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Chaplains Provide Honored Service

Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia -- On a cold and windy day in Arlington, Va., Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Richard Black reads a few words to the small crowd gathered around a casket in Arlington National Cemetery -"We gather today, in the shadow of our Nation's Capitol, to show our respect and to honor one who was prepared to give his life, if need be, so that we and the generations to come would know what it is like to live in the Land of the Free... and the Home of the Brave."

For chaplains assigned to Arlington National Cemetery, this is a typical day in their duty.

"Each service provides honor to their members daily," said Chaplain Black. The Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard are represented as well at ANC. Together, the services conduct an average of 27 funerals a day he said.

Chaplain Black, a Protestant chaplain endorsed by the African Methodist Episcopal church is one of three Air Force chaplains that are assigned to the 624 acres of our "most hallowed" land. The other Air Force chaplains are Senior Chaplain Colonel Curtis D. Linge with the Church of Christ and Protestant Chaplain Captain Kenneth E. Fisher endorsed by Liberty Baptist Fellowship.

Each chaplain while on active duty is endorsed by their own denomination, of which, there are more than 200 different endorsing agents representing their faith groups in the United States Air Force said Chaplain Fisher.

This three person chaplain team is responsible for conducting more than 1,300 Air Force funerals over the past year and a half. Each chaplain has met with countless families and made the sometimes mile and three quarter march to the fallen member's final resting place many times.

The chaplains at ANC receive updated lists of funeral services daily said Fisher. Once they have gotten their list, the chaplain contacts the family and offers their condolences and introduces themselves as the person that is in charge of the service within the guidelines of ANC.

If a family clergy is available, each chaplain works closely with that individual to ensure the needs of every family is met. The chaplain then greets the family on the day of the funeral and informs them of the sequence of events. In a full honors funeral, the chaplain leads the caisson, body bearers, and family members. Full honors consist of the Ceremonial Brass band, Honor Flight, caisson, body bearers, firing party, bugler, and an Arlington Lady. Sometimes families arrange for a fly over and bagpiper in further honor of their loved ones. 

Chaplain Black said it is rewarding being used by God in honoring our nation's fallen patriots. Being chosen for such a position is a high honor across the Air Force--one which each chaplain is thankful as it has enlightened what freedom really is.

Of the greatest concern for the chaplains is that conducting so many funeral services on a daily basis, the assignment could become emotionally challenging. Each chaplain prepares in their own way different coping mechanisms to ensure, regardless of any personal difficulties, every Air Force family arriving at ANC is met with the same high standard of compassionate care as those before them.

It is easy for the sights and sounds of military tradition to overshadow the passing member, he said. The point of the funeral is to honor the deceased member. ANC is a beautiful place and all of the uniformed services present a proud and dignified look when performing each of their ceremonies.

In the end, the Air Force Chaplains at Arlington National Cemetery perform a vital and noteworthy service to the deceased members and their families for their last military service.