Swanton, Ohio --
Every movement is executed with pinpoint precision. Every detail looked at again and again.
Honor guard members stand out amongst their military peers. Their ceremonial uniforms are made distinct by a silver cord that hangs on their shoulder and a silver stripe on their trousers, sleeves, belt and cap.
These ceremonial guardsmen are a picture-perfect example of the exceptionally high standards of the United States Air Force. The task of representing the military and its members, both past and present, is an honor that few achieve. The image portrayed must be one that imparts confidence and pride.
In 2018, one member of the 180FW honor guard stood out even amongst her peers.
“Honor guard members are held to a higher standard,” said Senior Master Sgt. Keith Czop, 180FW services sustainment flight superintendent and honor guard manager. “Staff Sgt. Valerie Thigpen stood out, even among this group, and was selected as the 180FW Honor Guard Member of the Year.”
Thigppen’s willingness to serve led her to volunteer to participate in more than 25 percent of the dozens of honor guard events last year, all while serving as the 180FW fitness program administrator and pursuing both a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from the University of Toledo and an Associates of Applied Science in hospitality management from the Community College of the Air Force.
Airmen with the 180th Fighter Wing base honor guard represent the base to the local community. They are sometimes the first and only interaction community members have with the military. The 180FW base honor guard participates in dozens of events and ceremonies each year, ranging from military funerals to Memorial Day ceremonies and local events such as baseball games.
“The ceremonies and events that we participate in are very important to the families and community members,” Thigpen said. “It is very rewarding to be a part of and you feel like you are doing really good things for your community and representing the military.”
Of all the ceremonies and events honor guard members participate in, funerals are the most important.
Military funerals are a solemn and memorable way to honor and commemorate the lives of those who have served their country. All veterans qualify for a military funeral, regardless of their rank or what status they served in.
“Funerals are a big part of honor guard,” Thigpen said. “From folding the flag, playing taps and presenting the flag to the family we know it means a lot to the family and friends of the service member. It is important that we honor and show respect for those who have served in the military.”
Thigpen is also very active in her community and at school. She is a member of the Alpha Phi Omega leadership and service fraternity, the Student Veterans of America organization and volunteers with the Ronald McDonald House Charity.
According to Thigpen, being an active and involved member of the community and military is very fulfilling.
“Last year, she led a Boy Scouts of America event, educating more than 2,000 boy scouts on how to properly fold a flag,” said Czop.
“It wasn’t always easy, you have to be adaptable, patient and respectful,” Thigpen said. “You are in the community with kids and loved ones of people in the military. They look up to you. Teaching kids how to fold a flag isn’t the easiest thing to do but it is rewarding.”
According to Czop, knowing the impact that honor guard members can have is very humbling.
“When we are out in the community a lot of the kids say they want to be in the military when they grow up,” Thigpen said. “If they end up joining it is a good feeling knowing that we were a part of that.”
Thigpen embodies what it means to be a Citizen-Airmen, serving her fellow Airmen and community. 180FW members are active in their communities both personally and professionally, supporting hundreds of events each year and volunteering for organizations that add value to Toledo and its surrounding areas.