U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service firefighters join honor guard ranks

A group of people standing next to each other in front of some flags
6/16/2020

Four U.S. Fish and Wildland Service firefighters have joined the Service Honor Guard in the last two years. Shown here in uniform, Jason Riggins, Noah Wendland, Ryan Vice, and Rob Wood (from left to right) are flanked by Chief Chris Wilcox (far right) and Deputy Chief - Operations Shane McDonald (far left) from the Branch of Fire Management. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)


BY KARI COBB

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) Honor Guard (SHG) is a specially trained, uniquely decorated, and highly disciplined unit that represents the positive image of the Service when fulfilling ceremonial duties. The primary duty of the SHG is to deliver final honors for fallen comrades. These services honor Service employees, as well as provide comfort and support to survivors of those who have fallen. Other duties include representing the Service at special functions. 

The SHG follows long-standing traditions of military burials. These high standards require above average physical ability and highly polished appearance standards. SHG members must be ready to represent the Service by performing with the finest discipline at a moment’s notice.

Originally formed in 2010, the SHG was comprised of National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) uniformed law enforcement officers. Later that year, the SHG provided services for the first official function and inaugural event at the dedication of land and a memorial service honoring Service Refuge Manager Richard Guadagno, and other passengers and crewmembers, who were onboard United Airlines Flight 93, one of four airliners hijacked on September 11, 2001.

After almost a decade, in 2018, the first NWRS full-time firefighters were admitted to the program: Jason Riggins, Regional Fire Management Coordinator, Regional Office, Bloomington, Minnesota, and Rob Wood, Fire Management Officer, South Atlantic-Gulf Interior Region.

"Full-time firefighters have set the bar high for all that follow and are a much-valued addition to the Service Honor Guard," said Deborah Goeb, Senior Federal Wildlife K9 Officer, Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, and SHG Commander.

“I love working for Fish and Wildlife Service Fire Management, but I believe what I do with the SHG Team has become one of the most meaningful parts of my job,” said Rob Wood about his time on the SHG.

In 2020, the SHG welcomed two more firefighters to the ranks: Ryan Vice, Fire Management Specialist, Texas Mid-coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex (NWRC), and Noah Wendland, Assistant Module Leader, Barksdale Air Force Base, Shreveport, Louisiana. 

For many members, joining the SHG provided a way to give back to the wildland fire community and the Service. 

“When I first learned about the opportunity to join the Service Honor Guard, I knew it was a way I could give back to my professional community during times of loss and need,” said Ryan Vice. “When we experience a loss, through the Service Honor Guard, I am able to give back and provide that support.”

In addition to providing memorial services, the SHG attends regularly scheduled events, including the Family Fire Weekend, organized by the Wildland Firefighter Foundation at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, and the annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland. 

All new SHG members must complete a minimum of 80 hours of basic SHG training prior to performing with the SHG during ceremonies and events. Continued proficiency requires SHG officers to meet and train at least twice per year.

After successfully completing 3 years of service, a member may choose to continue serving actively on the SHG, request to be placed in reserve status, or leave the SHG in good standing (retire).

The Service maintains a membership level of approximately 25 members and continues to recruit new members for the SHG. Prospective wildland firefighter applicants can contact Shane McDonald, Deputy Chief - Operations, Branch of Fire Management, at shane_mcdonald@fws.gov to find out more about the program.


Kari Cobb is the acting public affairs officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the National Interagency Fire Center.