Military News

Keesler Air Force Base is cutting back on military funeral detail

Members of the Keesler Air Force Base Honor Guard carry the coffin of Biloxi City Councilman Tom Wall as members of the Patriot Guard salute during his funeral at Biloxi National Cemetery on Friday, January 11, 2013.
Members of the Keesler Air Force Base Honor Guard carry the coffin of Biloxi City Councilman Tom Wall as members of the Patriot Guard salute during his funeral at Biloxi National Cemetery on Friday, January 11, 2013. amccoy@sunherald.com File

Congress has mandated that every eligible veteran be provided with military honors when that veteran is buried.

But some Coast residents are learning that it's not what they think it is.

According to the National Cemetery Administration, Public Law 106-65 requires every eligible veteran receive military funeral honors — for two members of the military, in uniform, fold and present the burial flag to survivors at the funeral and the playing of "Taps." At least one of the military members must be from the veteran's branch of service.

But most people who request military honors at a loved one's funeral are expecting not only the folding and presenting of the burial flag, but also the three-shot volley of rifle fire.

As of May 1, that's not going to happen.

Manpower and budget concerns have made it difficult to provide more than two members per funeral, according to personnel at Keesler Air Force Base.

Tech Sgt. Ryan Crane, a Keesler spokesman, said in the past the Air Force base has gone above and beyond the congressional mandate of providing a two-man honor guard for veterans and retirees who requested the all-volunteer detail.

"However, based on mission requirements combined with a decrease in available manpower and additional readiness requirements, we're unable to maintain this same level of support," he said in a written statement. "We are sensitive to how important this is and we want our veterans and retirees to know that we will support as much as we are able, which, at a minimum, will be a two-member-detail."

In 2017, Keesler provided honor details for 763 funerals.

Any member of the military who dies while on active duty is still accorded a full 20-person honor guard. That consists of an eight-person firing party, six pallbearers, a bugler, and a four-person color guard with a detail officer.

And while Keesler's policy regarding military honor guards has changed, the policy at Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport has not.

Brian Lamar, public affairs specialist for the Seabee base, said that based on a family's request, the base will supply a two-person detail or up to a nine-person detail for funeral honors.

"Our policy hasn't changed," he said. "This is for veterans or active duty personnel.

"On some occasions, we might be overwhelmed with requests and not be able to support everyone as they requested, but that's very rare. But the funerals take precedence over other requests."

Other requests include color guard for a Biloxi Shuckers game or for the annual Salute to the Military event and other similar occasions, Lamar said.

Kate Magandy can be reached at 228-896-2344 or at @kmagandy
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