By Susan Hiland
Cindy MacDonald is one of the newest honor guards for the Service Veterans of Northern California Volunteer Honor Guard.
She wasn’t even thinking about joining until a chance encounter on Veterans Day at the parade when one of the uniformed guards handed her a challenge coin.
“Well, you can’t turn away from that,” MacDonald said.
She did some research and made a phone call offering to volunteer for a spot on the team.
“I have actually had a pretty good time in between services,” she said.
MacDonald admits taps always gets her a little – and maybe a tear or two might escape.
Since joining a couple of months ago, she has been busy with various services for military veterans being laid to rest.
“I didn’t know you didn’t have to be a veteran to be an honor guard,” she said. “It just so happens I am a veteran but I don’t have to be to join.”
The honor guard members render final honors of veterans. Sometimes that means doing several services in one day anywhere in California.
Founded in 2008 as a self-funding, nonprofit charitable Veteran Service Organization, the Service Veterans of Northern California Volunteer Honor Guard is a registered 501(C)(3) California Nonprofit Charitable Corporation comprised of both military and non-military volunteers serving primarily the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery and surrounding cemeteries.
The primary duty of the local honor guard is in support of the respective military service branches and to provide a three-rifle volley salute.
The federal government’s automatic budget cuts limit the availability of active-duty military honor guards to render final honors at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery on Midway Road near Dixon.
“Usually you do a flag, bugle and rifle send-off,” Cmdr. Steve Mercer said. “With cutbacks in the military, they are not doing the rifle portion.”
“My goal is to have at least two teams available to do services,” he said.
This is so the current single team does not have to be at the cemetery nearly every day.
The honor guard is looking for volunteers who have a flexible schedule. They do not have to be a veteran and there are no age or gender limitations to volunteering. The commitment is for two days each month.
“We welcome everyone. We will teach you how to do the rifle salute,” Mercer said.
He noticed a lot of his usual volunteers backed off because of COVID and they have not returned.
They were doing honor guard duties three days a week but because people have left, they have cut it back to only two days. It is making it difficult to cover funerals with only 22 members.
“Ideally I would like to have eight more people,” Mercer said.
Members of the honor guard are trained and qualified to assume the flag folding and presentation duties, the playing of taps and firing rifle volleys as needed. The rifle team is available Monday and Friday by appointment.
These services are free for the military family.
The only things volunteers need to provide for themselves are boots and transportation; otherwise, the uniforms and training are covered.
“This is a good opportunity for high schoolers to get credit for community service,” Mercer said. “It is also good for those who are retired.”
To volunteer or get more information, go online to www.svncvhg.org or call 415-619-9554.