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A Step Above the Rest

Members of the 161st Air Refueling Wing Color Guard prepare to post the colors during the wing’s change of command ceremony at Phoenix Sky Harbor Air National Guard Base, Dec. 5. The change of command ceremony is rooted in military history, dating back to the 18th century. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Kelly Deitloff)

Members of the 161st Air Refueling Wing Color Guard prepare to post the colors during the wing’s change of command ceremony at Phoenix Sky Harbor Air National Guard Base, Dec. 5. The change of command ceremony is rooted in military history, dating back to the 18th century. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Kelly Deitloff)

Phoenix -- Marching with precision and extreme synchronization, while also looking sharp and crisp, members of the 161st Air Refueling Wing Color Guard represent the Armed Forces with pride and honor.

The color guard provides professional military honors for official military and civil ceremonies affiliated with the U.S. Military and state flag. This elite team of Airmen is an everyday ambassador for the 161 ARW, Arizona Air National Guard, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Military as a whole.

"I love the military and putting on the uniform," said Capt. Rebecca Cruz, 161 ARW color guard member and 161 ARW Equal Opportunity officer in-charge. "Being a member of the color guard provides me a very public opportunity to show that love, as well as pride, of being a member of the military. It's a very special moment when you are on the field with all those people looking at you, you hear the national anthem, and you know you are representing the military - it gives you goosebumps."

She said members of the color guard have a unique responsibility as public ambassadors of the military.

"As representatives of the military, we need to look and perform our best, because everyone is looking at us as - not as the 161st or the Air Force - they are looking at us as the U.S. Military," said Cruz. "If you take pride in yourself it will show in what you do, as well as your movements; and the public will take notice."

Master Sgt. Andreas Lorenz, 161 ARW color guard member and 161st Maintenance Squadron first sergeant agreed, "Being a member of the color guard is one of the best ways to represent the military as a whole and to show the world that we take pride in what we do. It also shows that, as Airmen, the core values are something we live by and not just talk about."

Cruz echoed Lorenz's statement about the core values when speaking about some of the challenges of being a member of the color guard.

"The time restraints can be a challenge," she said. "We all have our own duties. It can be hard to make additional time for the color guard, but all members put forth that additional time. Service before self. That's what it stands for."

Another Air Force Core Value that applies to the color guard is 'Excellence in all we do,' said Lorenz.

"You have to pay attention to stuff like 'Am I wearing my uniform correctly?' and 'Do I have the proper haircut?,'" he said. "I think it makes you an all-around sharper troop, because you build a mindset of always wanting to look your best and representing the military in the best way possible. As they say, 'You don't get second chances at first impressions.' You get the one shot and you really want to show 'excellence' and get it right."

Even though the color guard performs as a service, both Cruz and Lorenz said the praise and the thanks they receive from the public, veterans and other military members - shaking their hands and telling them 'thank you for our service' - is the most rewarding aspect.

"I really enjoy seeing how people love the military and truly respect what we do," said Cruz.

"It is a proud moment when people text you and say 'Hey, I saw you on TV' or 'I was in in the stands and you looked great,'" said Lorenz. "You feel good about the fact that you represented the unit and the military in the best manner possible. Sometimes people come up to us non-stop and thank us for our service."

Cruz said to become a member of the color guard all you have to do is speak to one of the current members. "There are no requirements and no prior experience necessary."

"We are a tight-knit team and we just want members who want to be part of it," said Lorenz. "All you have to do is be willing to participate."