Deployed airmen represent honor, dignity

OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM -- The American flag waves proudly in a light breeze, its bright colors standing out in stark contrast over the gray, cracked concrete of hardened, Soviet-built aircraft shelters.

Below the Stars and Stripes a group of airmen, wearing perfectly pressed desert camouflage uniforms, stand at attention waiting for the sound of retreat and their cue to retire the colors, signifying the end of the official duty day. They are the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing honor guard team, led by Senior Airman Laurie Vroman, a security forces journeyman deployed here from Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash.

With dark brown hair pulled back into a perfect bun, and deep brown, thoughtful eyes, Airman Vroman demonstrates pride and precision in both her force protection and honor guard duties.

For some, the idea of an honor guard team at a deployed location may seem unusual, but for Airman Vroman, the team represents pride, dedication and a deep devotion to duty.

"Our flag deserves the utmost respect, and a trained honor guard team can show that respect," she said.

This is not Airman Vroman's first experience serving on an honor guard team.

During a previous deployment to Saudi Arabia, she joined the Prince Sultan Air Base honor guard team. Because she found it a challenging and educational experience, following that deployment she became a member of the Fairchild AFB team.

When she arrived at her current deployed location, Airman Vroman went to her first sergeant and inquired about joining the honor guard. When she learned the base didn't have one, her next question was, "Can we start one?"

With support from the first sergeant and commander, She began posting flyers around base seeking volunteers.

Airman Vroman again approached the first sergeant, this time with a list of needed supplies that included flags, guideon poles, gloves, flag stands and patches.

"What this team of professionals brings to the fight is the traditions that make us proud and remind us why we serve," said Col. Tim Vining, 455th AEG commander, deployed from Little Rock AFB, Ark. "When we deploy, we don't deploy because of our rich history or traditions. Serving at a forward base makes our oath and what it means more vivid. What the honor guard brings is a poignant reminder of that oath as we stand at attention for the passing of the colors, salute the colors at the playing of our national anthem, and stand in reverent silence as the honor guard folds and retires the colors."

Only a few days and two practices after the new seven-member honor guard team was formed, they were tasked with their first detail -- a ribbon cutting ceremony signifying the opening of a new aircraft ramp.

"We had three days to get ready for the event and I was nervous we would not be able to pull it off," Airman Vroman said. "We practiced every day, and the detail went flawlessly."

During a recent retreat ceremony, while the honor guard team was retiring the colors, a group of local nationals doing construction on base were so impressed with the sharp, crisp movements of the team, that they stopped their work. As a formation of 416th AEG members saluted, the workers stood with their hands on their hearts.

"You American Air Force [members] show much respect to your flag," said one local national. "It is good to watch so much pride."

The team practices whenever the demands of deployments allow, and it has no problem attracting new members as others reach the end of their deployment.

"The honor guard represents the traditions we hold so dear, and prevents them from eroding while deployed," said 416th AEG Command CMSgt. Bryan Williams, deployed from Shaw AFB, S.C. "The idea of having our own honor guard team was met with great enthusiasm and was soon followed by their participation in promotion and retreat ceremonies. As a result, espirit de corps in the unit has sky rocketed."