After 205 walks and 115 guard changes, Specialist Jason N. Vincent posted his orders and paid final respects to the Tomb of the Unknowns at the Arlington National Cemetery August 11, 1998.
Originally assigned to the Caisson Platoon at Fort Myer, Vincent was influenced to volunteer for a position as a tomb guard by his best friend, Specialist John Fader. He underwent a nine-month period of training drilling and practicing. “The many hours put in learning the [facts about the Tomb and Arlington National Cemetery] and missing out on sleep were probably the hardest times for me,” Vincent said.
He said knowing the respect and honor attached to the Unknowns “makes me happy and honored that I was allowed the opportunity to guard their memory.”
With more than 10 months of experience at the Tomb under his ceremonial belt, Vincent surrendered his gloves, glove stays and sunglasses to his non-commissioned officer in charge, Sergeant Richard K. Cline, and carefully placed single red roses in front of the World War I, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War tombs before taking his last walk.
Even after more than 200 walks with perfection as the standard, Vincent spent time training — practicing surrendering the weapon with Sergeant Shannon W. Reickert moments before his last walk.
Before his last walk, Vincent said he was nervous the first time he walked in front of a large crowd. “It takes a while before you relax and realize why you are really out there; at that point the nervousness just goes away,” he said.
To future sentinels, Vincent urges those in training, “Don't quit no matter how hard training may be. It definitely makes it worthwhile when you earn your badge.”
Vincent earned his Tomb Guard Badge in April. Fewer than 500 of the badges have been issued in 50 years. Once earned, it becomes a permanent part of the uniform as long as the wearer continues to maintain the highest military standards.
Describing his last walk as his most memorable, Vincent said he was overcome with mixed emotions.
“I was sad and happy at the same time — most of all honored being allowed to do a last walk and give my final good-byes to the unknowns,” he said.
More than 50 soldiers apply for or are recruited for sentinel duty annually. Of those, one quarter are accepted or choose to accept duty as Tomb Sentinels. For soldiers stationed at The Old Guard, assignment to the Tomb is an assignment never forgotten, according to Vincent, but so is the last walk.
“Today is a special day for Vincent. We tried to convince him to stay longer,” Cline said. “He has made all of the qualifications, he's always dependable and he has done an outstanding job. We're going to miss him.”
Colonel Gregory C. Gardner, commander of the The Old Guard, said “We're really going to be sorry to see him go; we truly appreciate the good work he's done out there.”
Vincent plans to attend college after leaving the Tomb, but not before he spends some time as Mr. Mom. His wife, Seaman Danielle Susan, is expecting their first child soon. She is stationed at the Naval Media Center in Anacostia. She said she is glad to have more time with her husband. “It's been difficult during his long 24-hour shifts, but now that he's getting out of the Army permanently, we won't need day care. It's definitely a good thing,” she said.
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