Memories of President George H.W. Bush and an inside look at U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard.
— Jim McGrath (@jgm41) December 3, 2018
Above: Earlier yesterday morning, Air Force One waits on the tarmac in Texas to transport President Bush to Washington, D.C.
With the media coverage over the next few days of the upcoming State funeral, I thought it would be an appropriate time to share my experience as a U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard for President Bush while he was in office.
You may have noticed the joint service military members (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard) who are and will be carrying the casket of President Bush. They will also be posted as guards at the US Capitol while President Bush is lying in state. Those members are part of an elite group of the military known as “guardsmen” or ceremonial honor guards.
The honor guard is an elite unit consisting of members from each branch of the U.S. military. The unit is directly attached to The White House and President.
New Guardsmen Hand Picked From Boot Camp
Most new members of the honor guard are hand picked by special recruiters who usually select new members as they are in boot camp of the military service for which they enlisted. The recruiters have authority to change military contracts and orders. Most tours of the honor guard are between two and four years. Once selected, the new member will have their original military orders changed so they can complete the honor guard tour of duty.
Top Secret Security Clearance Required
Once selected, new members of the presidential honor guard undergo a very detailed background investigation that starts while they are still in bootcamp. Federal agents travel to the home town of the recruit and investigate all the way back to childhood. If the background investigation is favorable, the new member is issued a top secret security clearance.
New honor guard recruits complete additional boot camp style training when they first arrive at their respective honor guard command. The training includes precision march and drill techniques and training to stand for very long periods of time without moving. Also included in the training is detailed uniform care.
Joint Service and Local Service
Upon graduation new members of the guard are assigned to a division within the local guard command. For the U.S. Navy, assignments include firing party, casket bearers, colors (flag bearers), and drill team.
Anytime there is a major function at The White House, Pentagon, or other location where honor guardsmen are needed they work with members from each military service. This is known as a joint service mission. You will be seeing a lot of these joint service missions in the news coverage during the upcoming memorial.
When there is no joint service mission honor guard members spend most of their time training or participating in military funerals in the local Washington, D.C. area.
I was selected in my 3rd week of bootcamp. A recruiter invited me to attend a presentation where I was shown a video and information about the guard was presented to me. Once I agreed, the recruiter had my original military orders changed so that I could complete my newly assigned duty. I reported to Washington, D.C. in the fall of 1989 to start my honor guard training.
The training was intense and I remember having to endure hours of standing at attention while instructors tried various tactics to make us laugh or flinch. One of many methods used by instructors was employing a Gumby doll and the instructors would make voices for it and put it through amazingly funny situations only inches from your face. You didn’t dare crack a smile or you would find yourself outside running around the building and doing extra work after hours. I also remember standing for long periods of time at attention (sometimes two hours or more) and before breakfast while instructors played long games of chess in front of us.
After making it through the training I was assigned to firing party. We were responsible for the 21 gun salutes at funerals. My primary job was Navy funerals around the Washington, D.C. area when I wasn’t needed for a presidential function.
Working for President Bush
The Honor Guard is directly attached to The White House, on call and ready to provide immediate services anytime they are needed. Anytime a State dinner or other high profile White House function occurs, the ceremonial guard is there.
I had the privilege of serving under President H.W. Bush for the majority of his time in office. One day after working at an arrival ceremony and an evening State dinner, President Bush jokingly told us to go ahead and take the rest of the night off after we had been working there all morning, day, and evening. His grin after saying that to us has stayed with me.
Above: President Bush inspects our unit on the White House front lawn during an arrival ceremony in the early 1990’s.
I feel blessed and fortunate to have served in the honor guard for President Bush 41. Aside from what your political views might be, he was a good president to work for and he appreciated the work we did.
For more information about President Bush (and a really neat timeline) visit the George Bush Memorial Fund website.
Article by Matt at Klamath Alerts
Below: A video about the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard