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Local Businesses Recognized for Support of Air National Guard Honor Guard

March 13, 2015 -- One of the most visible components of the Battle Creek Air National Guard is its Honor Guard team. Go to any patriotic holiday parade in the community and you will likely see the 110th Attack Wing Honor Guard leading the way with our National Colors.  Besides representing their service branch at other events ranging from civic functions to sporting events, members of the twenty-five person team are constantly on call to perform dignified Military Funeral Honors for a staggering percentage of Air Force veteran funerals in West Michigan.  The 110th Honor Guard can fulfil as many as forty detail requests a month - demanding work, especially when you consider the elevated standards of dress and appearance they're expected to uphold.  "Our image is so important with this team," says Senior Master Sgt. Erik Morse, the 110th Honor Guard's non-commissioned officer in-charge. "The United States Air Force already has very high standards for membership.  The Base Honor Guard sets its criteria even higher.  We are representing all Airmen, past, present, and future so our uniforms, appearance, and presentation must be above reproach at all times." It is this kind of attention to detail that has solidified the 110th Honor Guard's reputation for precision and professionalism throughout the Air National Guard.

Supporting those high standards is another team of local businesses without whose attention to detail, the Honor Guard could not succeed.  On March 6, Col. Ronald Wilson, Wing Commander, took time to recognize four local companies - Heritage Cleaners, Lewey's Shoes, Bonnie's Tailoring, and Minuteman Military Awards and Displays - whose own brands of dedicated professionalism have been instrumental to the Honor Guard's long-term scheme of operations. "The Honor Guard is one of the most important things this base does, because it pays tribute to the service of our veterans," Wilson told representatives of each business. "They couldn't do it without your help." 

Fifteen years ago, Bonnie Struble, of Bonnie's Tailoring, was approached spontaneously by Sergeant Morse and has been the go-to source for the Honor Guard's alterations and insignia application ever since. "I just got a call and they wanted to know if I could do alterations for the military," said Struble. "Now I actually have people sent to me from other sewing shops because they don't know how to do it." More than once, Struble has recognized her own work at a parade or funeral.
Debbie McKenzie and Julie Plassman - representing Heritage Cleaners - have been keeping Honor Guard uniforms spotless for just as long. They've developed an encyclopedic command of Air Force uniform regulations.  "I've gotten to know all about the starching and the creases being in the right places," said McKenzie, "there's a great deal of pride that goes into it." The company regularly defies conventional expectations by accommodating Honor Guard orders with premium treatments and same day turn-around.

After retiring from the Air National Guard in 2009, Joe Layton expanded his home business, Minuteman Military Awards and Displays, when he heard subordinates complain about the durability of standard-issue ribbon racks that catch or bend unpredictably and sometimes bleed in wet conditions. Layton perfected a system that mounts the ribbons to a razor-thin plastic backing and then treats them to endure all-weather scenarios, gratis for Honor Guard members. Layton also builds custom retirement shadowboxes and wall displays that the Honor Guard has utilized for events in the past. "We didn't give him a plaque, because he's the guy that makes them," joked Wilson during the ceremony.

While Morse doesn't deny that the efforts of local vendors like Struble, Plassman, McKenzie and Layton make his own job easier, he points to their efforts as a reminder of why the Honor Guard's chief duty - Military Funeral Honors - is so important. "There's a lot of logistics and a lot of things that can happen when you're dealing with families at these difficult times," he said. "So knowing that we don't have to worry about the condition of our uniforms is really a big peace of mind." With Wilson's ceremony, each of these four companies were acknowledged as a part of the 110th Attack Wing family - and family, as Morse is quick to point out - is what the Honor Guard's mission is all about.