The Last Salute: The Story of the Honor Guard

September 15, 2021

Sander “Sandy” Logan doesn’t take words lightly. 

He believes wholeheartedly in every directive mentioned in the Honor Guard Mission Statement: “… to display the last full measure of honor and tribute, with pride, respect, dignity and integrity, at funeral and/or memorial services for active or retired Emergency Services personnel while providing comfort, compassion, and support to the families of the lost. Additionally, to properly display and show respect for the flag of our nation while proudly representing our company, community and country.”

“This team has a special place in my heart,” says Logan, a former U.S. Coast Guard Search and Rescue responder and retired paramedic, who now serves as Team Lead for Global Medical Response’s (GMR) Honor Guard. “To serve on this team is an emotional calling, which can take a toll at times but it’s always worth the effort.”

The Honor Guard concept started in early Greece to pay tribute to the military’s fallen at special ceremonies. It was soon adopted by other world militaries, and eventually, by those who served in the emergency response field. For GMR, this special representation started with the American Medical Response (AMR) Portland, Oregon operation when a paramedic ended her shift, left work, and died in a car accident on her way home. “Her co-workers were devastated,” says Logan who recalls the event. “They wanted to do something to show respect to her service, dedication to helping others,” he says. And as a direct result of this tragedy, the Portland Honor Guard team was formed in 2002. Five other AMR teams formed independently with the most recent in Rochester, New York, in 2018. Two Rural Metro Fire honor guard teams were also formed about that same time. 

Today, Logan assists eight AMR and Rural Metro Fire Honor Guard teams, about 55 men and women, to cover events including Line of Duty Deaths (LODD), active duty and retiree deaths, and other ceremonies. Those who serve on the teams come from all levels of the company.

And while the program is voluntary and always looking for potential new teams, Logan emphasizes that the work of Honor Guard is not easy and requires a special kind of stamina. Specific equipment is required and there are protocols that must be followed. 

“The training is tough. Not everyone can do it. You have to be able to endure difficult situations, like being able to stand still for long periods of time, including standing in hot weather or other severe climate conditions. You have to be able to carry a heavy casket and carry it a long way, even in rough terrain, such as a rugged hillside. I’ve seen people suffer injuries and mental breakdowns because they can’t handle the physical or emotional strains of this duty,” says Logan. 

You also have to be able to follow commands. Teams respond to fire, law enforcement and other ambulance companies in addition to being called at a moment’s notice to serve at a funeral or ceremony for a fallen employee anywhere in the company. Each entity or area has unique customs and traditions. Being able to follow the orders of the commanding officer is critical to being Honor Guard. It’s vital to the integrity of the service that members cooperate with each other to ensure that every symbolic act is carried out to its fullest. One of, and perhaps the most precious and revered, “symbolic acts” that require full adherence is the folding of the American flag.

There are 13 folds involved with this protocol to represent the original 13 colonies. Each fold signifies a special meaning that is practiced to perfection. 

It is this kind of attention to detail that draws people like Logan to this calling. He believes a life of service deserves a public display of honor. In fact, when members come to him with complaints or issues regarding the role, Logan pulls out a special printout given to him by an instructor from the National Guard Academy. The printout reads, “If you do this job properly, there is nothing more noble you will do with your life.” 

Logan uses these words to remind members why they serve in the Honor Guard. “It’s not about us. It’s about your fallen brothers and sisters, and if dealing with a little inconvenience or challenge comes with recognizing these heroes, then, so be it.” He says we should, “never forget why we’re here, who we’re here for and how we’re honoring them. They are our friends, co-workers, family and perhaps, most of all — they are our heroes.” 

So, as they say among the team, “Service Before Self.” This is what it means to be Honor Guard. 
 

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