ARLINGTON CEMETERY – GUARDS OF THE TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER

In 2010 I was fortunate enough to witness the changing of the guard at Arlington’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier it was an amazing demonstration of skill and devotion. If you haven’t already seen this ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, do it!

 

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT THE CEREMONY

  1. How many steps does the guard take during his walk across the tomb of the Unknowns and why?

21 steps: The number of steps alludes to the twenty-one gun salute which is the highest honour given any military or foreign dignitary.

  1. How long does he hesitate after his about-face to begin his return walk and why?

21 seconds for the same reason as answer number 1.

  1. Why are the guard’s gloves wet?

His gloves are moistened to prevent his losing his grip on the rifle.

  1. Does he carry his rifle on the same shoulder all the time and, if not, why not?

He carries the rifle on the shoulder away from the tomb. After his march across the path, he executes an about-face and moves the rifle to the outside shoulder.

  1. How often are the guards changed?

Guards are changed every thirty minutes, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.

  1. What are the physical traits of the guard limited to?

For a person to apply for guard duty at the tomb, he must be between 5′ 10′ and 6′ 2′ tall and his waist size cannot exceed 30. They must commit 2 years of life to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty for the rest of their lives. They cannot swear in public for the rest of their lives and cannot disgrace the uniform or the tomb in any way. After two years, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapel signifying they served as guard of the tomb. There are only 400 presently worn. The guard must obey these rules for the rest of their lives or give up the wreath pin.

OTHER DETAILS ABOUT THE GUARDS

A guard’s shoes are specially made with very 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 as they come to a halt. There are no wrinkles, folds or lint on the uniform. Guards dress for duty in front of a full-length mirror.

During the first six months of duty a guard cannot talk to anyone nor watch television. All off duty time is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. A guard must memorize who they are and where they are interred. Among the notables are President Taft Joe Lewis {the boxer} Medal of Honour winner Audie L. Murphy, the most decorated soldier of WWII and of Hollywood fame. Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniforms ready for guard duty.

In 2003 as Hurricane Isabelle was approaching Washington DC, our US Senate/House 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 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 honour that can be afforded to a service person.. The tomb has been patrolled continuously, 24/7, since 1930.

 

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One comment

  • Ken.T. April 27, 2022   Reply →

    Bobby Jumper is a friend of mine and he is a Vietnam Veteran from the USA. He has guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier up until he had to retire with P.T.S.D. Bob took a group of us Veterans to Arlington Cemetery and introduced us to the Sargent of the Guard. We were taken through their quarters and witness the initiation of a New Guard on his first day light Duty at the Tomb. I was stunned with the preparation of this young man in his getting ready, it took him 3 hours to prepare and dress then present him self for inspection be fore being escorted out to his duties where he was once more inspected. When the re-leaved Guard returned to the quarters under the grand stand the first thing he did was to undress. press his uniform, get a clean shirt and repress that, then showered and started to polish his boot, along with striping and cleaning his rifle. Their dedication to their duties is the panicle of discipline. My fellow vets and my self are honored to have witnessed the ceremony and to meet these dedicated men. God Bless each and every one of them for their devotion to the Duty, of Guarding the Tomb.

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