The Norman Transcript

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October 8, 2012

Military funerals under federal budget strains

FORT GIBSON — As Spc. Jason Shorter and his colleague make each of the 13 folds in the American flag and his fellow soldier plays taps, he knows the family of a deceased soldier or veteran is watching and listening.

Presenting that folded triangle of blue with white stars to the family to honor their loved one is one last show of appreciation for their service and sacrifice, one that family won’t forget.

“It’s a feeling that’s indescribable, that this family knows why I’m there and what we’re going to do,” said Shorter, coordinator for the Eastern Office of the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s Military Funeral Honors Program. The job involves “a lot of honor and a lot of pride.”

Federal budget cuts are straining honor guard programs across the nation, reducing the number of full-time soldiers in Oklahoma who perform the service, coordinate the funeral details and maintain the skills of soldiers to the highest standards.

The Tulsa World reported that funding for full-time soldiers to perform those services has been cut nearly in half in the last two years, while the number of services the Guard works has increased consistently, said Staff Sgt. Marvin Barbee, state coordinator for the Guard’s Military Funeral Honors Program.

With the start of the current federal fiscal year on Oct. 1, the Oklahoma National Guard’s budget for full-time staff to perform funeral details was about $287,000, Barbee said. The initial allocation in the last fiscal year was about $383,000, although an additional allocation in March added $169,000. In fiscal year 2010, the state was allocated nearly $550,000 for the function.

In the last fiscal year, the Oklahoma Army National Guard provided services for 1,464 funerals. In 2008, the Guard served at about 770 funerals, Barbee said.

While he could send more soldiers to services in the past, a typical funeral detail now consists of two soldiers, the minimum required to fold the flag and play taps.

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