Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Changing of the Guard

At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

arlington-unknown-soldier-guard

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

  • It takes 21 Steps for the Guard to walk across the Tomb of the Unknowns.  This alludes to the 21 gun salute, which is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary.
  • It takes 21 seconds for the Guard to hesitate after his about face before beginning his return walk.  This too, alludes to the 21 gun salute.
  • The Guard’s white gloves are moistened to prevent losing his grip on the rifle.
  • The Guard always carries the rifle on the shoulder away from the Tomb of the Unknowns.  Following his march across the path, he executes an about face and moves the rifle to the outside shoulder.
  • The Guard is changed every hour on the hour October 1 to March 31 in an elaborate ritual.
    • From April 1 through September 30, the Guard is changed every 30 minutes.
    • The closing time for the cemetery is also extended from 5 PM to 7 PM.
  • The following physical traits are required for a person to apply for guard duty at the tomb:
    • The Guard must be between 5ft. 10in. and 6ft. 4in. tall;
    • The Guard’s waist size cannot exceed 30in.
  • The following facts pertain to the Guards uniform:
    • Their shoes are made with thick soles to keep the heat and cold from their feet.
    • There are metal heel plates that extend to the top of the shoe in order to make the loud click sound as the Guard comes to a halt.
    • There are no wrinkles, folds or lint on the uniform.
    • Guards dress for duty in front of a full-length mirror.
    • Every Guard spends 5 hours a day getting his/her uniform ready for guard duty.
  • The following commitments are required by anyone applying for guard duty at the tomb:
    • The applicant must commit 2 years of life to guard the Tomb.
    • He/she must live in the Tomb Guard Quarters below the Memorial Display Room of the Memorial Amphitheater.
    • He/she cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty for the rest of his/her life.
    • He/she cannot swear in public for the rest of his/her life.
    • He/she cannot disgrace the uniform of the Tomb in any way.
  • During the first 6 months of duty at the Tomb, all Guards must commit to the following:
    • He/she cannot talk to anyone nor watch TV.
    • All off duty time is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.
    • Guards must memorize who they are and where they are interred.
  • Additional facts following the Guard’s assignment at the Tomb:
    • After two years of service at the Tomb, the Guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on his/her lapel signifying he/she served as a Guard of the Tomb.
    • There are only 400 presently worn.
    • The Guard must obey the above rules for the rest of his/her live or give up the wreath pin.
  • The Changing of the Guard Ritual:
    • The Tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in any type of weather.
    • The Guard changes every hour on the hour October 1 to March 31 in an elaborate ritual.
      • From April 1 through September 30, the Guard is changed every 30 minutes.
      • The closing time for the cemetery is also extended from 5 PM to 7 PM.
    • An impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza to announce the Changing of the Guard.
      • Soon the new sentinel leaves the Quarters and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle to signal to the relief commander to start the ceremony.
      • The relief commander walks out to the Tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and stay silent during the ceremony.
      • The relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon, checking each part of the rifle once.
      • Then, the relief commander and the relieving sentinel meet the retiring sentinel at the center of the matted path in front of the Tomb.
      • All three salute the Unknown who have been symbolically given the Medal of Honor.
      • Then the relief commander orders the relieved sentinel, “Pass on your orders.”
      • The current sentinel commands, “Post and orders, remain as directed.”
      • The newly posted sentinel replies, “Orders acknowledged,” and steps into position on the black mat.
      • When the relief commander passes by, the new sentinel begins walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute.
      • The Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process.
      • After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat.
      • Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed — the 21-gun salute.
  • Additional Facts pertaining to the Guards:
    • Duty time when not “walking” is spent in the Tomb Guard Quarters below the Memorial Display Room of the Memorial Amphitheater where they:
      • Study cemetery “knowledge,”
      • Clean their weapons, and
      • Help the rest of their relief prepare for the Changing of the Guard.
    • The guards also train on their days off.
    • 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 Unknown Soldier.
      • The would-be badge holder must get more than 95 percent correct to succeed.
    • The Tomb Guard Identification Badge is a temporary award until the badge-holding sentinel has honorably served at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 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 3 reliefs are divided by height so that those in each guard change ceremony look similar.
      • 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.
    • The Guards serving at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are highly motivated and are proud to honor all American service members who are “Known But to God.”
  • The following facts pertain to Hurricane Isabelle in 2003:
    • As Hurricane Isabelle was approaching Washington DC, the US Senate and the House of Representatives took 2 days off with anticipation of the storm.
    • On the ABC evening news, it was reported that because of the dangers from the hurricane, the military members assigned the duty of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were given permission to suspend the assignment.
    • They Guards respectfully declined the offer, “No way, Sir!”
    • Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of a tropical storm, they said that guarding the Tomb was not just an assignment, it was the highest honor that can be afforded to a service person.
  • The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been patrolled continuously, 24/7, since 1930.

ArlingtonNationalCemetery_Logo

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy – October of 2012 – “Superstorm Sandy”

Blank

The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment

3rdInf

  • The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, traditionally  known as “The Old Guard,” is the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army, serving our nation since 1784.
    • The Old Guard is the Army’s official ceremonial unit and escort to the president, and it also provides security for Washington, D.C., in time of national emergency or civil disturbance.
    • The unit received its unique name from Gen. Winfield Scott during a victory parade at Mexico City in 1847 following its valorous performance in the Mexican War.
    • Fifty campaign streamers attest to the 3rd Infantry’s long history of service, which spans from the Battle of Fallen Timbers to World War II and Vietnam.
    • Since World War II, The Old Guard has served as the official Army Honor Guard and escort to the president.
      • In that capacity, 3rd Infantry soldiers are responsible for the conduct of military ceremonies at the White House, the Pentagon, national memorials and elsewhere in the nation’s capital.
      • In addition, soldiers of The Old Guard maintain a 24-hour vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, provide military funeral escorts at Arlington National Cemetery and participate in parades at Fort Myer and Fort Lesley J. McNair.
    • Along with these duties, The Old Guard presents historic theatrical productions to audiences in the Washington, D.C., area.
      • One show, “Twilight Tattoo, ” is presented weekly during the summer at the White House Ellipse.
      • The show is free and open to the public.
    • The Old Guard annually participates in more than 6,000 ceremonies, an average of 16 per day.
    • Despite this arduous schedule, The Old Guard continuously prepares for its security and infantry missions by conducting year-round training.
      • This culminates in a rigorous evaluation of unit tactical proficiency.
      • Because of this, all soldiers are as familiar with traditional infantry or military-police duties as they are with ceremonial duties.
    • The black-and-tan “buff strap” worn on the left shoulder by each member of the 3rd Infantry is a replica of the knapsack strap used by 19th-century predecessors of the unit to display its distinctive colors and distinguish its members from other Army units.
    • The present buff strap continues to signify an Old Guard soldier’s pride in personal appearance and precision performance that has marked the unit for 200 years.
    • A further distinction of The Old Guard is the time-honored custom of passing in review with fixed bayonets at all parades.
      • This practice, officially sanctioned by the War Department in 1922, dates to the Mexican War in 1847 when the 3rd Infantry led a successful bayonet charge against the enemy at Cerro Gordo.
      • Today, this distinction is still reserved for The Old Guard alone.