LATHAM, N.Y. - New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen provided military funeral services for more than 10,000 families in 2021.
As of Dec. 21, 2021, New York Army and Air National Guard funeral honor guards had conducted 10,353 military funerals across the state, with another 318 services anticipated by New Year’s Eve.
There are 211 New York National Guard military personnel — 99 Soldiers and 112 Airmen — who provide military funeral honors.
In 2020, New York National Guard funeral honors teams conducted 8,807 military funerals — fewer than the 10,859 in 2019 because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, according to honor guard officials.
A 2000 federal law mandates that former members of the U.S. military who served on active duty or in the reserves and were not dishonorably discharged are eligible for a military funeral.
At a minimum, these honors are provided by a two-person team that plays taps with a bugle and folds and presents an American flag to the family.
Retired military personnel and those who passed away while on active duty are entitled to honors that involve upwards of nine personnel and can include a rifle firing party and pallbearers.
Military funeral honors are requested through the funeral home that handles arrangements for a family.
The New York Army National Guard conducted 8,235 military funerals in 2021, according to 1st Lt. Melisa Rosario, the honor guard officer-in-charge. That was up from the 7,122 services in 2020.
There are 40 Soldiers assigned to the funeral honors mission full time. Another 59 Soldiers are available part time to provide funeral honors.
The New York Air National Guard’s honor guard teams conducted an additional 2,118 services in 2021, compared to 1,685 in 2020.
Twenty-five Airmen work full time as funeral honors coordinators or team members, with 87 more Airmen available part time.
Many families decided not to hold a formal burial or funeral in early 2020, according to Master Sgt. Terra Martin, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 109th Airlift Wing’s honor guard at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, New York.
Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Alan Sanchez, who is responsible for the 106th Rescue Wing honor guard at F.S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach, New York, said his team performed services in 2021 that had been deferred during the onset of the pandemic.
While funeral numbers have gone up since 2020, the New York Army National Guard honor guard teams are still following COVID-19 precautions, Rosario said.
For example, instead of handing the folded American flag to a veteran’s family member, the team will fold the flag and leave it on the casket to avoid close contact, she said.
And while most military honors take place at cemeteries, they can be conducted in other locations.
The 174th Attack Wing honor guard, based at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, provided military funeral honors for a Vietnam War POW at his vacation home on Wellesley Island in the St. Lawrence River’s Thousand Islands, according to Master Sgt. Donald Anderson, the wing honor guard program manager.