Who are the Tomb Guards?
Who are the Tomb Guards?
The soldiers who stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are hand picked and rigorously trained. They have come from every state in the union, every walk of life. There are men and women. For some this is their first unit in the Army, others are veterans of many years. Over the years there have been Regular Army and Draftees.
The duty is not for everyone. Over 80% of the soldiers who tryout for this duty do not make it.
Each soldier must have strong military bearing, discipline, stamina and present an outstanding soldierly appearance. Each Sentinel must be able to flawlessly perform seven different types of walks, honors and ceremonies. They must retain vast amounts of knowledge concerning the Tomb, Arlington National Cemetery, the United States Army and their unit.
On March 25, 1926 orders were sent down directing the formation of an armed military guard at the Tomb, during daylight hours only. Too many visitors to the cemetery were using the original crypt as a picnic table.
On July 2, 1937, the guard was increased in size, and ordered to begin 24 hour shifts. Both of these documents are the foundation of the Guards existing orders and mission.
The mission of the Guard of Honor, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is as follows:
- Responsible for 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.
One of the first reactions of visitors at the Tomb, is to comment on how tall the soldiers are. While you might not notice the difference in height, a Tomb Guard can tell what Relief is working . . . . just based on their height.
There are three Relief's assigned to the Tomb Guard Platoon, each consisting of 9 enlisted soldiers (they use the same break-down as a Light Infantry Squad). The heights are equal on each Relief, with the tallest assigned to the 1st Relief.
- 1st Relief: 6'2" to 6'4"
- 2nd Relief: 6' to 6'2"
- 3rd Relief: 5'11" to 6'
Each Relief is commanded by a Staff Sergeant (E-6) and has two "Teams", each consisting of an Assistant Relief Commander (E-5) and 4 Sentinels (E-4 and below), for a total of 9 soldiers per Relief. The Headquarter (HQ) Relief consists of the Sergeant of the Guard, Assistant Sergeant of the Guard, the Primary Trainer and a Driver.
If you have ever watched the Changing of the Guard, you will have noticed that not all Guards do the same thing. The Tomb is completely run by Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO). There are six different levels of responsibility at the Tomb:
Sentinel: This soldier has the hardest job - to stand watch at the Tomb. These soldiers typically have the rank of Private First Class (PFC) through Specialist (SPC) and the average age is 22.
Assistant Relief Commander (ARC): An NCO with the rank of Corporal (CPL) or Sergeant (SGT), this is the Relief Commander's right hand. Each Relief Commander has two ARC assigned. The average age for an ARC is 24.
Relief Commander (RC): An NCO with the Rank of Staff Sergeant (SSG). The RC has the greatest responsibility on a day-to-day basis. The RC is not only responsible for conducting the Changing of the Guard, but also for the welfare and morale of the Relief as a whole. In the absence of the Sergeant of the Guard, the RC is responsible for everything that happens at the Tomb. The RC typically has served in two different units in the Army, and the average age is 27.
Assistant Sergeant of the Guard (ASOG): The ASOG is typically the senior Staff Sergeant (SSG) in the Platoon. The ASOG has the primary duty of conducting the daily administrative duties, to include oversight of the initial training phase for new Sentinels. The ASOG assumes the duties and responsibilities of the Sergeant of the Guard in his absence.
Sergeant of the Guard (SOG): The buck stops here! The SOG is the Platoon Sergeant for the Tomb Guards , and holds the rank of Sergeant First Class (SFC). The primary duties and responsibilities of the SOG include Presidential Wreath Ceremonies, as well as the overall responsibility for the conduct and actions of the Platoon. The SOG has served in many different leadership positions in the Army, and typically has been a Platoon Sergeant once before. The SOG is the most experienced NCO in the Platoon, and has the added responsibility of mentoring and developing the junior NCO's. The average age of the SOG is 30.
Platoon Leader (PL): The PL had varying duties throughout the short time they were assigned to the Tomb. On top of the many different duties they still performed at the Company levels (such as Burial duties), the primary job was to oversee the daily functions of the Tomb, much like the SOG. Many times the PL would mingle with the crowd in civilian attire, and find out the reaction of the visitors to the performance of the Guards. They also had the sad, and most emotional, duty of revoking the Tomb Guard Badge and removal of the soldier from the post. The average age of the PL was 25, with the rank of First Lieutenant (1LT).
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The Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (SHGTUS) is able to provide our programs, events, assistance, scholarships, and services due to the generosity of its members, organizations, and individuals. SHGTUS does not receive institutional funding. Note: The Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a 501(c)(3) organization, so your contributions may be fully tax deductible.
Did you know?
How many Sentinels have been female?
There have been over 630 tomb guards awarded the badge since 1958 when we started counting. There are hundreds more from the year 1926 when the Army started guarding the Tomb. The 3rd US Infantry (The Old Guard) is the unit that has been given the duty of guarding the Tomb. It was given this sacred duty in 1948. The Old Guard was -- and still is -- considered a combat unit. As an Infantry unit, females were not permitted in the ranks for many years. It wasn't until 1994 that females were permitted to volunteer to become a Sentinel when the 289th Military Police Company was attached to the Old Guard. The MP branch is a combat support unit and includes females.
In 1996, SGT Heather Johnson became the first female to earn the Tomb Guard Identification Badge. She volunteered for duty in June 1995 and earned her badge in 1996. However, SGT Johnson was not the only female Sentinel. Since then, there have been three additional female Sentinels awarded the Tomb Guard Identification Badge. SGT Danyell Wilson earned her badge in 1997, SSG Tonya Bell received hers in 1998, and SGT Ruth Hanks earned her badge, #643 in June 2015.
Several other units have since been attached to the Old Guard -- food service, transportation, medics, etc. -- so now females have an ever greater opportunity to become a Sentinel. Females must meet the same requirements as the male soldiers to be eligible to volunteer at the Tomb. the only difference is that females have a minimum height of 5'8" -- which is the same standard to be a member of the Old Guard.