Budget reductions have forced Air Force officials to cut back on support for military funerals.
First it was flying time. Then it was training hours. Now it's military funerals.
Budget cutbacks have forced U.S. Air Force officials to direct that for the future, the families of retired military personnel only may expect a minimum of two personnel being available to conduct honors at funerals of their loved ones.
That has been and still is Department of Defense policy, but in past years the Air Force has gone a step further and directed a seven-member detail be present for all retiree funerals. That may no longer be the case, depending on whether there are enough personnel available for the job.
In the Dover area, military honors are rendered by the Dover Air Force Base Honor Guard, a group of airmen specially trained to provide those services, in addition to their usual military duties.
Typical honors include six personnel who act as pallbearers under the command of a seventh airman. Honor Guard personnel also provide a 21-gun salute as well as perform the flag-folding and presentation ceremony.
The changes were made when the Air Force regulation covering mortuary affairs was updated earlier in June, said Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Erika A. Yepsen. But it was the mandatory cutbacks in available funding for the military that drove the changes, she said.
"Due to the impact of sequestration, we have changed the requirement for retiree funeral honors from a seven-person to a two-person team minimum," Yepsen said in an email.
Commanders can send a seven-member detail, if resources are available, she added.
"The Air Force's commitment to honoring the men and women who have served our country has not changed," she said. Providing those honors still remains the primary mission of Honor Guard personnel at each Air Force base, Yepsen said.
Funeral honors for military veterans who left active duty before retirement still will be provided by two-man contingents, while honors for airmen who die on active duty will continue to be delivered by 20-person teams.
Since Dover AFB Honor Guard teams typically has not been available to provide honors for non-retirees, that job usually falls to a Memorial Team at Dover's Walter L. Fox American Legion Post No. 2 or to a similar team from the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3238 in Camden.
Area funeral directors know who to contact if a veteran's family requests military honors, said Jeff Crouser, adjutant for the Fox Post.
Although they cannot provide pallbearers, the Fox Post team, dressed in blue blazers, white shirts and gray slacks, can conduct the graveside flag ceremony and provide a rendering of "Taps" at the cemetery, Crouser said.
Because the change in Air Force policy is so recent, the Fox Post hasn't yet seen an uptick in requests for the Memorial Team's assistance.
However, Crouser said, "We've been told that we may be receiving more calls for these types of services."