The Firing Party
(Information taken from the book, The Honor Guard Manual (Second Edition).) All military services use the firing party for memorials and funerals. Law enforcement agencies also use the firing party to render honors. “Ah yes, the 21-Gun Salute!” I hear you say. My reply: Stop right there! Only Army and Navy cannons fire the 21-Gun salute. A firing party does not fire 21 guns, they have rifles and fire the Three-Volley Salute. Your reply: “But, seven people fire the rifles three times and 7 x 3 = 21. Like I said, they fire rifles, not guns (guns are cannons). Please read on. Click here to read about firing the Three-Volley Salute. And here to read more.
The equipment used on a military firing party is either the M1 Garand or the M14, the more ceremonial rifles that have a charging handle. The M1903 has a bolt that makes for an awkward charge. Sometimes the M16 or similar modern rifle is used. Law enforcement agencies use anyone of the above or they use the shotgun. There are even teams that use a handgun! NOTE: Members of a firing party DO NOT take aim. Taking aim is called “shooting”, firing party members “fire”. Firing party members do not raise the rifle or shotgun to the shoulder (it rests under the elbow or under the armpit) and do not angle the head down to sight the weapon. Firing party members look over the end of the barrel.
The firing party is 50-75 paces from the head of the casket in full view of the family. The Three-Volley Salute is fired over the casket and subsequently over the family. At an indoor memorial service, the firing party would be directly outside the doors of the chapel about 20 paces away (if possible) so that if the family were to look out of the open chapel doors they would be able to see some of the members firing the salute. Click here for more on taking aim.
The Defense Authorization Act of 2000 mandated the rendering of military honors for all veterans with an honorable discharge. The Full and Standard Honors Funeral has a full complement of eight members – the commander and the seven members who fire. A Modified Funeral also has seven members, however, six of the members perform as pallbearers, present the flag and then move to fire. The Retiree Funeral uses four members to fire the volleys, the commander and this time, three members who fire. Veteran Funeral, does not have an official firing party provided by the military, but many times, a veteran group will take up that responsibility.
Here is a playlist of service firing party techniques. Note: Service honor guards can perform the firing sequence with different techniques from the rest of their service except for the USAF.