An honor guard is a ceremonial unit usually of a military branch (police and fire departments also have honor guards). Each branch of the U.S. military has an official designated honor guard based in Washington D.C., and every major military installation has its own honor guard on hand. State national guards may also have an honor guardsman in their local areas. Honor guards normally carry out military funeral honors, participate in parades and other military ceremonies, and guard national monuments.
Honor Guard Training Programs
The New York Army National Guard has developed a 2-week honor guard teacher training program at their Camp Smith Training Site. The program is intended to help soldiers train each other in proper military funeral protocol, and continue the proud traditions of the honor guard in New York. Similar programs exist throughout the country, such as the Original 5-day Honor Guard school for policemen and fire fighters.
The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard)
The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as “The Old Guard,” is part of the United States Army and has served in active duty since 1784. In addition to being the Army’s official honor guard, it has also been the official escort to the president of the United States since World War II. Members of this unit participate in military ceremonies conducted all throughout Washington D.C., including those at national memorials, the Pentagon, and the White House.
The 3rd U.S. Infantry regiment contains seven specialized platoons, namely:
- The U.S. Army Continental Color Guard
- Presidential Salute Battery
- The Tomb
- The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps
- Pershing’s Own
- The U.S. Caisson Platoon
- The U.S. Army Drill Team
The Tomb Guard
The Old Guard is responsible for guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. This vigil has been kept since 1926, 24-hours a day, every day of the year, rain or shine. From October to March, guards serve one-hour shifts, while from April to September, the shifts are shortened to thirty minutes. Each shift begins and ends with a ceremony known as the Changing of the Guard.
Members of the Old Guard who aspire to guard the Tomb are hand-selected by their superiors after rigorous training. Tomb guards must be in prime physical condition and demonstrate exceptional physical and mental discipline. Many who volunteer for this honor are unable to complete their training, which is an indication of how difficult the training is since they are among the most elite guardsman in the United States.
The initial training period for guardsmen lasts 2 weeks. During this time, trainees are properly educated about Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknowns; they’re taught how to prepare their uniforms and how to perform basic sequences of the Changing of the Guard. Trainees are tested on all of this information at the end of two weeks. Those who pass go on to become reliefs-in-training.
The Changing of the Guard
Three squads make up the Tomb platoon: the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Reliefs, usually organized by height so the Changing of the Guard appears as uniform as possible. The visual aesthetic of the changing ritual is important, so a Tomb guard must possess the right bearing and appearance for the job in addition to the right skill set. For example, walking is to be no faster or slower than 90 steps per minute.
The Changing of the Guard is carried out by a relief commander, the retiring sentinel, and the relieving sentinel. It includes an inspection of the sentinel’s M-14 rifle by the relief commander. This inspection is thorough but efficient and carefully choreographed. All three participants salute the Tomb and effectively all unidentified or missing servicemen who have died defending the United States.
The Changing of the Guard also includes marches of 21 steps and waiting periods of 21 seconds, symbolizing the 21-gun salute, which is the highest military honor that can be given to a service member.
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