Pride Honor Tradition: Part Two

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Brian J. Schimian

Continued From Part One...

As rewarding as my regular duties were, I have never been so humbled as when standing shoulder to shoulder with thousands of my Brothers and Sisters as a fire engine slowly passes, carrying the body of a fallen.  We traveled to countless services for Line of Duty Deaths as well as those for retired members all over the State.  These days, after being out of the game for a number of years after suffering my own career ending injury in the line of duty, I doubt I would have the constitution to make it through the tolling of the bell and maintain a salute, let alone my composure.

I carried these qualities like a charge from God Himself every day.  There is something about the selfless dedication shown to those who have fallen.  And no other group does a better job at that than the Old Guard, the Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The 3rd. Infantry Division, the oldest active duty regiment in the Army (being first organized as the Fist American Regiment in 1784), assumed this post in 1948 and have stood guard since then.  21 steps South, turn and face East towards the Tomb for 21 seconds, turn North and pause for 21 seconds, 21 steps back North down the 63 foot long rubber covered walkway, turn and face East towards the Tomb for 21 seconds, turn South and pause for 21 seconds and repeat.  24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  These guards have not missed a step regardless of the weather.  They have preformed their duty in the sweltering sun, hurricanes and subzero blizzards without faltering.  They remained on Post even through the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  Becoming a Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown is long considered to be one of the highest honors.  Less than 20% of all who volunteer make it to the training and a small fraction of those pass to become a Sentinel.

While preforming their duties, or “walking the mat,” the Sentinels wear no insignia that delineate rank.  This keeps the Sentinel from outranking the Unknown, no matter what their rank may have been.  They carry their weapon away from the Tomb as a gesture against intrusion.  The Sentinel that is on duty will break his routine and silence should one cross the barriers around the Tomb or become loud or disrespectful.  21 steps was chosen to coincide with the highest Military Honors that can be bestowed upon a fallen soldier, the 21 Gun Salute.

The Changing of the Guard is a symbolic and regimented process that has remained unchanged.  In the summer moths (April thru September) the Guard is changed every half hour.  During winter (October thru March) the change happens every hour.  During the hours that the National Cemetery is closed, the Guard is changed every two hours.  The Guards work in teams, 24 hours on & 24 hours, off for 5 days and then have 4 days off.  It takes the Sentinels an average of six hours to prepare their heavy wool uniforms for the next days work.  Those that are bestowed the honor of becoming a Sentinel are required to memorize a sixteen pages of information on Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown, as well as the names and locations of nearly 300 graves.

Soldiers wishing to serve in this capacity must sign a two year commitment, be in excellent physical condition, be between 5’ 10” & 6’ 4” and have a completely spotless record.  Even once leaving active duty from the military, the honor of wearing the Tomb Guard Identification Badge my be revoked should their actions be deemed unbecoming of a Sentinel or disrespectful of the Tomb.
To be continued...
Bro. Brian Schimian is Life of Member A.O. Fay #676 in Highland Park Illinois and the Medinah Shriners - Lake County Shrine Club. He was also the Past Master Counselor of DeMolay - Lakes Chapter in 1995. Brian is a father of two children. He is also the lead contributor to the Brothers In Arms blog, a pro 2nd Amendment blog page. "Start Square, Finish Level"

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