Five things you didn’t know about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier guards

Guards prepare to change shifts at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (US ARMY)

While the US Marines tend to hog the limelight when it comes to guarding things like embassies and the White House, only the United States Army’s famed “Old Guard” stands eternal vigil over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

While they dazzle crowds with their professionalism as they keep watch over their post, many people don’t know exactly who these guards are and what they do.

5: They are members of the 3rd Infantry Regiment

Tomb Guards are part of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment “The Old Guard”. Serving the U.S. since 1784, The Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military still in service. After a valorous performance in the Mexican War, the Old Guard received its unique name from General Winfield Scott during a victory parade in Mexico City in 1847. The Old Guard has a long history of service to the U.S., from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq War.

4: They work in shifts, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

There has been a Sentinel on duty in front of the Tomb every minute of every day since 1937.

The Tomb Guards work on a three Relief (team) rotation – 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, 96 hours off. While 96 hours seems like a lot of time off, it isn’t exactly free time. It takes the average Sentinel 8 hours to prep their uniform for the next work day. Additionally, they have Physical Training, Tomb Guard training, and haircuts to complete before the next work day.

3: Not just anyone can be a Tomb Guard

If you were considering a spot with The Old Guard, you may want to make sure you measure up. Literally.

Candidates must be at least 5’10 for males and 5’8 for women, with a General Technical (GT) score of 110 and a squeaky-clean record.
In addition, candidates who have recently seen combat are preferred.

5: Tomb Guards don’t get snow days

The Sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are completely dedicated to their duty of guarding the Tomb. In fact, line eight of their Creed refers to the “discomfort of the elements”.

Because of their dedication, the weather does not bother them. In fact, it is considered an honor post watch during inclement weather. It gets cold, it gets hot and the mission continues as it has unbroken since 1937. Even during blizzards and hurricanes, the Guards protect the Tomb.

2: They have wet gloves

In order to keep a tight grip on their rifles, the Guards have moistened gloves. This can make for a chilly and uncomfortable experience in certain times of the year.

1: They have fully functional rifles

The Tomb Guards carry the venerable M-14 rifle, chambered in 7.62×51. While rumors from civilians and former Guards alike insist that some Guards carry ammunition on their person, there is no definitive answer concerning the subject, other than that the rifles are fully functional and that the US Army has secured the post since 1926.

So, there you have it.  The legendary Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded by consummate professionals, who will no doubt protect the sacred sight from the dangerous and disrespectful for… well, as long as the United States exists.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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