Alaska Guardsmen Recognize Veterans with Final Honor
January 04, 2011
The program, which began in 2007, is supported by Alaska National Guardsmen and conducts funeral honors for all branches of service, but focus mainly on Army, Army National Guard and Alaska Territorial Guard members.
“We provide military funeral honors to all veterans across the state of Alaska,” said Norman Hood, Alaska National Guard honor guard state coordinator. “We are doing the right thing, for the right reason, for the right people.”
In 2010, the Alaska National Guard Military Funeral Honors Team conducted 99 Alaska Territorial Guard (ATG) funeral honors, supporting Alaska veterans who were organized in 1942 by Alaska Territorial Gov. Ernest Gruening in response to attacks by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.
Ranging in age up to 80 years old, these brave men and women faithfully guarded their assigned territory, with no pay and little equipment. In 2000, the late Sen. Ted Stevens introduced legislation that changed law and officially recognized the members of the Alaska Territorial Guard for their service, making them eligible for military funeral honors.
According to Hood, since October 2010, the honors team has performed 76 Alaska Territorial Guard military funeral honors across the state. A sign the “greatest generation” is passing away in larger numbers and also signifies their outreach efforts to contact veterans and their families is working because more people are requesting their support.
“When we go out to a village, we take records of people who’ve requested funeral honors, as well as ATG members with no request and ATG members who haven’t submitted any paperwork to receive their official discharge. Our goal is to contact as many people as possible because they may not be aware of our program and they deserve to be honored.”
Hood, who took over the position in May 2010, has also worked hard to build relationships with veteran service organizations, funeral directors and community members throughout Alaska to make the program more visible.
“The key is to build relationships with funeral directors and veteran organizations, so they’re aware were here to help, and then I work through them to make sure the families know too. I’ve even certified 40 members of different veteran service organization to help assist in funeral honors.”
Currently, the team has 103 active or retired Guardsmen who serve in the Alaska National Guard Military Funeral Honors Team, but Hood is always looking for more Guardsmen interested in joining.
“To me, this is one of the most rewarding things you can do, and joining helps the Guard build a stronger team.”
In Alaska, with few roads and a harsh, unforgiving landscape, just getting to these villages can be a challenge, but according to Hood, they’ll find a way.
“We live in Alaska, so most of the time we have to travel by air, but if there aren’t any aviation assets available, our team will jump on a snowmachine and do whatever it takes to get there.”
In December 2010, military funeral honor team members did just that, riding snowmachines from Bethel to four remote villages in western Alaska in the dead of winter where temperatures can dip to 50 below zero to honor fallen ATG members.
“I’m a retired Soldier and a son of a veteran, so it means a lot to me to honor these veterans who served their state and country. That’s why we make every effort to get out to every community because they deserve our gratitude for their service.”
Veterans with honorable military discharges and retired veterans with honorable military discharges are eligible for military funeral honors.
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