Requirements of Soldiers Guarding the Unknown Soldier

by Laurie Reeves

The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army -- the Old Guard -- started in 1784. It consists of the soldiers who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and its members are also in other specialty honor battalions and platoons. As part of its service to the country, the Old Guard is the President's escort and serves as the U.S. Honor Guard. Admission into this elite unit is not easy, and many fail the rigorous entry requirements.

Tomb Guards

Only those already in the Army -- with clean military records -- can be recruited for the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. Once a female or a male becomes a member of this unit, he or she can then volunteer to apply for the tomb guard appointment. To be a tomb guard, all soldiers must be tall, ranging in height from 5 feet, 10 inches to 6 feet, 4 inches with a physical presence to match. Tomb guards must look "soldierly" in their uniforms and cannot be overweight, as they represent the U.S. Army and the country as a whole.

Elite Soldiers

Besides the requirement for excellent physical condition, the soldiers go through a rigorous interview and two-week trial to become a tomb guard. Members of the tomb guard must have a military record free of blemishes from such issues as disciplinary problems, drunkenness, drugs or any kind of negative behavior. Tomb guards are those who have personal drive and self-discipline. These soldiers maintain high standards, and they must have the physical stamina for a constant watch at the Tomb, which is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in rain, snow or shine.

Trial Period

While undergoing the two-week trial phase to see if the individual is a good fit to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, each soldier must memorize the Arlington National Cemetery history, which consists of seven pages of information. Guards must be able to repeat all seven pages of history word-for-word to earn a walk -- a ceremonial ritual involving specific steps and movements that occur during the changing of the guard. These walks consist of an hour in the winter and at night and a half-hour in the summer.

Training and Testing

After passing the two-week trial, new guard training starts, which lasts 6 to 12 months and includes five grueling and progressive tests. During training, would-be guards learn to maintain their uniforms and weapons to the unit's standards; they learn the steps, cadence and ceremonial processes of the guard-change ritual, the grave locations of nearly 300 veterans, and the complete history of the cemetery. After passing the tests and reciting 35 pages of historical information error-free, Tomb Guards receive the least-awarded badge in U.S. Army history, and the second lowest military badge overall: the Tomb Guard Identification Badge. If sentinels fail any part of the training, they are sent back to their company.

About the Author

As a native Californian, artist, businessperson, contractor, journalist and published author, Laurie Reeves began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. In 2003, she and her husband moved into the home she designed, they built and decorated. Reeves graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.

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