Those of us who know a thing or two about the American military tradition are familiar with the Changing of the Guard. It has been a yearly tradition from the earliest years of our country and continues to rouse the nationalistic pride in all of us who know how important the army is in upholding our values of freedom, democracy, and human decency. Every year the changing of the guard ceremony draws people to Arlington to watch the spectacle. The location of the Changing of the Guards is also quite a hallowed place.
At the Arlington National Cemetry, the location of the Changing of the Guards, there is a famous Tomb known as the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.’ Thousands upon thousands of people come through each year to observe this austere monument, erected to honor the fallen soldiers that have remained unidentified over the years. There are so many soldiers lost at war over the years that have not been identified by the army – and it is a lovely thing for our government to erect a monument thanking these anonymous soldiers and their families for service to the cause.
This tomb remains guarded every day of the year, day and night. No matter the weather conditions in the sometimes hostile Arlington winter; the tomb will always have a guard keeping watch. There is even a special position for these guards – the Tomb Sentinels they are known, and they are responsible for keeping watch over the tomb.
It get’s even more specific than that. The Tomb Sentinels are chosen only from the 3rd US Infantry, a core group of the military that is romantically referred to as “the old guard” because of their diligence and dedication to the nation. Those chosen for inclusion into the 3rd US Infantry have earned it over years of impressive dedication to being a soldier. It is their ability to be trusted that lands them such a coveted position. Indeed, the position of Tomb Sentinel is one of the most coveted military positions in the country!
The role of Tomb Sentinel involves standing guard for 30 minutes at a time. After half an hour the guard is relieved of their duty by the next in line – but only after the inspection of the rifle has been done. This is known as the famous Changing of the Guard ceremony.
One recent Changing of the Guard did not go so well. The relief commander by accident dropped the precious rifle on the foot of the guard standing watch! Not only did it hit the foot – it went right through. The bayonet end actually went right through the foot of the guard! While most of us would be helping in pain and calling for help, this guard was resolute and austere despite the evident pain he was suffering.
A visitor caught the entire incident on tape. When the bayonet fell and hit the one guards toe, neither of them flinched or moved at all. It was only when the one guard began walking away was blood evident on his boot. He was merely living up to his obligation to hold his pose come what may.