Kennett man plays role in honor guard at Reagan funeral

Monday, June 28, 2004

KENNETT, Mo. -- About two years after graduating from Kennett High School, Michael Hooten has become a member of the elite Ceremonial Honor Guard stationed in Washington, D.C. Consequently, Hooten has already met and talked to more VIPs than many people twice his age.

As a member of the Ceremonial Honor Guard, Hooten recently participated in the memorial services for President Ronald Reagan.

In July 2003, Hooten signed up with the U.S. Navy. In August, he departed for boot camp in Chicago, Ill. Toward the end of his boot camp experience in October, boot camp commanders announced that recruiters for the Ceremonial Honor Guard would be coming to interview anyone interested in applying for a position. Hooten decided to go for it.

Hooten successfully completed the first round of the interview process, including the initial security clearance.

"An applicant must be at least 6 feet tall and pass an extensive background check. After passing the initial check, the Criminal Investigation Service picks up the investigation and continues it," he said.

"Once approved, you receive 'Yankee White' security clearance, which is right below 'Top Secret' qualification."

After his qualification, little did Hooten know that one of his most significant assignments was just around the corner. Hooten said after he and his friends were notified of Reagan's death, they had to be escorted by the highway patrol in order to get back to Washington, D.C., in time, but they made it.

His initial duty during the preparation for the arrival of Reagan's body was to erect barricades and signs directing where people could and could not go. After the Air Force jet landed with Reagan's body, Hooten's assignment was to be part of a cordon that lined the pathway Reagan's coffin would take while coming off the plane and going to the capital.

His primary duty while Reagan's body lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda was to stand post next to the wall of the rotunda.

"My duty was to watch the Navy guard standing right next to President Reagan's casket. If that sailor needed relief, my job was to relieve him," Hooten said. "Fortunately, that was never necessary."

"We go through two months of extensive training, including uniform maintenance and learning to stand at attention for one and a half hours," he said.

When Reagan's body left the Capitol Rotunda and was taken to the National Cathedral, Hooten was stationed at the front entrance of the cathedral and was instructed to welcome each person who entered. That is where he welcomed former presidents, cabinet members and various heads of state.

The most memorable moment he spent at this assignment, Hooten said, was when Nancy Reagan entered the cathedral. He said she spoke to each member of the honor guard individually. She gave each of them a hug and told each one how much their service was appreciated.

Other assignments Hooten will get to participate in include festivities at Buffalo Bills football games, in Athens, Ga., in Idaho and Iowa, and at the Hall of Fame Football parade. He will soon be on his way to Norway for a drill performance before Norway's King.

Hooten's experience with VIPs has not been limited by any means to the Reagan memorial services. He is stationed at the Air Force base where Air Force One takes off and lands. He said, "We can see the Capitol building from our base." He also spends time in and around the Pentagon.

At the Air Force base, Hooten said President Bush frequently stops by to talk to them before boarding Air Force One. Hooten describes Bush as, "very down to earth. He doesn't put himself on a pedestal. He's very supportive. He likes to talk about baseball. And after every talk he asks if he can say a prayer for us."

Hooten has also spoken with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who he describes as short but stocky, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Both men, he says, are very likable and always speak to the honor guard.

The Ceremonial Honor Guard supplies men and women for our nation's most prestigious ceremonies. Members of the Honor Guard make up a portion of the President's personal escort, they participate in state funerals and military funerals, presidential inaugurations and Full Honors ceremonies at the Pentagon. They may also be seen at the White House at state arrivals, dinners and receptions.

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