STARs of Service: Kelly Greene sees Honor Guard as calling, seeks growth of program

Published 2:49 pm Wednesday, July 11, 2018

When the call was put out, Kelly Greene knew what he needed to do.

From frigid temperatures to rainy weather, the Carter County Honor Guard continues to give veterans a proper military burial.

“We’re on tap to do around 200 ceremonies this year,”said Greene, who serves as the commander for the organization. “The next veteran we’ll serve this year will be number 92. That’s a lot of veterans. And that’s just us.”

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Carter County Honor Guard doesn’t limit itself to just the community. Greene indicated the group has put in the miles to perform services across the state. The group has performed services in Sullivan County, Jonesborough and traveled as far as Campbell County.

But as the need grows to give fallen veterans a proper burial, so does the need of a well-oiled Honor Guard. Greene said the organization is seeking members with the group having five regular members, including Greene.

“We need 16 to have a full crew,” Greene said. “Sometimes we have to make do with four people. We need more people. The sad part about this is that if we don’t do this, it won’t get done. The government doesn’t have enough people mandated to go do military funerals. Recently, we’ve buried veterans that have retired from the military. Some of them have put four to eight years in the Army and went over and done 20 more years in the Navy. They’ve put in 30-plus years in serving our country and both branches weren’t able to send anyone to honor that veteran. Only the Carter County Honor Guard was there to pay respects and to give that veteran the service he was guaranteed.”

Greene added, “It’s a personal thing for a veteran. When a veteran passes, that’s our brother or sister.”

The mission never falters for the group. Greene indicated that the organization did three funerals in one day with their limited group. Greene added that there was a request to do five funerals in one day and the group was unable to do it with the lack of manpower. Honor Guard is supported through local partnerships while Greene added the group also puts in their own money to help the operation move forward.

“We have the funding through the American Legion to operate our van and we work through donations,” Greene said. “We’ll pay for uniforms, buy the pieces we need and pay for our uniforms to get cleaned. We do what we can but we need the help. The payday comes when that veteran or that family member shared that moment with you. It is very heartwarming. The veterans have already paid for their funeral. This is an honor and privilege for us.”

Greene served four years in the Marine Corps from 1974-79. Greene said 18 members of the family served with the Marines while the rest of the Greene family members served in the Army.

The veteran homage makes the job worthwhile, Greene said, while adding that the pride is shown by the Honor Guard at each service.

“Sometimes it gets tough,” Greene said. “When I go back to the end of the casket, with the firing team and taps playing in the background, I can salute that soldier. And there’s no bigger honor than that. It means a lot to all of us. It will make you think when you’re standing there. Some of our veterans live their life mangled from what war has done. We think we have it tough? They deserve everything we can give them.”

Opportunities are available for those looking to join. The opportunities are available for those involved with the armed service, or citizens looking to honor a family member.

“This is a fellowship,” Greene said with a smile. “It is a bonding experience. Once you get in with the guys and girls, you’ll find out it is like a family.”

Contact Greene at (423) 895-3819 to learn more about the group.

(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a regular series that will be recognizing members of the armed services from Elizabethton and Carter County. If you know of a veteran or active service member that would like to share their story to the public, email or call (423) 297-9057.)