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Funding cut to affect how military honors are provided at veterans’ funerals

DULUTH - A cut to federal funding is causing a change in how the Minnesota National Guard provides personnel to perform military funeral honors around the state.

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An honor guard fires a 21-gun salute in honor of Brainerd Mayor Jim Wallin's military service. Zach Kayser/Brainerd Dispatch file photo.

DULUTH - A cut to federal funding is causing a change in how the Minnesota National Guard provides personnel to perform military funeral honors around the state.

Nine Minnesota National Guard soldiers will be cut from the full-time ranks of those who provide military honors at funerals when funding for the service is decreased from $1.2 million to $700,000, effective today (Oct. 1), according to National Guard public affairs officer 1st Lt. Holly Rockow.

That means that going forward, the National Guard will have 12 full-time soldiers to provide military funeral honors throughout Minnesota, and will supplement its full-time Honor Guard with Guards personnel who typically serve on weekends. Two full-time soldiers available to provide military funeral honors will be located in Moorhead, St. Cloud, Duluth and Rochester, with four soldiers located in the Twin Cities, according to Rockow. The Minnesota National Guard provides military honors at an average of 416 funerals per month.

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Reductions to the service were attempted before in Oct. 2012; from 24 members to 11. - Story click here.
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“It’s just that we’ll have to use other soldiers who are part of our part-time force; we might have to utilize those soldiers in the instances when we are short-staffed on the full-time side,” Rockow said.

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Federal law mandates that military funeral honors, which include the playing of Taps and presentation of the American flag to the family, be provided for any eligible veteran for free, if the veteran’s family requests it for the funeral. In Minnesota, veterans service organizations, including the Duluth Honor Guard, also can provide military funeral honors and receive a stipend for doing so.

Rockow said providing military honors at funerals in Minnesota will continue, but the National Guard will be changing the model of who provides those honors.

John Marshall, captain of the Duluth Honor Guard that provides military honors at about 200 funerals per year, expressed concern about part-time soldiers providing the military honors instead of full-time soldiers specifically trained in providing the service.

“They don’t have to show up, there’s no requirement. If they’re working a job or something comes up and they don’t show up, it’s no big deal so it’s not consistent,” said Marshall, who has reached out to federal representatives to try to get the funding restored.

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, DFL-Crosby, said in a statement, “Our obligation to protect and serve those who have put themselves in harm’s way for us must forever extend to this final honor - Taps, a rifle salute and an American flag presented to the family on behalf of a grateful nation. I will continue to work with Duluth Honor Guard Captain John Marshall and the appropriate agencies to ensure that every military veteran receives the recognition they’ve earned.”

Marshall pointed out that veterans service organizations have a vested interest in working with families preparing for a veteran’s funeral, and providing the military honors at the funeral.

“We go to school with these veterans that pass. We work with these people. We went to war with these people,” said Marshall, who has been a part of the honor guard for 19 years.

Marshall said he also wants to see language changed in the U.S. Department of Defense’s instructions on military funeral honors. The instructions currently require one member of the honor guard participating in a veteran’s funeral to represent the military branch for which the veteran served. Marshall said he’s concerned that the requirement could cost thousands of dollars in taxpayers’ money.

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Marshall noted that it’s more cost-effective to have organizations such as the Duluth Honor Guard provide the military funeral honors instead of paying for a military member to fly to Minnesota to participate in the funeral.

“It’s not reality. If you’re out in Washington, D.C., they’ve got Marine bases, naval bases, Air Force bases and you’ve got more people to pull from so it’s easy for those Pentagon people to make decisions like that out there. That blanket policy would work good there, but it’s not going to work in the state of Washington, Oregon, Minnesota - and others have a similar complaint,” Marshall said.

The Duluth Honor Guard is dedicated to providing the best service possible at the funerals in its community, Marshall said.

“The families here in the Duluth area know who we are, they know that we’re going to serve them under all conditions and they want us because they know that we’re reliable, we’re loyal and we’re dedicated,” he said.

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Lisa Kaczke, Forum News Service

 

 

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