Dec. 28—New York National Guard soldiers and airmen expect to provide military funeral honors for the families of 9,825 New York veterans by the time 2022 ends on Dec. 31.
According to a media release from the National Guard, that will be fewer than the 10,431 military funeral services honor guards conducted during 2021, but more than the 8,807 services performed in 2020.
New York Army National Guard soldiers are expected to conduct 7,753 military funeral services this year, while New York Air National Guard airmen will conduct 2,072 services.
A 2000 federal law, amended in 2011, mandates that former members of the U.S. military who served on active duty or in the reserves and were not dishonorably discharged are eligible for a military funeral.
At a minimum, the honors are provided by a two-person team that plays taps with an electronic bugle, and folds and presents an American flag to the family.
Retired military personnel and those who passed away while on active duty are entitled to honors that involve as many as nine soldiers or airmen and can include a rifle firing party and pallbearers, the release said.
Each service is responsible for providing military funeral services for veterans of its service, so Army Guard honor guard's provide honors for Army veterans, while the Air Guard conducts funeral for Air Force vets.
The New York Army National Guard maintains a centralized honor guard system with seven regional officers.
Thirty-eight soldiers are on active duty conducting funerals, and another 60 soldiers are available for part-time duties, according to Sgt. 1st Class Charles Gabriel III, the honor guard non-commissioned officer in charge.
In 2022, there were 20 airmen assigned to base honor guard's full time and 68 available for part-time duties.
While New York's veterans' population is fifth largest in the nation — 745,157 according to the Department of Veterans Affairs — the New York Army National Guard Honor Guard conducts more military funerals than that of any other state, according to Ronald Thomas, the regional coordinator for the honor guard program.
Across the country, Army National Guard honor guards conducted 105,241 funeral missions during 2022, according to Thomas.
Gabriel said the New York Army Guard honor guard works to sell itself to funeral directors who are the ones that usually help a family arrange for military funeral honors.
"We attend a conference with them every year, and put a good pitch out," Gabriel said. "I am working on making that contact system smoother for them to reach us."
The Guard's upstate national guard air bases outside Schenectady and Syracuse need to be prepared to travel a lot, according to Master Sgt. Terra Martin, the non-commissioner officer in charge of the 109th Airlift Wing's honor guard.
Her four full-times and four part-timers must be ready to travel to 22 counties in New York, Vermont and Massachusetts, although most are in the area around the state capital in Albany, Martin said.
That's meant traveling 19,960 miles during 2022, according to Martin.