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Tomb of Unknown Soldier Guards

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Tomb of Unknown Soldier Guards: Warren Harding was the 29th American President who served in office from March 4, 1921 to August 2, 1923. One of the important events during his presidency was the approval of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery and the duties and ceremonies of the guards.

Definition and Summary of the Tomb of Unknown Soldier Guards
Summary and definition:
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Guards in Arlington National Cemetery are members of the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment, nicknamed "The Old Guard".

The sentinels are assigned to guard the monument to ensure the respect and security of one of America's most sacred symbols. The guards adhere to a solemn and precise ritual called the changing of the guard ceremony.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Guards in Arlington National Cemetery perform their duties 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Their dedication to their sacred duty and their eternal vigilance is reflected in the 'Sentinel's Creed'.

Facts about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Guards for kids
The following fact sheet continues with facts about Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Guards. The picture below provides the words of the Sentinel's Creed.

Who guards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? The army guards are from the 4th Battalion of the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment,  "The Old Guard".

Why are there guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? To ensure the continued respect and security of one of the nation's most sacred symbols

When do the guards change at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? The guards are changed every hour, on the hour, from October 1 to March 31. From April 1 through September 30 another change is added on the half hour. The tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. During nighttime hours the measured and precise step of the on duty sentinel remains unchanged from the daylight hours.

Why are the guards gloves wet at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? To prevent losing the grip on the rifle.

How many steps does the guard take during his walk across the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? The guard takes 21 steps and then pauses for 21 seconds after his about face to begin his return walk. The significance of '21' reflects the twenty-one gun salute, the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary.

Facts about Tomb of Unknown Soldier Guards
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Tomb of Unknown Soldier Guards.

In 1926, the first US Army soldier was posted to guard the memorial during cemetery hours.

On July 1, 1937 guard duty was extended to the 24 hour watch.

The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment ("The Old Guard") formally took over the duties of Honor Guard on April 6, 1948.

The 3rd United States Infantry, "The Old Guard", has served continuously since 1784. It is the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the U.S. Army and is the Army's official ceremonial unit, escort to the president, and also provides security for Washington, D.C.

Guards must memorize 7 pages of history on Arlington National Cemetery and then recite it verbatim before being granted "a walk". The military ritual guard change ceremony, and the grave locations of nearly 300 veterans are also part of the requirements of a sentinel.

The guards hold no rank. This is because the rank of the unidentified dead is unknown and it would be inappropriate for the Unknowns to be guarded by someone who outranks them.

To these special guards, the continuity of this post is the key to the honor and respect shown to the honored dead and their duties remain uninterrupted during all weathers. During heat waves, blizzards, hurricanes, rain, sleet, snow and hail they continue their guard, welfare of the Soldier is never put at risk.

How often are the Guards changed? Every 30 minutes during the summer (April 1 to September 30) and every 30 minutes during the winter (October 1 to March 31). During closing hours the guard is changed every 2 hours. The tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The Tomb Guards march 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process.

Out of respect for the dead, the guards carry the rifle on the outside shoulder - away from the Tomb.

Guards are not permitted to speak or break his march, unless someone enters the restricted area around the Tomb.

For a person to apply for guard duty at the tomb, he must be between 5' 10" - 6' 2" tall and his waist size cannot exceed 30 inches. A small number of female soldiers have applied and been accepted for the position

The average length of duty for guards at the memorial is 18 months.

Myths! Whilst off-duty guards are allowed to take alcohol!

The Hurricane: Hurricane Isabel was the deadliest, costliest, and strongest hurricane in the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season, but the sentinels continued with their sentry duties during this difficult night.

Facts about Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Guards for kids: Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Arlington
The changing of the guard ceremony at Arlington cemetery is conducted:

  • Every 30 minutes from 8am until 7pm (April 1 - September 30th)

  • Every 60 minutes from 8am until 5pm (October 1 - March 31st)

  • Every 2 hours when the Arlington cemetery is closed.

The Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Arlington
The changing of the guard ceremony at Arlington National cemetery is as follows:

1. A uniformed relief commander enters the plaza to announce the Changing of the Guard. He approaches the tomb, slowly salutes, then faces the visitors and yells requesting silence during the ceremony.

2. The relief sentinel unlocks the bolt of his M-14 rifle to signify that he is ready to begin the ceremony and the relief commander conducts a white-glove inspection of the sentinel's weapon. This is a real inspection and the relief sentinel can be sent away, leaving the current sentinel in place till the next scheduled Changing of the Guard.

3. The commander and the sentinel march to the center of the black mat where the duty sentinel stops his walk. All three soldiers salute the Tomb and perform the changing of the guard ceremony.

4. The words are as follows:

  • "Pass on your orders." the relief commander instructs the active sentinel

  • "Post and orders, remain as directed." is the active sentinel's reply

  • "Orders acknowledged." answers the relieving sentinel

5. The relieving sentinel steps into position at the center of the black mat. All three soldiers salute the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

6. As soon as the relief commander passes, the relieving sentinel begins his own walk - 21 paces south, turn and pause for 21 seconds, turn and pace 21 steps south.

7. The actions are repeated until the active sentinel is relieved by the next guard.

8. Both the relief commander and the relieved sentinel exit off the right, which concludes the ceremony.

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