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WASHINGTON -- Greg Sorenson was 7 years old when George Herbert Walker Bush, a former naval aviator, became the 41st president of the United States.

Decades later, Sorenson, 37, is a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve, helping to ensure that today's state funeral for Bush goes as smoothly as possible.

Wearing his dress blues, the Little Rock man is escorting retired Navy brass and others around the nation's capital as they bid farewell to their former commander in chief.

This week's tributes, Sorenson said, are well-deserved.

"It's a good opportunity for us to render the appropriate honors to our departed commander in chief. President George H.W. Bush was instrumental in concluding the Cold War peacefully and was instrumental in setting us on a good trajectory after that struggle," he said.

The retired military officials he's encountered have been impressive, he said.

"They've all had very distinguished careers in the military and they've all done some very impressive things," Sorenson said. "They're all very nice people, very good people."

Sorenson is one of 11 people performing the task; only two of the Distinguished Visitor Escort Officers are reservists.

On Monday afternoon, he was on hand as the former president's remains arrived from Houston.

"I was at Andrews Air Force Base when Air Force One landed, and so I got to watch the ceremony with the 21-gun salute and the honor detail. They had 50 sailors from the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush who were on hand to greet President Bush," he said.

During a lull in the proceedings, Sorenson met Sully, the late president's faithful service dog.

Sorenson, who works as supervisor of market surveillance and electrical engineer at Southwest Power Pool in Little Rock, hadn't anticipated this week's trip to Washington.

"I was invited on Saturday and then I flew out to D.C. on Sunday morning," he said.

Sorenson's employer promptly approved his scheduling request.

"I had to rearrange some things, but they were very accommodating in allowing me to do this for our country."

This morning, he'll help naval officials get to and from the National Cathedral, site of today's state funeral.

"I believe it's already completely full and standing-room only, so I'm just escorting them to the front door," he said.

Organizing a state funeral is a mammoth task. Federal officials prepare for years so they'll be ready when a former leader dies, said U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, a veteran of the Army.

In between tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Republican from Dardanelle served as a member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, often referred to as the Old Guard.

Members assist with funerals at Arlington National Cemetery and keep watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as well as perform other ceremonial duties.

"We did not perform a state funeral when I was present in 2007 and 2008. I arrived a couple of months after the funeral for President [Gerald] Ford, which was the last state funeral," Cotton recalled.

Had he and his colleagues been needed, they would have been prepared to serve, he said.

"We do maintain state funeral proficiency at all times. The Old Guard, with its sister services, maintains a state funeral duty roster, down to the last man; every casket bearer, every door opener, every umbrella bearer, and then we rehearse once a quarter," he said.

Cotton's task was to serve as officer in charge of the casket team at the National Cathedral.

"I remember very vividly a cold and rainy day in December of 2007 where I and the body bearers were carrying a mock casket in and out of the National Cathedral for a couple of hours early one day. The teams do that kind of rehearsal at every stage. The Andrews team, the Capitol team, the Cathedral team all rehearse, as does the team that goes forward to the point of demise and the point of interment," he said.

The casket drills are strenuous.

"They fill it with weight so it will simulate the 500-1,000 pounds that a casket and remains would weigh," he said. "It gets pretty tough for those body bearers that carry the mock casket up and down the steps of the Capitol when they are rehearsing, but they do that so they can be perfect as they were [Monday] for President Bush."

Metro on 12/05/2018

Print Headline: Navy reservist from Little Rock on duty in D.C. for Bush funeral

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