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Base Honor Guard impacts community, pays final respects

U.S. Air Force Mile High Honor Guard Airmen render a three volley salute during military funeral honors July 11, 2012, at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver. The base honor guard performs final military honors at nearly 570 funerals per year and is the face of the United States Air Force to many families who have lost their loved ones. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Wolfram Stumpf/Released)

U.S. Air Force Mile High Honor Guard Airmen render a three volley salute during military funeral honors July 11, 2012, at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver. The base honor guard performs final military honors at nearly 570 funerals per year and is the face of the United States Air Force to many families who have lost their loved ones. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Wolfram Stumpf/Released)

U.S. Air Force Mile High Honor Guard Airmen render a three volley salute during military funeral honors July 11, 2012, at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver. The base honor guard performs final military honors at nearly 570 funerals per year and is the face of the United States Air Force to many families who have lost their loved ones. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Wolfram Stumpf/Released)

U.S. Air Force Mile High Honor Guard Airmen render a three volley salute during military funeral honors July 11, 2012, at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver. The base honor guard performs final military honors at nearly 570 funerals per year and is the face of the United States Air Force to many families who have lost their loved ones. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Wolfram Stumpf/Released)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- An Airman renders a silent salute as he pays final respects to a fellow comrade. The Airman does not know him. In fact, they have never met. But it is the Mile High Honor Guard's mission to pay final respects to members of the Air Force, Army Air Force and Army Air Corps who are originally from the Front Range and have passed away.

The base honor guard is made up mostly of volunteers from all different jobs and units on Buckley, usually one from each major unit. They perform final military honors at nearly 570 funerals per year and are the face of the United States Air Force to many families who have lost their loved ones.

"This is the Air Force's opportunity to say a final 'thank you' to those who have served this country, most of them during war or a time of conflict," said Tech. Sgt. Wolfram Stumpf, Mile High Honor Guard flight chief. "Even if it's mostly peacetime during their service, they still had the courage to raise their right hand to defend this country if need be. It's an opportunity to say thank you to not only them, but the families that served with them as well."

The Mile High Honor Guard doesn't just perform military honors. They also have a vital role in military customs and traditions. They can often be seen presenting our nation's colors at military ceremonies, community events and national sports events more than 200 times per year.

The base honor guard also presents colors, our nation's and sometimes other services' flags, at military retirement ceremonies, where they fold and present the U.S. flag to the retiree in honor of their many years of service.

"The base Honor Guard is important because it is our formal way of presenting the Air Force to the American public," said Master Sgt. Bradley Moses, 460th Space Wing first sergeant. "It allows us to recognize the contributions of those American heroes that have come before us in their passing as well as representing us through their participation in local ceremonies and events."

The base honor guard has far-reaching impacts on the community, especially for families who depend on them to give their loved ones the recognition they deserve for serving their country.

"The presentation of the flag brought me a strong feeling of pride for my father, other service members and our country," said Debra Kupfer, daughter to a Senior Master Sgt. in the U.S. Air Force who passed away earlier this year. "I was amazed at how deeply I felt my father was honored at the ceremony. I recognize that so many of these ceremonies occur and yet it still felt personal and sincere."

The Mile High Honor Guard has been through many challenges due to the cuts in manning over the past several years.

"Our military funeral honors numbers have gone up an average of 40 percent since 2009 and we've had to accomplish them with the same amount of people," said the flight chief.

So far this year they have completed nearly 200 events, putting them well on their way to their 500-plus average per year - if not more. Each presentation of military honors; however, has its own profound effect on the Airmen that perform the ceremonies.

"For me, it's just the feeling of gratitude to be able to thank the family through the folding of the flag, the playing of taps and the three volley salute," Stumpf said. "We show them that we actually do care about your husband, your father, your wife, your mother, your brother or your sister. We want to make sure that it's perfect for them."

While the Airmen in the base honor guard do not personally know the fallen comrades whom they honor, they share the special bond between all Airmen who have served before and will serve in the future. And they make every effort to give them the recognition they deserve.