Honor Guard 101: Retiree Funerals
Photo courtesy: Lt. Ken Baine
Lt. Ken Baine / Fairfax County Police Department
Paying last respects to the ones who wore the uniform before us is one the highest honors the Fairfax County Police Department Honor Guard carries out as team members. I want to discuss what we do to render honors to a fallen or retired officer at the time of their viewing. In this article I will discuss the topic of casket guards.
We provide casket guards during the viewing at the family’s request. One team member is posted at each end of the casket and they rotate every 20 minutes. In a one-hour period we relieve our casket guards three times. If you go beyond 20 minutes, you risk the chance of your team members falling out. If you rotate your team members sooner, you draw too much attention to the honor guard. You do not want to take away from the fallen officer’s or retiree’s viewing by clearing the aisle four to six times an hour so your team members can be changed.
Arrive early and do a careful inspection if the officer is being buried in their uniform. Our team members do a complete inspection before the family arrives to make sure the funeral director has all pins properly placed. You will also need to make sure there are no flower arrangements too close to the casket. Your team members will need a space to stand guard during the viewing. We also post our agency flag next to the visitor sign in book.
The Fairfax County Police Department provides a United States flag for each officer’s casket. The United States Flag Code states that anyone can have the flag on their casket. The only stipulation is that an honorably discharged veteran of the armed forces is provided a flag free by the Department of Veterans Affairs. We always use the same company’s brand of national flags for our officer’s funerals. We keep them pressed and on hangers and when an officer’s family requests a flag on their loved one’s casket, we provide the funeral home with one of ours. Believe it or not all national casket flags fold the same. That is why we use the same brand of flags for every funeral. If the family has requested a spray be placed on the casket you will not be able to display a national flag on the casket too. In those cases we place a folded national flag next to the casket.
It is important to have a liaison with your retirees. Our department has close to 600 retirees and an active retirees’ association. I am on their e-mail list and get current updates on retirees who may be in failing health. As the honor guard commander, I find it helpful to know that your team may be needed for a funeral. On average we are requested for five to 10 retiree funerals a year.
It is important to have a good working relationship with the funeral director doing your officer’s service. Reach out to him/her before the viewing and explain to them what they can expect. Some may have never experienced a police funeral before. Provide them with your contact information so they can contact you directly in the event something comes up or a question arises. Ask the funeral director for a room in the funeral home for your team members to decompress during the viewing.
This article is the second in a series of articles by Lt. Ken Baine covering all aspects of running a police honor guard and detailing each honor given at a line-of-duty funeral.