By Senior Airman Tim Chacon , 11th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 11, 2008
AIR FORCE DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON --
The U.S. Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team recently returned from a 23-day trip across the nation and almost the entire length of the West Coast. I had the privilege of travelling with this prestigious division of the U.S. Air Force, and witnessing the stringently high standards the team holds themselves to.
The West Coast trip covered more than 6,600 miles; 1,089 miles by bus. Drivers were courtesy of Bolling's 11th Logistics Readiness Squadron- Senior Airmen William Enterkine and Joshua Bell, who drove five days to reach the Drill Team at McChord AFB, Wash.
It was apparent that having on-the-spot transportation was key to the Team's mission success and the 11th LRS made it happen.
The Drill Team, with me as their public affairs representative, began their travels in the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 1, and ensured the best use of their travel time by performing at nearly every stop along their way. The Team spent three days performing both on and around McChord. Bethal High School, one of the local schools welcomed us with a roar of enthusiasm that is often only found at high school performances.
It was easy to gauge the level of excitement of the students by the constant cheering. The Drill Team executed its 12-man performance with precision. Following the routine, they presented coins to several members of the Air Force Junior ROTC.
The Team also spent many hours training. Their emphasis on professionalism and perfection keeps them striving to be the best they possibly can, training even while on the road.
After some needed rest, we traveled through Oregon and toward the great state of California. At about 85 miles from the California border on Interstate 5, we stopped at an unlikely place that would be one of the most memorable events of the trip. A restaurant and bakery called Heaven on Earth provided rest and food was enjoyed by all Team members.
The one thing that was obvious to all of us was the service and kindness of the staff and specifically the owner, Christine Jackson. The Team was welcomed and treated with kindness and admiration that would not be equaled on the trip. Some would also argue that the great food would not be equaled.
We left the restaurant with a warm and blessed feeling. "I felt like we stopped here for a reason higher than just getting something to eat," said Drill Team member Senior Airman Michael Rowe.
We continued south until we reached Redding, Calif. The Team performed at two local high schools, Central Valley and Shasta High. Shasta was perhaps the largest and loudest crowd of the trip. Shasta High was also the home town school for Team member Senior Airman David Perry. The crowd was impressed by the team's performance, but it seemed to me that Team member Senior Airman Peter Ising's animated and passionate narration amped up the crowd tremendously.
"I like to get the crowd pumped up. The more the crowd is into it the more the Team gets into it," said Airman Ising. "I'll do whatever it takes to get them into it, even if it seems a little over the top."
The Team took time afterward, like they do after almost every performance, to talk and interact with the crowd. This helps to establish positive rapport between the Team and the community on a more personal level. Students often take advantage of this opportunity, bombarding the Team members with questions, comments and requests to have their picture taken with their favorite Team member.
Next, we headed to Travis AFB, Calif., where team members rested and then performed at local Armijo High School. The team executed another flawless drill and interacted with the students of Armijo, before returning to Travis, but not to rest.
Drill Team members Senior Airmen Brandon Bridges and James Cashwell completed evaluations to become part of the Drill Team's elite formation, the Four Man. The Four Man consists of the Team's premier members - the most qualified members who perform the Team's most difficult and dangerous movements.
With a lot of hard work and extra effort, Airmen Bridges and Cashwell passed their evaluations and were welcomed to the Four Man. Being part of the Four Man means more work and responsibility. Members of the Four Man travel more and put in more time than other members of the Honor Guard Team.
"I wanted to be a part of the Four Man so I can say I did everything I could to be the best while on Drill Team," said Airman Bridges.
The next performance was further south at Sonoma, Calif., where the Team performed at a Veterans of Foreign Wars flag dedication ceremony on Memorial Day. Grandson of General Hap Arnold, Capt. Robert Arnold, was the guest speaker for the event.
VFW members provided us with refreshments afterward. There was also some impromptu comedic entertainment by "Stan the Man," a VFW member. It was all in good fun and we departed again for an even longer drive to Los Angeles.
We stopped in Hollywood where a large portion of the festivities for Air Force Week, Los Angeles, was be held Nov. 14 - 21. The team performed at several locations in and around the Los Angeles area that week.
The Team performed several more times during their time in Southern California. They performed two almost back to back 12-man performances at March Air Reserve Base, they also performed at the Long Beach static air show, and at Hollywood and Highland Plaza. Three performances were held at the plaza in one day. The Hollywood and Highland Plaza was the center of the action during Los Angeles Air Force Week.
There were also performances at the Air Reserve Base Ball, Disneyland and Air Force Association ball. Two of the more populated venues were at basketball games between Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs, and another game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls. Both games had several well-known celebrities in attendance, like Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington, Billy Crystal, David Beckham and others.
The two basketball games far outnumbered the high schools in terms of attendance and star power, but didn't surpass Shasta High School in enthusiasm. The Team performed to 100 percent of their capability and gave the crowd a healthy dose of Air Force precision. It would be hard for anyone in attendance to not be impressed, even if the main reason for them being there was to see Kobe Bryant.
We returned to Bolling late in the evening Nov. 22 to no parade. We were greeted by Chief Master Sgt. Bradley Spilinek, Honor Guard chief enlisted manager, who was more than happy to be there to greet us upon arrival. He had the opportunity to spend some time with the Team in L.A., and is a big believer in what they do. "I am always impressed with the Drill Team, he said. "I truly believe they are putting the Air Force's best foot forward."
This trip covered thousands of miles, with 21 performances in three states. The team performed in front of generals, chiefs, Airmen, high school students, A-list celebrities and thousands of other people. Overall, they logged in several days of travel hours and accomplished the mission they set out to accomplish.
Trips like this are nothing new for the Drill Team. They go TDY regularly, perform daily in the National Capital Region, and practice and perform steadily on Bolling's ceremonial lawn. They are a close-knit group of dedicated individuals who do everything they can each and every day to tell the world about the Air Force - demonstrating precision movements, discipline and dedication.
In 2008, the Drill Team logged in 22 separate TDYs, totaling 143 days and 110 performances across the United States.
With that much accomplished in one year, it's impressive to look closer at Honor Guard members like Staff Sgt. Francisco Garrigas, whose spent seven years with the Honor Guard and has been a part of more than 2,000 performances and too many TDY days to count. Sergeant Garrigas is a senior member of the Drill Team, a member of the Four Man formation and a trainer. His dedication is evident as he talks to the Team after a performance, praising them for a job well done but reminding them, "perfection is a standard for us, not a goal." This was Sergeant Garrigas' last trip and performance with the team.
Sergeant Garrigas' footprint is evident with Airman 1st Class Jezel Reyes-Torres, the newest Air Force Honor Guard member. Airman Reyes-Torres looks up to the accomplishments of Sergeant Garrigas and has aspirations of also becoming a top Team performer.
Airman Reyes says the things he admires most about the Team and the things that made him want to join are, "the team work, trust, dedication and passion are the things that I like most about the Drill Team." "Being on the Team is going to help me be a leader by teaching me to help others."
The beliefs of Airman Reyes are the same for all of the members of the Drill Team. These beliefs are what they stand for and what they deliver. The work they do to recruit, inspire and retain is a vital tool for the Air Force and a shining example of what any Airman can do.