SPRINGFIELD, IL (05/27/2011)(readMedia)-- The life of a service member is never a simple one. Missions, deployments and sacrifice come often in the service of one's country.
For many Illinois' veterans who have served in the U.S. military, their sacrifices bring respect and honor in both life and death.
Approximately 80 Soldiers with Illinois National Guard's Funeral Honors Program are tasked with the solemn duty of performing military honors at the funerals of those who have honorably served in the U.S. military, said Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Vocks of Taylorville, the non-commissioned officer in charge of casualty operations with Joint Forces Headquarters for the Illinois National Guard.
"These are the final respects we're allowed to give to our comrades in arms," said Vocks. "It's the military's way of giving back to their own. It is steeped in military customs and traditions, but when it comes down to it, it's taking care of those who have come before us."
The veterans who have served deserve to be honored said Patrick Jockisch of Petersburg, the state coordinator for the Illinois National Guard's Funeral Honors Program.
"The number one purpose of the Funeral Honors Program is to honor our nation's veterans and we do that for all veterans who have served in either war or peace," said Jockisch.
The funeral honors team, the Honor Guard, pay respect to veterans by folding the flag placed on their casket, presenting it to the family of the fallen and then sounding Taps to honor the deceased, said Jockisch. At larger ceremonies they may hold a 21-rifle volley.
The Soldiers who perform the military honors are trained in a comprehensive week-long course and are certified as members of the Honor Guard and part of the Funeral Honors Team, said Staff Sgt. Brandon Page of Marion, the Funeral Honors trainer for the Illinois National Guard. Soldiers are trained how to properly perform the ceremonies and the motions involved.
Page said the Soldiers who become part of the Honor Guard put forth dedication to honoring the fallen.
"They're here for one reason and that's to honor veterans," said Page. "To be in the Honor Guard you have to be the best of the best ... not everyone can do this job."
Page said the Soldiers can be at seven to 10 funerals a week and the nature of the job can be tough. Dealing with death and the fallen can take its toll, but Honor Guard Soldiers know the significance of their mission.
"It's not an easy job," said Jockisch. "Even though the sequences are always the same every day, every day it's a different family, it's a different circumstance. We are the face of the (Illinois National Guard) and we connect with the community and are a part of that community. By laying our nation's and our state's veterans to rest, we're reaching out to that community letting them know we still care and that a Soldier may be fallen but never forgotten."
Older veterans of the World War II, Vietnam and Korea conflicts make the main percentage of the fallen with a small percentage of traditional National Guardsmen and Soldiers who have died overseas in the current operations, said Jockisch.
Any veteran who has been honorably discharged from the U.S. military is eligible to receive military honors at his or her funeral.
The Illinois National Guard's Funeral Honors team performs approximately 300 funeral services a month and performed more than 3,000 funerals in 2010. The Funeral Honors Program works heavily with military supporting groups like the Patriot Riders, the Order of the Purple Heart and other veteran services organizations across the state.
For those interested in more information on military funeral honor services or joining the Illinois National Guard's Honor Guard please contact the State Funeral Honors Office at 217-761-3047.