Take a look at the picture above and reflect on what it means to you. I’m sure it means plenty of different things to people throughout the United States, but good or bad, it sure is a powerful image. Some of you won’t have any idea what these soldiers are doing or who they are. But you should know that these are Tomb Soldiers protecting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in this case, during a terrible storm. Not too many things in my life have caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand straight up or forced me to stop dead in my tracks in awe. In fact, when I was baptized at the age of 22, and the one and only time I visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are the only times in my life I felt I was truly witnessing something very special.
Whether you are for or against war, support or do not support American military, what’s happening at this tomb should still hit you squarely in the jaw. Men, willing to give their lives so complete strangers would remain free have died in every war American troops have been in. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier contains the remains of, “one known to God.” Yet, every day of the year, through rain, snow, and heat, this tomb is protected by American troops.
When I saw these men and women (called Sentinels) marching in front of the tomb, then later changing of the guard, I was blown away. I did not utter a word and I stood there just watching. I’ve never been in the military, but I respect the hell out of American troops. What these men and women do everyday for our country is amazing. Then I noticed the concrete where the soldiers marched was worn. That’s right, the concrete was worn from these brave men marching back and forth, back and forth, protecting the tomb. You cannot talk to these soldiers, and if you try, they will not answer. They take their job extremely seriously and it made me proud to be an American. I’ve included below what Sentinels must do JUST TO GET A CHANCE TO get this detail. Read it and ask yourself, “Do you have what it takes?”
The Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and in any weather by Tomb Guard sentinels. Sentinels, all volunteers, are considered to be the best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), headquartered at Fort Myer, Va.
After members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment become ceremonially qualified, they are eligible to volunteer for duty as sentinels at the Tomb. If accepted, they are assigned to Company E of The Old Guard. Each soldier must be in superb physical condition, possess an unblemished military record and be between 5 feet, 10 inches and 6 feet, 4 inches tall, with a proportionate weight and build. An interview and a two-week trial to determine a volunteer’s capability to train as a tomb guard is required.
During the trial phase, would-be sentinels memorize seven pages of Arlington National Cemetery history. This information must be recited verbatim in order to earn a “walk.” A walk occurs between guard changes. A daytime walk is one-half hour in the summer and one hour in the winter. All night walks are one hour.
If a soldier passes the first training phase, “new-soldier” training begins. New sentinels learn the history of Arlington National Cemetery and the grave locations of nearly 300 veterans. They learn the guard-change ceremony and the manual of arms that takes place during the inspection portion of the Changing of the Guard. Sentinels learn to keep their uniforms and weapons in immaculate condition.
The sentinels will be tested to earn the privilege of wearing the silver Tomb Guard Identification Badge after several months of serving. First, they are tested on their manual of arms, uniform preparation and their walks. Then, the Badge Test is given. The test is 100 randomly selected questions of the 300 items memorized during training on the history of Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknowns. The would-be badge holder must get more than 95 percent correct to succeed. Only 400 Tomb Guard Badges have been awarded since it was created in February 1958.
The Tomb Guard Identification Badge is a temporary award until the badge-holding sentinel has honorably served at the Tomb of the Unknowns for nine months. At that time, the award can be made a permanent badge, which may then be worn for the rest of a military career. The silver badge is an upside-down, laurel-leaf wreath surrounding a depiction of the front face of the Tomb. Peace, Victory and Valor are portrayed as Greek figures. The words “Honor Guard” are shown below the Tomb on the badge.
There are three reliefs, each having one relief commander and about six sentinels. The three reliefs are divided by height so that those in each guard change ceremony look similar. The sentinels rotate walks every hour in the winter and at night, and every half-hour in the day during the summer. The Tomb Guard Quarters is staffed using a rotating Kelly system. Each relief has the following schedule: first day on, one day off, second day on, one day off, third day on, four days off. Then, their schedule repeats.