Steel Talons honor with dignity

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Sondra Escutia
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
While it's been said that no one is perfect, it is the undertaking of the Holloman Steel Talons Honor Guard to be the best and recruit the best while striving to be as close to perfect as possible.

On the Ceremonial Uniform of every Honor Guard member is a badge that explains their reason for aiming so high. It is their mission: To Honor with Dignity.

"We strive for perfection in everything we do," said Tech. Sgt. Troy Bizzack, Steel Talons noncommissioned officer in charge. "Our motto is 'First time, only time.' Everything we do we get one shot, so we've got to be perfect."

It may be one Honor Guard member's 13th or 30th funeral, he added, but the family only gets one, and the Steel Talons have only one chance to represent the Honor Guard, Holloman Air Force Base and all branches of the military.

The Steel Talons Honor Guard was created to honor fallen comrades and those who have served in any branch of the military. They do this by performing in a variety of military and civilian ceremonies ranging from posting of the Colors at a change of command to full military honors at an active-duty funeral.

Becoming a member of such an elite team, however, does not come easy.

The leaders of the Holloman's Honor Guard say being a Steel Talon requires a high standard of discipline and professionalism, along with initiative and hard work.

"To be part of this type of program you have to show initiative. You have to show that you want to be here," said Staff Sgt. Mario Martinez, a trainer with the Steel Talons Honor Guard. "If that person really wants to be part of this team, he's going to take extra time on his off-time to practice the movements that we taught him."

Every Tuesday, the sounds of their hard work can be heard near Heritage Park as the ceremonial guardsmen practice performing a myriad of details, flag handling and other Air Force customs.

Some of them are proud veterans and others are still in training, hoping to become a member of the team.

"Honor Guard is teaching me to be disciplined and it reminds me of basic training," said Airman 1st Class Samuel Herring, 49th Materiel Maintenance Squadron and Honor Guard hopeful. "Basic training is our stepping stone into the military so it's our foundation. It reiterates the things we learned there like how to be focused and how to perform."

Airman Herring began training with the Steel Talons three weeks ago, and is one of many looking forward to finding out if he's made the cut.

Contrary to popular belief, Airmen of all ranks can try out to become a member of the Steel Talons. The requirements include having completed the career development coursework, approval from their supervisors and compliance with Air Force uniform and fitness standards.

After that, it all comes down to passing an evaluation after four weeks of training.

"You can't have an elite unit without making cuts," said Staff Sgt. Mitchell Bisson, Steel Talons trainer and seven-year Honor Guard veteran. "If we are going to be the best of the best, we have to make cuts somewhere."

Sergeant Bisson said he and the other trainers encourage noncommissioned and commissioned officers to step up to the challenge.

"Everybody can benefit by being on Honor Guard," he said. "We're held to a higher standard, period. So you're going to instill those standards in your everyday lifestyle and you'll take them back to your work center."

Speaking from his own experience, having joined only three years ago, the Steel Talons NCOIC said it provided him an unmatched opportunity to mentor other Airmen from across the base.

"I didn't come walking on the team as 'Hey, I'm a technical sergeant and you're not going to tell me what to do.' I came on the team with the mentality of 'I don't know anything, tell me what to do and I will go do it,'" said Sergeant Bizzack. "The bonus to that is it provided me an absolutely phenomenal opportunity to mentor young Airmen and young staff sergeants as I earned their respect and my place on the team."

Likewise, the newest Steel Talons officer in charge said it can be advantageous for officers as well.

"You're a follower before you're a leader. I am out there training and learning everything I have to do," said 2nd Lt. Drumarie Krusenoski. "You're coming out here and learning things, you're learning with your Airmen and you get to know other people, other squadrons and how they work."

While the Honor Guard leaders agreed it sometimes takes fairly thick skin to be a member, as well as a very high level of dedication, the pride that is felt while performing and representing the Air Force makes it all worth it.

"When you get the opportunity to learn a skill, perfect it and demonstrate it in an honorable way, that is what it's all about for me," said Steel Talons trainer, Airman 1st Class Ethan Ellison. "Just being able to go out there and give back to the families that have served, that's really powerful."

Anyone interested in seeing the Holloman Steel Talons in action can stop by Heritage Park any Tuesday during practice or for more information, contact Sergeant Bizzack at 575-572-2077.