Military News

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

U.S., Philippine officials work together to provide final resting place for Airman

by 1st Lt. Bryan Bouchard
18th Wing Public Affairs

4/28/2010 - KADENA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS) -- Several military and State Department organization officials came together to ensure the wishes of a deceased Airman's family were honored.

Tech. Sgt. Raymond Natividad was stationed at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., when he fell ill and was hospitalized in Suffolk, Va. The Airman's family flew to the U.S. from the Philippines to be with him during his illness. Ultimately, he succumbed to his illness and passed away. The NCO's mother requested her son be buried in the Philippines and her son receive full military honors.

Officials at JB Langley-Eustis, Dover Air Force Base, Del., and Air Combat Command headquarters spent the following days trying to meet that request. Every servicemember is entitled to be buried at the location and in the manner they, or the person authorized disposition of the remains, chooses, said Mr. Tim Nicholson, the chief of the entitlements branch of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Office at Dover AFB.

As chief of the entitlements branch at the AFMAO, Mr. Nicholson's job is to be an advocate for the families, to ensure those left behind are equipped and aware of all that is available to them.

"Initially it looked like it wasn't going to happen," Mr. Nicholson said. "There is not an assigned base to the Philippines for an honor guard to have full honors detail performed there. Regardless, we knew that if it (could) be done, we wanted it to be done with Air Force personnel."

Mr. Nicholson said they initially reached out to Pacific Air Forces Command officials while simultaneously making contact with the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines.

"There were initially many concerns from a logistics perspective of getting an honor guard there from maybe Andersen (Air Force Base), Kadena (Air Base) or (JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam)," Mr. Nicholson said.

Another concern was with regard to the full honors aspect; there must be a rifle volley to complete it. Current restrictions make bringing weapons into the Philippines difficult.

The challenges didn't end there. Getting to the Philippines took quick work and arrangements from other offices at Kadena AB to get airfare and orders completed, as well as figuring out how to get from the airport in Manila, south to Bacolod, located in the central part of the Philippine archipelago.

In addition, while the Kadena AB honor guard members regularly practices various details, they don't get the opportunity to perform funeral details very often, as nearly all U.S. servicemembers who pass away here are transported back to the U.S. for final disposition.

"The honor guard team started conducting practice as soon as we were informed of the possibility that we would be performing the funeral detail," said Staff Sgt. Lacey Brown, a Kadena Air Base Honor Guard member. "Over the past few months we have performed a few memorials, receptions of remains, and even a funeral for a retired chief master sergeant. So although the overall team experience was limited the funeral was not a brand new concept."

While the honor guard members willfully stepped up to perform the detail, it was up to the U.S. Embassy to help make sure the rest of the full honors piece could take place.

Tech. Sgt. Brian Roberts, an airborne mission technician for the Defense Attaché Office in Manila, and others there coordinated with several organizations from the Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group PACAF as well as the Kadena Air Base Honor Guard to make sure the funeral could happen.

The Philippine military offered to provide a firing detail for Sergeant Natividad, eliminating the requirement for the Airmen to bring their own weapons, and paving the way for them to head down to the islands and perform the detail.

"We are in the election season here and there is a gun ban," Sergeant Roberts said. "This made it impossible for the honor guard team to bring in their weapons. Our biggest headache was figuring out how we were going to provide the firing party. Once we figured that out the rest seemed to fall into place."

Performing alongside their Philippine counterparts and the bugler, Marine Sgt. Aaron Wagners from the 3rd Marine Band, the Kadena Airmen were able to properly signify Sergeant Natividad's Air Force career in front of his family in their home country.

"The moment of passing the flag to the next-of-kin is always filled with empathy for the loved ones and for their loss and this funeral was no different," Sergeant Brown said. "The difference was that along with the sorrow was gratitude for being able to be there for the family and be a part of the team that accomplished this significant act.

"Performing a funeral is the highest privilege for an honor guard member;" she said "It is the ultimate service to be able to honor a fallen comrade."

Being able to demonstrate Air Force excellence to a crowd of civilian Filipinos, many of whom may have never seen U.S. armed forces members, was one of the most rewarding parts of accomplishing this mission, Sergeant Roberts.

But there were other rewards as well.

"It was impressive to see that our Air Force is still cultivating fine young Airmen to accomplish the mission however and whenever, no matter the circumstances," he said.

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