill): 1,011 in 2021, 949 in 2020;
•Harlem: 1,077 in 2021, 977 in 2020;
•Albany: 881 in 2021, 761 in 2020;
•Buffalo: 1,090 in 2021, 847 in 2020;
•Rochester: 708 in 2021, 584 in 2020;
•Syracuse: 601 in 2021, 478 in 2020; and
•Horseheads: 354 in 2021, 278 in 2020.
New York Air National Guard Funeral Honors by base in 2021:
•105th Airlift Wing, Stewart Air National Guard Base, Newburgh: 239 funerals in 2021 and 140 funerals in 2020;
•106th Rescue Wing, F.S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base, Westhampton Beach: 650 funerals in 2021 and 624 funerals in 2020;
•107th Attack Wing/914th Air Refueling Wing, Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, Niagara Falls: 483 in 2021 and 361 in 2020;
•109th Airlift Wing, Stratton Air National Guard Base, Scotia: 305 in 2021 and 239 in 2020;
•174th Attack Wing, Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, Syracuse: 379 in 2021 and 275 in 2020; and
•The Eastern Air Defense Sector, Rome: 62 in 2021, 0 in 2020 (42 requests referred to 174th Attack Wing).