IKE SKELTON TRAINING SITE, Mo. –
"Sometimes I can pick a service on the other side of the state. I'll go to the service that those Soldiers are on and won't tell them that I'm there; I'll basically hide in the bushes."
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Newcomb of the 1-138th Infantry Regiment says this is one of the things he does to make sure that the Missouri National Guard Funeral Honors team is the best it can be.
Newcomb is Missouri's only Level 2 Funeral Honors Instructor. He not only lives the values of the Honor Guard but teaches them to his students. He goes above and beyond to honor fallen service members.
“I’ll watch them (Honor Guard members) perform the service, and then I'll meet them back at the vehicle and do an After-Action Review (AAR) about what went right and what they did wrong."
The dedication that goes into the Military Funeral Honors Program makes it one of the most significant ways a Soldier can honor the fallen.
The Military Funeral Honors Program is a cooperative effort between the active and reserve components of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Veteran Service Organizations, and Funeral Directors. Since July 1999, the goal of this program has been to provide the appropriate service, at the right time and place, with the best team, 100 percent of the time.
The program aims to pay respect and serve as the final demonstration of our gratitude to those who faithfully defended our nation. Providing funeral honors to a veteran who was honorably discharged is the law. The minimum service that a veteran receives is two Soldiers who fold the American flag 13 times, followed by the presentation of the flag to a family member of the deceased. Presenting the American flag represents a final salute to the veteran and the family. "Taps" is also played unless the family requests otherwise.
Newcomb served in the Marine Corps before joining the Missouri National Guard in 2013. He has been working with Missouri Funeral Honors since 2016, starting as a team member and pushing himself to become a Level 2 Instructor. Newcomb has participated in over 660 services, demonstrating his passion for the program. Newcomb learned of the Honor Guard through his company commander and knew it was the job for him. He was so committed to being a member of the Honor Guard that he turned down a position with the Kansas City Fire Department, offered shortly after his Fire Academy graduation.
“I was actually at the Level 2 Funeral Honors Course when the chief called me and asked me if I was sure that I wanted to decline the position,” said Newcomb. “I told him yes, I found a job that I liked so much that I really don't want to leave it.” While saving lives had always been important to him, it was also important to honor the lives of those who served.
Newcomb knows firsthand what it is like to lose a brother or sister in arms. He lost a squad leader in Afghanistan. He designed a tattoo meant to memorialize his squad leader and remind him of his mission to serve members, veterans, and their families.
Sgt. 1st Class Newcomb truly understands Funeral Honor's importance. It is why he has such high expectations for the students he trains. "We're the last closing chapter for that veteran and his or her family," expressed Newcomb. "It's an honor for us to do our job with dignity, pride, and respect and provide closure for the family. That's why we always want to make sure our uniforms are 100 percent sharp, and we're 100 percent sharp when we perform services."
Recently, Newcomb instructed the Level 1 Course for Military Funeral Honors at Joint Force Headquarters in Jefferson City, Missouri. The goal is to have at least one 12-student course a year. The course requires the students to pass every graded event with a 90 percent or higher the first time. In addition, students test on everything, including the methods of flag placement, the handling of caskets and urns, pallbearing, and the firing party.
Every member of the Honor Guard must know every duty. They must be capable of filling any of those positions at any ceremony. Funeral Honors maintains standard operating procedures (SOP) taught in all states and armed forces. "We never have to speak another word to each other because we know exactly what the other person will do because they have trained us the same SOP throughout the nation," said Newcomb. "Everyone is on the same plane; we all look the same. So that's why it's imperative when we run this course, and that's why we're so strict about it. You absolutely have to follow our SOPs to the "T" because it's not just our SOP, it's the national SOP for all of the states.”
Although Newcomb's focus is training, the mission always comes first. If a service requires his help and expertise, the training comes second. Providing honors for veterans is his top priority.
"I get a lot of fulfillment and enjoyment from it," stated Newcomb. "I really enjoy training Soldiers and watching them progress and then watching them apply the skills that they learned; it is very rewarding. Especially knowing that you helped them get to that point, and they're applying that out in the field."
If a Soldier or Airman is interested in joining Missouri Military Funeral Honors, they can contact funeral honors through the Missouri National Guard website at https://www.moguard.ngb.mil/Resources/Funeral-Honors/.