While we vacationed in Washington DC over this past weekend specifically to attend Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor Rally, we also took the time to visit Arlington National Cemetery. Not only did we get the chance to walk among thousands of headstones that chronicle American history, but we also visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was my third time visiting Arlington and each time, I have been spiritually moved by the Tomb of the Unknowns and the Tomb Guard Sentinels who guard the tomb 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Between the years of 1926 and 1937, the tomb was guarded only during daylight hours. Then in July of 1937, the guard duty was increased and ordered to begin 24 hour shifts due to the numerous visitors using the original crypt as a picnic table. The tomb has been patrolled continuously 24/7 since 1937. Additional research at Society of the Honor Guard, gave me these amazing facts:
- The soldiers who stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are hand picked and rigorously trained. They have come from every state in the union, every walk of life. There are men and women (there have been 3 women Sentinels). For some this is their first unit in the Army, others are veterans of many years.
- The duty is not for everyone. Over 80% of the soldiers who tryout for this duty do not make it.
- Each soldier must have strong military bearing, discipline, stamina and present an outstanding soldierly appearance. Each Sentinel must be able to flawlessly perform seven different types of walks, honors and ceremonies. They must retain vast amounts of knowledge concerning the Tomb, Arlington National Cemetery, the United States Army and their unit.
- The guard takes 21 steps across the tomb, then turns and faces the tomb for 21 seconds. Then he turns to face back down the mat, changes his weapon to the outside shoulder, counts 21 seconds, then steps off for another 21 step walk down the mat. He faces the tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until he is relieved at the Guard Change. It alludes to the twenty-one gun salute, which is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary.
- The guard keeps his gloves wet to prevent him from losing grip on his rifle.
- Guards are changed every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
- Guards must be between 5'11" and 6'4" and his/her waist size must not exceed 30". A tomb guard can tell what relief is working, just based on their height:
1st Relief 6'2" to 6'4"2nd Relief 6' to 6'2"3rd Relief 5'11" to 6'
Some people think that when the cemetery is closed to the public in the evening this "show" stops. First, to the men who are dedicated to this work, it is not a show. It is a "charge of honor." The formality and precision continues uninterrupted all night. The steady rhythmic step in rain, sleet, snow, hail, heat and cold must be uninterrupted. Uninterrupted is the important part of the honor shown to the American soldiers known but to God.