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Ceremonial Guardsman buries father, follows in footsteps

Senior Airman Dustin Woodford, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard, salutes his fathers grave site at Arlington National Cemetery.

Senior Airman Dustin Woodford, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard, salutes his fathers grave site at Arlington National Cemetery.

BOLLING AFB, DC -- As he watched his father's ashes being lowered into the ground, a sense of relief flowed through him. His father was finally where he belonged, buried with others who served as he had. 

Senior Airman Dustin Woodford grew up knowing his father had served, but he didn't understand the meaning behind it until he began to follow in his father's footsteps, though on a different path. With his own service, Airman Woodford now understood the passion and patriotism his father had felt, and did what he could to ensure his father received the honors he deserved by having a reburial in Arlington National Cemetery. 

Airman Woodford, now training to be a Tactical Air Command and Control specialist at Fort Hood, Texas, buried his father in June 2003. But in September 2005, based on his father's wishes, he was reburied in Arlington. 

"This was something my family and I had thought about for a while," said Airman Woodford. "He was extremely proud of his service and we knew it would mean a lot to him to be laid to rest out here with others who served like him." 

Airman Woodford's father was cremated, and when it dawned on Dustin that his father never had a true burial or service and that his mother never received a flag, he started making phone calls with one purpose in mind: his father's reburial at Arlington. 

"This was a good thing for our whole family, we never understood what my father went through because he didn't talk about his service in Vietnam, but we knew he was very proud of it," Airman Woodford added. "Burying him in Arlington brought everything full circle and allowed us to move on and bring closure after his death, since he died so early." 

The funeral was performed by the Army, except for a team of pall bearers from the Air Force, based on Airman Woodford's request. 

"This is what made this job hit home for me," he said. "Every day we go out and perform funerals, but now I know what all those families feel when we help them bury their loved ones. This was the first time I stood in the chapel in Arlington, and I was overcome. 

"Every job I've done since I've felt with the family," he continued, "and I respond to their emotions. It's more personal for me now and I know it's more than just a job. I feel like there's a common bond between me and the family members we see out there."
A new career 

Since leaving the Honor Guard, Airman Woodford has also begun to follow in his father's footsteps. Though he's not in the Army, Dustin will be working alongside his brothers in green when he trains as a Tactical Air Command and Control specialist. 

"I'll be supporting Army units and be assigned as an Air Force liaison to the 1st Cavalry Division - the same unit my father was assigned to," he said. "This is the mission I want to do, boots on the ground and training with Army soldiers. I'm just happy to be doing it in the Air Force." 

Like the Honor Guard, the 1st Cavalry is rich in tradition, one that Airman Woodford says he is looking forward to joining. Airman Woodford knew the military was his path when he saw a group picture of his dad in uniform surrounded by Army buddies. He started asking his dad about all his experiences, and from his father's patriotism realized that this was the path he too wanted to take. 

"I know my dad would be really proud of me right now, though he said he'd be proud of me whatever I did. When I first decided to join the military, I wanted to go into the Army, but after my father's death I stayed home for another year. I never thought I'd end up working with them anyway, and now I'll be wearing the same cavalry patch my father did. 

"Now that I'm serving, it's really helped me understand my dad better and realize some of the reasons he was the way he was. There's not a day that goes by he's not on my mind."