Two soldiers originally assigned to C Company, 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard), will always reflect on April 7 as a monumental point in their military careers.
In a small, yet memorable ceremony held in the display room of the Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery that day, Sergeant William D. Martin II and Private First Class Edward H. Jackson Jr. received the Tomb Guard Identification Badges after completing months of mental and physical testing.
In front of family, friends and members of their chain of command, Martin and Jackson received their distinctive coins with badge numbers 478 and 479 respectively as well as the Battle Dress Uniform patches, Tomb Guard sweatshirts and dress blues tomb emblems.
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Sniffin and Sergeant First Class Spencer Hardney presented the former “Charlie Guard,” soldiers their hard earned titles and officially welcomed them to the Tomb.
“Every time I have the pleasure to visit the Tomb, it's a tremendous honor,” Sniffin said. “I always do my homework prior to coming down here by re-reading the Sentinel's Creed. Reading this confirms for me that we are supporting actors for principals out there un-numbered who are honored at this sacred shrine.”
From the time he was in Basic Training, Jackson said he knew he wanted to come to the Tomb.
“When I was at the 30th Army Garrison reception center, the drills showed me a video [of The Old Guard] and with my height and general technical score, I met the requirements,” he said.
It took him 11 months from the time he first left C Company to earn his badge. Jackson's first walk was in August 1999, and he recalls being pretty nervous about it.
“I had a 10 a.m. walk, and at that time of day, there were a lot of people,” he said.
That was 350 walks ago. Now Jackson looks forward to walking before crowds.
‘I'm more excited now about going before a crowd, because I know I'm doing something good,” he said.
Jackson's next goal is his 700th walk, and he hopes to make over 1,000 walks during his time at the tomb.
“Only the most experienced come down here, and only the best prove themselves worthy,” Sniffin said, acknowledging families and friends who traveled from Kentucky to be present.
Martin's mother, Debbie Martin, who traveled from Wallingford, Kentucky, said, “When he first joined the Army I felt as if my heart had been cut out. Now that he's a Sentinel and doing something so important, I feel as if my heart's cut in with joy. I'm very, very proud of him,” she said.
Martin is already an assistant relief commander and was able to perform a changing of the guard for his family after the ceremony.
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.
The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, rain or shine by Tomb Guard Sentinels. Members of the Tomb Guard, who are all volunteers, are considered to be among the best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry.
Would-be Sentinels memorize seven pages of Arlington National Cemetery history, during the initial trial phase. Once the information is recited verbatim, soldiers then have the potential to earn “walks.” A walk occurs between Guard changes, every half hour during the summer and one hour during the winter. During the walk, soldiers take exactly 21 paces to both ends of a black mat. The Sentinels then pause for 21 seconds facing the Tomb. The 21 seconds is symbolic of the 21-gun salute, which is the highest military honor given.
If a soldier passes the first training phase, “new soldier” training begins. New soldiers learn not only the history of the cemetery, but also the location of nearly 300 veterans' grave sites throughout the cemetery. Soldiers also learn to keep their uniform and weapon in immaculate condition.
The soldier is then tested to earn the privilege of wearing the silver Tomb Guard identification badge after several months of duty. After soldiers are tested on their manual of arms, uniform preparation and their walk, it's time for the Badge Test. The test is 100 randomly selected questions of the 300 items memorized during training on the history of the cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknowns. The would-be badge holder must get more than 95 percent correct to succeed.
Only 479 Tomb Guard Badges have been awarded since it was created in 1958.
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard