Flag folding, bell ringing and a 21 gun salute are a few of the most recognizable honors that a police officer or firefighter killed in the line of duty receives during his or her funeral. It is the duty of the honor guard to perform these rituals, and they only have one chance to get it right.
So, honor guard members and recruits meet up once a year to rehearse. This year, the Behind the Badge Foundation trained 176 new honor guard members from over 40 agencies at Alderwood Community Church in Lynnwood. Graduation from training was held last week.
Officers gathered from several departments near and far, including some from Montana and Oregon. Seven South Snohomish County Honor Guard members attended the training.
All participants practiced every aspect of a law enforcement funeral, including removing a casket from a hearse, securing the mourning family, color guard duties, ringing bells and folding the flag.
“Our duty is to provide support to the survivors of law enforcement deaths,” said Brian Johnston, president of the Behind the Badge Foundation and Monroe Police Sergeant. “Behind the Badge serves the law enforcement community in their most grievous time of need, and here, we have created a legacy.”
For one Everett officer, becoming a member of the honor guard was his way of remembering those who helped him remember his father, who was a firefighter killed in the line of duty in 2003.
“Seeing him honored in that way just made me want to give back,” Officer Stephen Ross said. “When I was at my father’s funeral, it felt like I was surrounded by a family of support.”
Since becoming a member of the honor guard in 2010, Ross has traveled to the funerals of several people killed in the line of duty. Earlier this year, he went to Dallas to honor the five police officers shot and killed by a group of men who ambushed them.
“Each service was unique,” Ross said. “Learning about each of them was so meaningful. It was powerful to honor each officer at their service.”
Ross attended last year’s honor guard training put on by the Behind the Badge Foundation. This year, he returned as a flag folding instructor.
“It’s very rewarding to see people carry on these traditions,” he said.
At noon, the honor guard graduation ceremony began. The ceremony took the form of a mock funeral, from beginning to end–except speeches congratulating the new honor guard members replaced eulogies.
One of those speeches came from Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary, who spent 14 years as an honor guard member.
“I think sometimes we forget what we represent,” Trenary said. “We are part of something honorable. When you put that honor guard uniform on, it has meaning.”
Congressman Dave Reichert (R-8th District) also spoke. He spent 33 years working in the King County Sheriff’s Office. In 1982, his partner was shot and killed in the line of duty. While he was not on the honor guard, he did carry his friend’s casket and witnessed the service the honor guard gave to him.
“You all came together that day and honored him,” Reichert said. “It means so much. When we say we will never forget, we mean it.”
He went on to say officers and firefighters have already taken an oath to serve, but by participating in honor guard, they are serving those who serve.
Johnston gave a closing remark before the graduation began.
“God forbid it should ever happen to me,” he said, “but if it does, I have two little girls and I know they will be well taken care of.”
The 176 new honor guard members were then called to the stage to be congratulated for completing the training.
“It’s not easy to get 176 people marching in step,” Johnston said. “Our people have their own emotions. For them to train, it takes a lot out of them.”
–Story and photos by Natalie Covate