Missoula has seen the untimely deaths of two wildland firefighters in just the past two weeks, and when a member of that Forest Service family falls in the line of duty, the U.S. Forest Service Honor Guard steps up to serve.

Bitterroot Forest Public Information Director Tod McKay spoke with KGVO News following the memorial for 19 year-old Trenton Johnson at the Missoula Alliance Church, and explained why he and his fellow Honor Guard members, Rob Lynn, Celtic Dragon Pipes & Drums, and Steve Robertson, Missoula Co. Sheriff’s Office, travel all over the United States to just such ceremonies.

"The Forest Service has had an honor guard for over 20 years," McKay said. "I've been a member of the honor guard for about five years. I play bagpipes, so today we played Amazing Grace and other numbers. We also marched the colors in and the other honor guard members posted the colors."

McKay said serving in the honor guard requires being willing to travel all over the country.

"It's a national group," he said. "You have to work full time for the Forest Service and you have to apply for membership. It started about 20 years ago, after the South Canyon Storm King Fire in Colorado. The agency realized we really needed a way to honor the brothers and sisters who die in the line of duty and to take care of the families. It's one of the most important things, and the highest privilege for me to be able to travel nationally. We work very closely with the Wildland Firefighters Foundation."

McKay explains the mission of the Forest Service Honor Guard.

"We take pride in representing the Forest Service, and providing service to our fallen brothers, sisters and their families in times of need," he said with a catch in his voice. "I get emotional just talking about it. This is not easy, but it's what we want and need to do for these families."

McKay said the organization stays in contact with the families of the fallen firefighters, with a special day of remembrance every year.

"We meet with them every year in Boise, and the families wrap their arms around each other," he said. "Trenton's family is just beginning this journey, and we will walk alongside them for as long as it takes."

As of Friday, August 4, there was no word yet about a memorial service for 29 year-old Brent Witham, a member of a Hot Shots team from California, who was killed on Wednesday while working on the Lolo Peak Fire, but, if there is, be sure that McKay and his fellow Honor Guard members will be on a plane to California.

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