WEST BURLINGTON – A row of 17 firefighters, police officers and EMS personnel stood fully uniformed in front of the West Burlington Fire Department Sunday afternoon. They were about to become members of the Southeast Iowa Regional Honor Guard.
As the last task before graduating from the weekend’s “Honor Guard Boot Camp,” the men and women stood still for 15 minutes.
They stood with sun beating down on their faces, while Doc Patterson, of the National Honor Guard Commander’s Association, commended the participants on their self-respect and bestowed upon them his own.
“From day one, the character of this group started to shine, and today we are all rockstars,” Patterson of Galesburg, Illinois said. “Some of you didn’t know your left from your right, but you didn’t quit. You kept working at it.”
Since the participants arrived from around Southeast Iowa Friday, they learned how to explain what their uniforms mean, how to properly move caskets, American flag etiquette and other honor guard protocols.
Patterson said the group marks the first civilian honor guard in Iowa, that is not made up of members of the military. Some participate in the boot camp this weekend were being initiated into the group, while some returned for further training.
Honor Guard members attend and provide services at the funerals of fallen firefighters, police officers and EMS personnel. They also attend community events, present the colors at football games and many other responsibilities.
Eric Higdon of the Mediapolis Fire Department helped Patterson put together some of the training for this past weekend, and helped teach the new members.
“I joined the honor guard about five and a half years ago just to give honors to those who have fallen,” Higdon said. “They need to be respected as well. It is a warming sensation to be able to be there for the family.
Patterson emphasized the importance of supporting one another, when speaking with the participants.
“We will never quit on each other.” Patterson said. “If someone has a bad day, give them a hug. If a comrade ends up in the hospital, make sure you are there in uniform to get that family a cup of coffee.”
Drew Grunwald of Fairfield, another graduate from the Honor Guard ceremony Sunday, repeated that sentiment, saying he wanted to be a part of the group to honor those who have lost their lives serving their communities.
The Southeast Iowa Regional Honor Guard will present a plaque of appreciation to the West Burlington Fire Department for their continued contributions to the honor guard Sunday at the West Burlington Fire Department.