ASHLAND—When the funeral service for former President George H.W. Bush was held a week ago, a connection to southern Oregon was instrumental in seeing it through.
Former Southern Oregon University defensive lineman Curtis Kauffman was among the nine body bearers tasked with transporting the casket to the hearse.
"It was an incredible honor and I never thought I would be in a position where I'd be helping to honor and perform a funeral ceremony for a former president,” he said over the phone on Wednesday. “Being stationed here where I'm at in the body bearer section, I don't think there's any better place for me.”
Becoming a body bearer is a highly competitive process, the tryout lasts between six and eight months, and there are only 15 in the country.
Once you’re among them, it’s your job to bear caskets for Marines, heads of state and former Presidents of the United States.
Kauffman said in the moment the only thing on his mind was executing all the preparation and training he’s put in. But after time to reflect, he understands and appreciates the significance of the situation.
“Our mission is to go out and perform flawless funerals. There's no place I'd rather be than here, getting the chance to honor these men and women that have done so much for our country," Kauffman said.
Kauffman is a native of Rainier, Oregon, and after a season at Minot State, he transferred to SOU and played for the football team in 2011, Craig Howard’s first year, and 2012, the year in which the team made it to the NAIA quarterfinals.
“Curtis was really a part of the turnaround with SOU football,” Kauffman’s former defensive line coach, Berk Brown, said. “He really started to help develop what the program has become today.”
“Going through those physically and mentally challenging times, those definitely had an impact on me,” Kauffman said. “Something coach Howard always said is building character, and I look back on my time at SOU as a very good stepping stone in my life.”
Brown and Kauffman grew exceptionally close in their two years together in Ashland. The former defensive coordinator made sure to offer his appreciation to his former player after learning of Kauffman's latest honor.
"I messaged him the other day on social media how proud of him I was and how he's not only representing himself but his family, Southern Oregon University and its football program,” Brown said. “I just wanted him to know that what he's doing is making so many people proud."
Kauffman is stationed in Washington D.C. currently and said he’ll be there until August of 2020 as a body bearer.
He spent his first two years in the Marine Corps as a helicopter engine mechanic. He graduated ceremonial drill school to become a body bearer August 7, 2018.
He plans on reenlisting in 2020 and continuing his Marine Corps career along a different avenue.