NEWS | Dec. 21, 2020

Vermont Guard restarts Military Funeral Honors training program

By Don Branum Vermont National Guard Public Affairs

Nine cadets from the University of Vermont Army ROTC detachment became the newest graduates of the Vermont National Guard’s Military Funeral Honors training program in a ceremony here Dec. 18, and the first graduates of the full 40-hour course in 10 years.

The cadets will support a program that covers all of Vermont as well as parts of New York and New Hampshire, said Staff Sgt. Travis Rock, the MFH program manager.

“When I’m limited to full-time Soldiers, we can call in these cadets to fill in where we can’t,” said Rock, who formally became the program manager Dec. 16. Rock was trained in 2010, during the last full 40-hour class that the Vermont National Guard offered.

Graduates from this course were Cadets Dan Borbely, Taylor Caitlin, Seth Cournoyer, Alyssa Ellis, Timothy Forkey, Haley Kieny, Hannah Minns, Teagan Poliseno, and Nicholas Welsh. Minns was named the program’s top graduate, earning a perfect score in the class and receiving an Army Achievement Medal from Maj. Jason Beams, UVM ROTC’s operations officer and Vermont National Guard liaison.

“The class came about in part because of a phone call from Beams,” Holt said. “ROTC came to us. They wanted to help us out with this.”

Minns, one of four cadets in the class who’s enrolled in the National Guard’s Simultaneous Membership Program, said she wanted to get the certification and hopes to join funeral details next summer. SMP allows Soldiers to serve in the National Guard while also attending college in an ROTC program, and those enrolled in the program can receive active-duty pay while in training and conducting funeral details.

Ellis, the color guard captain for UVM’s ROTC detachment, said the training gave her good information she could bring back to share with other cadets.

Holt said the training opportunity came at a good time: November and December are when the MFH operations tempo slows down. Requests do still come in, however, including three funeral details that were conducted the day of the graduation ceremony.

Previously, when service members in the Vermont National Guard required MFH training, they would travel to training locations in other states, said Stephen Holt, the outgoing state coordinator for the program.

The COVID-19 pandemic has limited the MFH program’s activities somewhat, Rock said. Training and details had to be conducted using social distancing protocols. In addition, most funeral services in 2020 were limited to two-person details that included playing Taps and presenting a folded American flag to the deceased veteran’s next of kin.

“If we could do more, I would love to,” he added.

Holt said the ROTC cadets did an excellent job picking up the fine details necessary to properly conduct funeral honors.

“I can tell they’ve practiced. They’re paying attention to the little things. Keeping a ceremonial posture is key when performing a funeral detail. These cadets have the motivation to want to learn,” Holt said. “These are our future leaders, and to have that reverence for the past is hopefully something they’ll pass down to their Soldiers.”

Maj. Gen. Greg Knight, the Vermont adjutant general, spoke with the cadets just before the graduation ceremony to thank them for their dedication.

“Your rendering of final honors at a memorial ceremony means everything to the family members and next of kin of the service member they loved,” Knight said. “You wear this uniform for a reason. So did they.”

 Rock said the program could always use more volunteers. Tentative classes are scheduled for February and March.

“I have plans to run the 40-hour course as many times as I can,” Rock said. “I’d like to get as many Soldiers certified as possible.”

Soldiers who complete the MFH training receive a tab to wear on their uniforms and Holt said the program is in the process of getting state approval for a badge.

Soldiers interested in attending a training session or joining the MFH program should contact the MFH office at 802-338-3490.