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Reserve Chaplains Honored, Humbled to Serve at Arlington National Cemetery

  • Published
  • By Bo Joyner

There are close to 400,000 people buried at Arlington National Cemetery. On row after row of precisely placed headstones across 639 acres of rolling hills in Arlington County, Virginia, not far from the Pentagon, are the names of brave men and women who proudly served their country and are now laid to rest at one of the most sacred places in the United States.

On most weekdays at Arlington, about 30 funeral services are held, led by military chaplains assigned to the cemetery’s chaplain corps. A pair of Reserve Citizen Airmen, Chaplain (Maj.) Steven Rein and Chaplain (Capt.) Andrew Lloyd, are currently assigned to the chaplain cadre at Arlington, working tirelessly to provide dignified and memorable services for people who have died and their family members.

An individual mobilization augmentee, Rabbi Rein is called on to officiate at all Jewish Air Force funerals. On occasion, he fills in to support Jewish funerals for people assigned to other military branches as well as at additional Air Force funerals when no religious preference is requested. He has been working at ANC since June 2017.

“Working at Arlington has truly been an honor and the most fulfilling assignment of my Air Force career,” he said. “In addition to serving military families in a way that I am uniquely qualified to do, I love learning about the sacred stories of each and every individual and the lives they influenced. The connections and relationships are truly special.”

Also an IMA, Lloyd has been assigned to Arlington since June 2022. On a typical day, he will officiate at between one and four funerals. In all, he’s presided at more than 300 funerals at ANC.

“Our primary role is to dignify the life of the deceased – someone we have never met – and convey gratitude on behalf of the Air Force family,” he said. “It is always my hope that families feel a bit of comfort in knowing how grateful the Air Force is for the service and sacrifice of their loved one.”

Rein said that every service he presides over is special, but he will never forget a funeral he conducted a couple of years ago.

“Perhaps the most moving service I’ve conducted was for an individual who was among the liberators of the Dachau Concentration Camp during World War II,” he said. “My grandfather is a survivor of the Holocaust and was liberated from Dachau. Standing at this grave, in front of his family, I was able to share that I owe my very life and existence to the bravery and heroism of their father. It was truly an emotional moment for all of us.”

Rein said he will always remember officiating with a joint honor guard at the burial of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg. “I will also always remember the hundreds of United States Capitol Police officers attending the funeral for a fallen officer who died during the attack at the Capitol on Jan. 6,” he said.

Lloyd vividly remembers the service he officiated where retired Gen. Richard Myers was in attendance. “General Myers served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 9/11,” he said. “He was highly visible in the wake of the attack and occupied that role when I decided to join the Air Force. Having the opportunity to personally thank him for his leadership years removed from the attack was special.”

He went on to say that he cherishes every moment when he gets to present a flag to the next-of-kin. “I never tire of experiencing that special moment with grieving family members and knowing that we provided comfort and memories that will last for their lifetime,” he said.

Rein said that working at ANC as an IMA is vastly different from any other position he has had in the Reserve.

“Perhaps the biggest difference is that in prior assignments I was attached to an active-duty base chapel,” he said. “I would come in for Reserve duty and was inserting myself in the middle of a busy calendar of programs and events often without any context or planning. So much of a chaplain’s success is based on relationship building, something that is very hard to do as a Reservist. In my work at ANC, all of us – both active duty and Reserve – are really on the same footing. We all engage with families in the same way and for the same brief period of time. I feel that I am truly an integral part of the team in ways that was not always true in the past.”

Rein said that he generally reaches out to the family about two weeks before a scheduled funeral. “This conversation serves as an opportunity for me to introduce myself, gather biographical information about the deceased and share with the family a detailed outline of a military funeral,” he said.

“Following this initial meeting, I begin writing my remarks and preparing for the burial service. I always seek to connect the life of the deceased with themes from the Jewish tradition and words of comfort and inspiration.”

On the day of the funeral, he meets with the family in person prior to the service so they can put a name to a face and he can answer any final questions they may have.

“I then head out to meet with the honor guard and finally officiate the service,” Rein said. “Upon completion, the final step is sending a condolence letter to the family, thanking them for entrusting us to care for their loved one.”

For Lloyd, a typical day begins with a time of personal prayer for the families he is about to support. He meets privately with the family about 45 minutes before the start of the service in the Arlington Cemetery administration building.

“We review biographical details of the person being buried – based upon obituaries and/or notes provided by the family in the weeks preceding the funeral,” he said. “Traditionally, we offer a brief prayer during that meeting and then depart to meet with the Air Force Honor Guard. Service types range at Arlington depending upon the person’s rank. We officiate and conduct each type of service, which can range in length from a few minutes to up to 20 minutes.”

Rein said that he loves serving at Arlington and how his Reserve service ties in with his civilian life.

“As a civilian, I serve a congregation in Alexandria, Virginia,” he said. “Working at ANC has given me the opportunity to officiate funerals at Arlington for congregants of mine. Bridging these two worlds as a Citizen Airman has been truly rewarding.”

While Lloyd said the job can be physically and emotionally draining, he cherishes the time he has spent at Arlington.

“It is incredibly humbling to work at Arlington Cemetery and serve families at a moment that is not a happy occasion,” he said. “There are no do-overs in this job. We create memories that will last a lifetime. That is humbling and daunting … and motivation to bring my best every day.”