Post 202 to form honor guard unit

Feb. 12, 2013 @ 11:49 PM

The American Legion Post 202 in Gatlinburg is now working on creating an honor guard unit that will eventually be available for military funeral services, officials said.

An honor guard is a ceremonial unit that provides funeral honors for active military or veterans. Anyone who has served honorably in any branch of the U.S. military is entitled to this funeral service by law.

Other honor guard units, such as Volunteer State Veterans Honor Guard and American Legion Post 104 Honor Guard, operate in the East Tennessee region, but Col. Steve Holbert, Assistant Honor Guard Commander of Post 202, said there was still a need for another available honor guard unit in Sevier County.

"There's a need for this because American Legion Post 104 can't do them all," Holbert said.

Currently, the Post 202 Honor Guard consists of five or six core members, who are also members of the Volunteer State Honor Guard, but they're searching for more members. They want to have around 10-12 active participants before doing a ceremony.

"I really feel that we might be couple months away (before we're ready)," said Sgt. Nik Vames, commander of the Post 202 Honor Guard.

Uniforms are also an issue. At this point, each member wears a current military uniform, which they also wear during the Volunteer State Veterans Honor Guard services, however, "we are working toward getting new uniforms more suited to the American Legion's needs," Vames said. Each uniform costs at least $300, and the unit proposes to raise money for them by performing different kinds of services. A color guard unit has already been established and is ready to perform color guard duties throughout the local area.

"We believe that if we let the public know that we're available to do these color guard services, we'll be able to generate the necessary money very quickly," Vames said. "Usually when we provide these services, there's some kind of donation made to the color guard."

The post also wants to plan future membership drives to increase the size of its group, in order to provide more and better services.

Post 202 used to have an honor guard unit, but it went dormant after members became too old or passed away, Vames said. That's one reason Vames and Holbert are interested in younger veterans participating in the honor guard, especially since the services require a certain degree of dexterity, and each training session lasts several hours.

"We plan to train and be very efficient," Vames said. "We're going to do things differently and a lot more proficiently."

The honor guard funeral services will include a three-round volley, the playing of "Taps," the folding of the flag and the presentation of the flag to the next-of-kin. Although donations to the post are accepted when the unit performs an honor guard service, none of the members are paid for the service.

"The pay for me is standing out there on the rifle line honoring a veteran that served our great country," said Vames, who became interested in the honor guard when making funeral preparations for his great uncle, a WWII veteran. "When you realize that you're providing a service for a veteran and that this is the last time their family is going to see them, you feel connected and honored to be a part of it. We want to give respect, but more importantly, we must give respect."

If you are interested in joining the American Legion Post 202 Honor Guard or interested in making a deductible donation to its uniform fund, contact Sgt. Vames at (865) 201-1246, or e-mail him at nikdagreek69@gmail.com.

rhargett@themountainpress.com