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From Air Force Honor Guard to Air Force Chaplain

By Kevin M. Hymel, Historian on 3/6/2024

On a crisp March morning in Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 54, U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Andrew Lloyd oversaw the funeral service for an Air Force enlisted man who served his country. “For over 150 years, since the Civil War,” he told a group of twenty mourners, “our nation has honored her fallen patriots here at Arlington Cemetery.”

During the service, Lloyd not only consoled the grieving family; he also kept an eye out for the Honor Guard conducting the funeral. Conducting multiple daily services, the Honor Guard must frequently travel to different parts of the 639-acre cemetery Lloyd knows if his sermon takes too long, the Honor Guard will have to stand at rigid attention until he finishes and, in some cases, they might miss their lunch break. Lloyd knows all of this acutely well because he himself once served with the United States Air Force Honor Guard.

Lloyd, who grew up in Rome, Georgia, joined the Air Force in the days after the Sept.11, 2001, terror attacks. He had graduated from Valor Cristian College in Ohio but felt a calling to serve his country. From 2004-2005, he first served at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida., in emergency management, dealing with Hurricanes Charlie, Dennis, Ivan, Katrina and Rita.

From Tyndall, Lloyd deployed to Al Udeid Air Base in Doha, Qatar, for six months, where he helped maintain flight operations over Iraq and Afghanistan. There, he saw Air Force chaplains counseling airmen as they wrestled with homesickness, life-and-death decision making, and questioning their own ethics and morality. “The chaplains gave them a place to process their thoughts,” said Lloyd, “and they did it with grace and wisdom.” He came away impressed. “They showed up when it mattered.”

While at Al Udeid, Lloyd applied for the Honor Guard. He wanted to serve at Arlington National Cemetery, which he had visited as a teenager. “I fell in love with pictures of the Honor Guard,” he said.“I wanted to carry the flag.” In 2006, he trained at Bolling Air Force Base (today’s Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling) in Honor Guard duties, which, to him, was like going back to basic training. After serving in the Honor Guard at Tyndall, he got his wish and transferred to Arlington National Cemetery.

Lloyd served as the noncommissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) for the Honor Guard’s colors element, a four-member team consisting of two flag bearers and two rifle-carrying guards. He started out carrying a rifle, but as he rose in rank, he took on more responsibilities. By the time he left ANC as a sergeant he called commands, led the colors element and presented the flag to the designated next of kin.

Lloyd soon learned the challenges of funeral services and how teamwork could solve them. During his first funeral service with military honors, he was carrying the American flag when the wind blew, wrapping the flag around his face. “All I could see was a red stripe,” he said. Thinking quickly based on his training, he whispered the codeword that he was in trouble, and the airmen to his left and right leaned hard into his shoulders and guided him until the flag blew out of his face. “It was reassuring to know that your fellow airmen have your back,” he said.

The chaplains at funeral services also impressed Lloyd. He realized they were not just thanking grieving families for their loved one’s sacrifice on behalf of the Air Force. “They were actually ministering to them and caring for them,” he said, “and they were doing it in a very meaningful way.” He found himself attracted to the ministry.

While at ANC, Lloyd completed a college degree and helped start a local church in Alexandria, Virginia,.—but it was a lunch with a lieutenant that changed his life. The lieutenant asked if Lloyd ever thought about becoming an officer. No one had ever spoken to him about his potential in this capacity. “He had nothing to gain out of me succeeding,” said Lloyd. “That goes a long way in keeping good people, but it also goes a long way in making you want to be part of a team.”

In 2009, Lloyd separated from the Air Force, accepted a government job and continued with his church. In 2017, he direct commissioned back into the Air Force as a chaplain. Despite Covid temporarily interrupting his plans, in 2021 he completed his officer training and the Basic Chaplain Course at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. That summer, Air Force Reserve Command asked him to return to Arlington National Cemetery as a chaplain. He jumped at it. “I came here, worked well with the team, and loved the mission,” he said.

Since returning to ANC, Lloyd has conducted approximately 420 funeral services, steadily approaching the 500 he performed in the Honor Guard. Presently, he is completing his second year-long tour at ANC—and he always keeps the Honor Guard in mind during services. “I will continue as long as they’ll let me,” he said, “because I love it.”