Kolbie Amptmeyer, a Region native who graduated from Lake Central High School in December 2017, will have the high honor of taking part in a former president's state funeral services on Monday and Wednesday.
Amptmeyer, who grew up in and around St. John, serves as a private in the U.S. Army Honor Guard, which lays fallen soldiers to rest at Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington, D.C. He's helped bury nearly 60 soldiers and veterans on the nation's most hallowed ground in Arlington, Virginia.
After he heard pounding on his barracks door at Fort Meyer early Saturday morning, he was told he would be working through the weekend to prepare for the funeral of President George H.W. Bush, who died late Friday at age 94.
His unit last took part in a president's state funeral in 2004, when President Ronald Reagan died.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Amptmeyer said. "My unit last did it 14 years ago. It's crazy to think I was just in high school last year and will lay to rest an ex-president. This is something not many people get to do."
He played football at Lake Central High School and spent a lot of time in the automotive shop with former teacher Dennis Brannock, who encouraged him to pursue his longtime dream of serving in the military.
Amptmeyer, 19, enlisted in the U.S. Army as an infantryman and headed off to Fort Benning in Georgia for basic training, where a representative from the U.S. Army Old Guard told recruits about opportunities in the Honor Guard. He filled out an application and was chosen for the prestigious duty because of high physical training and Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery scores.
Since being stationed in the post in Arlington, Virginia, he's taken part in about 60 military funerals as an escort, marching in front of the coffin in a cleanly pressed dress uniform and shoes polished to a high sheen.
"It's humbling to honor those who died or served their country," he said. "It's amazing, day in and day out."
On Monday afternoon, Amptmeyer will march along with honor units from the Navy, Air Force and Marines to transport the president to the U.S. Capitol, where Bush will lie in state in the rotunda with soldiers standing guard until Wednesday morning. He will then march with the president's casket as it is taken away so Bush can be flown off to his home state of Texas, where he will be buried next to his wife, Barbara.
Amptmeyer's unit has been preparing for the nationally televised state funeral all weekend. He has been steaming and pressing his ceremonial dress uniform to get ready.
"For an ex-president, I want to make sure it will be the best uniform I've ever had," he said. "I've been steaming out any wrinkles, making sure the brass is all shiny. Everybody's a little stressed. We need to be presentable. There are a lot of newer guys in my company, and now we're going to be the escort element in a state funeral, marching in front of the Capitol Building."
His mother Kristie Hussey said she couldn't be more proud.
"He's been working crazy hours to get his uniform ready," she said. "He has no nerves, but it's such an honor to have the chance to do this. We're in such disbelief."
She, his grandparents, and other family members plan to watch Monday and record the parade, in which Amptmeyer will march either in front of or behind the president's casket.
"I'll probably find him right away," she said. "We're beyond excited. I'm just so proud of him."