Formal Casket Watch

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Casket Watch Procedures

Read about the difference in Formal and Informal Casket Watch here.

Here are some DrillMaster Casket Watch procedure videos to help you to get a better understanding.

How an individual died should not reflect on the honors received (suicide). This is different from a Line of Duty Death vs. off-duty or retiree.

From my book, The Honor Guard Manual.

To many in the honor guard world the term casket watch, is unknown. That is unless you are on a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or EMS honor guard member. These members have known of and performed a casket watch for many years for their fallen. Let’s get into what casket watch is and how it is performed. The minimum for a casket watch is one guard who can informally or formally post at the head of the casket.

There are three parts to first responder casket watch:

  1. Watch Guard Entrance/Initial Post
  2. Watch Guard Change
  3. Watch Guard Final Watch

The members of the casket watch are:

  1. Watch Commander (not a rank or ranking position, necessarily, just a position)
  2. Watch Guards (these members can be specifically identified, if you choose)

If selected as part of the funeral protocol, two unarmed (armed with a rifle/shotgun/axe is considered inappropriate inside a chapel) honor guard members watch over the casket of the fallen during the viewing or wake. In most cases these members take their positions at the foot and head of the casket at Attention/Stand at Ease. Depending on the duration of the viewing or wake, watch shifts established. If a WC is not present, either of the watch guards will call subdued commands.

Watch Guards: DO NOT bow your heads while posted. This eliminates your ability to receive communication. Read, Making Things “Ceremonialer”

Watch Guard Initial Post

At the beginning of the first watch, two guards and the Watch Commander (WC) enter the room (from either side or the front) where the watch is taking place. For this manual we will assume an entrance from the front. All commands are subdued. No facing movements (except Three-Count About Face) or flanking. (If unarmed, ignore weapon commands.)

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Casket Watch Initial Posting
  1. The Watch Guards and the Watch Commander enter the room and form up at the back of the chapel at Attention. The WC gives the subdued command, Step, and all three members begin marching toward the casket at Slow Time (60-90 steps per minute).
  2. Within approximately four steps of the casket the WC gives the subdued command  “Haaalt” on the left with another right step and close.
  3. All three automatically salute (with a three-second count up and down).
  4. Upon dropping their salutes, both watch guards then step off and move directly to their positions in the same amount of steps without flanking.
  5. When each guard arrives, they simultaneously execute a Three-Count About Face and remain at Attention.
  6. The WC executes a slow salute.
  7. Upon the WC dropping his salute, the guards go to Stand at Ease.
  8. WC executes a modified Three-Count About Face (“T”, “L” Step) and departs.

Casket Watch Initial Posting

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Casket Watch Guards Post

Casket Watch Initial Posting

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Casket Watch Guards Turn

Watch Guard Change

The time between changes of the guard is entirely up to you. It is an honor to stand watch over a fallen comrade and as many who would like to should be given the opportunity.

NOTE: When changing Watch, the guards DO NOT salute each other, they are to only salute the flag/deceased.

  1. The Watch Guards and the Watch Commander enter the room and form up at the back of the chapel at Attention. The WC gives the subdued command, Step, and all three members begin marching toward the casket at Slow Time (60-90 steps per minute)
  2. Within approximately four steps of the casket the WC gives the subdued command  “Haaalt” on the left with another right step and close. When the oncoming team halts, the guards at the casket come to Attention.
  3. All three automatically salute (with a three-second count up and down). DO NOT SALUTE EACH OTHER, the salute is for the flag. The guards at the casket do not salute.
  4. Upon dropping their salutes, all four guards exchange places in the same amount of steps without flanking and execute a three-count about face. When all guards reach their spots, the off-going team salutes, and after dropping their salutes the newly placed guards go to Stand at Ease while the WC and relieved guards execute a modified Three-Count About Face (“T”, “L” Step) and depart.

Casket Watch Guard Change: Entrance

Casket Watch Guard Change: New Guards Posted

Casket Watch Guard Change: Old Guards Move Inward

Final Watch with Departure

The Final Watch Departure ceremony can be used before the pall bearers enter the room to retrieve the casket for transportation to the burial site.

  1. The WC enters the room and marches to a position approximately six paces from the casket and halts. Guards assume Attention.
  2. The WC renders the slow hand salute.
  3. When the WC drops his salute, the guards come to Attention and posts in front of the WC to each side and all three execute a slow salute a modified Three-Count About Face (“T”, “L” Step) and depart.

Final Watch: WC Arrival

Final Watch: Final Salute of the Flag

Final Watch: Departure

Final Watch with Casket Removal

An alternative to the above Final Watch is to have the final two guards push the casket out of the chapel to the pallbearers who either join them or replace them.

After the WC drops his salute, the guards face inward
The guards step into the casket and reach out both hands to grasp the corners of the casket
The casket is rotated so that it will travel feet-first
When rotation is finished, the guard at the foot at the WC execute a Three-Count About Face and the guard places his hands behind him on the corners of the casket. The guard at the head then gives the subdued command, Step, and all depart.

Does the Military Perform Casket Watch?

Joint Service Casket Watch in the Rotunda for Pres. George HW Bush

The simple answer: it isn’t tradition for veteran funerals. The exception is in special circumstances like when a President dies and lies in state at the rotunda of the Capitol building. There is a joint service team that stands facing the casket off of each of the four corners. There is also an officer or NCO/CPO who stands at the head of the casket.  The guards stand watch at Attention (they are armed with a rifle- not loaded and stand at Order) for one hour and are then changed. As the guards enter and exit they carry their rifles at Trail Arms, but at an angle, it’s more of a ceremonial look to this standard position. A group of ceremonial guardsmen from each service can rotate through a 24-hour period standing watch every few hours, it’s up to the ranking individual who stands at the head of the casket. There are also two more ceremonial guardsmen standing off to the side ready to move in if something happens to one of the guards.

The Marine Corps and Casket Watch

The Marine Corps does, on occasion, perform this duty with one or two Marines.

All information and images are from The Honor Guard Manual (DrillMaster Press) and are (c) John K. Marshall

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