EMS Honor Guards

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Participation in community celebrations and ceremonial occasions of other organizations is a wonderful opportunity for you and your EMS agency to present a positive professional face in the community.

The "colors" or flags of organizations are a symbol of an organization's unique identity and its loyalty to and alliance with other organizations. Uniformed organizations "on parade" typically are led by a color guard carrying the flags of the nation and state to which they belong, along with the organization's flag. This practice is similar to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, where each team parades into the stadium, led by an honored and distinguished athlete carrying the nation's flag.

A number of EMS agencies have formed color guards as part of their department's "honor guard"--an organization with a broader focus than a color guard. The color guard, sometimes accompanied by a marching contingent of the organization's members or a group of vehicles on display, makes a very positive and lasting impression at community parades held to celebrate national holidays or other special occasions.

The "honor guard" is a group of individuals specially trained to perform the duties of the color guard, plus other ceremonial functions. Perhaps the most important duty of an honor guard is to provide support to the funeral of an organization member who has died in the line of duty. Other roles include flag ceremonies, escorting dignitaries and families at formal functions and assisting other organizations in times of tragedy or celebration.
Some honor guards have developed distinctive uniforms to facilitate their unique functions. This is not essential, however. Well-known and highly respected honor guard units like those of the U.S. Marine Corps make their presence known through flawless presentation of their organization's basic uniform.

Developing an honor guard is not a difficult process, but it will require leadership. Perhaps the most challenging aspect for the agency leadership is identifying a member to head up the effort. Fortunately, most EMS organizations have in their ranks individuals with some relevant (perhaps military) experience or willingness to learn. Most communities have law enforcement, fire or military members with experience and expertise who are willing to assist in developing a fledgling honor guard.

Organizational support is required. If the organization does not currently have a dress uniform that can be used as the basis for the honor guard uniform, it can start with a modified class A uniform, adding a long-sleeved shirt, necktie and cover (hat) to the standard uniform. Other accoutrements, including flags, poles, carriers and white gloves, are easily obtained. The most challenging aspect of organizational support is flexibility. The need for honor guard services is often unscheduled. The death of an agency or allied agency member will require the agency to free honor guard members from their regular duties to fulfill honor guard functions.