Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Sentinel: Tomb of the Unknowns

In an age of rampant corruption, violence, terror concerns and catastrophic events, there is a call for renewed moral leadership, heightened vigilance and dedicated collaboration among all facets of America's communities.

Inspired by the Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier), the purpose of The Sentinel blog and newsletter is to cultivate these core values throughout our nation.

The Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington National Cemetery serve as a model of leadership, vigilance, and collaboration. The Tomb, also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, is dedicated to the American soldiers who have died without having their remains identified.

The ceremony of The Sentinels guarding the Tomb allow us to reflect on the legacy of those who have honored America and to resolve to be dedicated to a transformation of our nation:

  • The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded 24 hours per day, 365 days a year and in any weather by Tomb Guard Sentinels.
  • It has been guarded continuously since July 2, 1937.
  • All volunteers are considered the best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry and these soldiers must be in superb physical condition and possess an unblemished military record.
  • During the trial phase, aspiring sentinels memorize seven pages of Arlington National Cemetery history verbatim to earn a "walk." A walk occurs between the guard changes at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
  • After passing the first training phase, the "new Soldier" training begins and each new sentinel must learn the history of Arlington National Cemetery and the grave locations of nearly 300 veterans. The weapons and uniform of the sentinel must always be in immaculate condition.
  • Sentinels undergo rigorous and extensive testing before earning the privilege of wearing the silver Tomb Guard Identification Badge of which only 400 have been awarded since 1958.
  • After serving at the Tomb of the Unknowns for nine months, the Tomb Guard Identification Badge can be made permanent and may then be worn for the duration of a military career.
  • Representing precision collaboration, there are three reliefs, each having one relief commander and about six sentinels. The three reliefs are organized by height to express uniformity and they rotate every hour in the winter and at nights, and every half hour in the day during the summer.
  • An impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza announcing the Changing of the Guard. Soon the relieving sentinel leaves the Quarters and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle to signal to the relief commander to start the ceremony. The relief commander walks to the Tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and stay silent during the ceremony.
  • The relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon. After meeting at the Tomb, the relief commander orders the relieved sentinel, "Pass on your orders." The current sentinel commands "Post and orders, remain as directed." The newly posted sentinel replies, "Orders acknowledged" and steps into position. When the relief commander passes by, the new sentinel begins walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute.
  • The Tomb Guard marches 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. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp "shoulder-arms" movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed, the 21-gun salute.
The white marble sarcophagus has inscribed on its western panel the words:
Here Rests In
Honored Glory
An American
Known But To God.
The mission of the Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is:
  • Maintaining the highest standards and traditions of the United States Army and this Nation while keeping a constant vigil at this national shrine.
  • Prevent any desecration or disrespect directed toward the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The Sentinel's Creed can stir vast emotions when spoken by a Sentinel and it reminds all Americans of the dedication, dignity and duty each of us is responsible for in our own particular circumstances of life:

My dedication to this
sacred duty
is total and whole-hearted.
In the responsibility bestowed
on me never will I falter.
And with dignity and
perseverance my standard
will remain perfection.
Through the year of diligence
and praise and the discomfort
of the elements
I will walk my tour
in humble service
to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect I protect,
his bravery that made us proud.
Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day,
alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
this soldier will in honored glory rest
under my eternal vigilance.


Arlington National Cemetary Click here to visit site
Society of the Honor Guard
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Click here to visit site

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