A visit to Arlington National Cemetery is not complete until one witnesses a member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) perform his or her duties keeping watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, or perhaps catches a glimpse of a full honors funeral complete with a U.S. Army Caisson Platoon, bugler and rifle firing team. Those who wore the uniform can tell you stories of the tireless preparations they make to their uniforms to ensure they provide “perfect honors.” So it came as no surprise to the staff of the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy that members of the Old Guard, including students from Sergeants Major Course Class 66, wanted to make perfect the NCO Heritage and Education Center’s display of the Old Guard. On April 6, they unveiled the redesigned display.
“When I came to the First Sergeant Course in 2006 this display was at the NCO museum and I noticed it was a corporal. The uniform was out of tolerance and was actually set up as a platoon Soldier and not reflective of proper setup,” Sgt. Maj. Anthony Chavez, an instructor at USASMA. “I didn’t have enough time at that point to work on it, so coming here as an instructor I got the chance. I asked the NCO Heritage and Education Center and the USASMA staff if we could do it and they were 100 percent on board.”
As a former platoon sergeant and first sergeant with the Old Guard, serving from 2005 until 2010, Chavez knew exactly who he needed to recruit and found his volunteers in Class 66 – former members of the Old Guard Master Sgts. Fletcher Whittenberg, platoon sergeant and first sergeant from 2007 – 2010; Shelly Jenkins, first sergeant, 2009 – 2012; Michael Goodman, operations sergeant 2014 – 2015; Justin Grieve, squad leader and platoon sergeant, 2004 – 2008; and Stephen McDonald, first sergeant, 2013 – 2015. After a week of after-hours work, the team was ready to display their collaboration.
“Today the 6th of April 1948 is a significant day for two reasons in our Army’s history. First the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment was reactivated and assigned the ceremonial mission of Fort Meyer, Virginia taking it from the Military District of Washington,” Whittenberg said. “Second tomb sentinels began standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year regardless of the weather.”
Whittenberg informed those present about the Old Guard’s mission along with a bit of its history.
“The old Guard is more than just sentinel guards at the Tomb. The Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the Army being first organized as the 1st American Regiment in 1784,” he said. “The Old Guard conducts memorial ceremonies to honor fallen comrades with military funerals at Arlington, National Cemetery, as well as dignified transfers of remains to Dover Air Force Base. Arlington is the only cemetery in the world that offers a full military honors funeral. Full honors burial services are offered to all officers and enlisted Soldiers who have fought and died in combat for the nation.”
Whittenberg then called for Goodman and Jenkins to pull back the cloth coverings from the display case to unveil the work they had done.
“Inside the display case you notice the memorabilia and photographs of Old Guard Soldiers and their history. Also displayed is the unique ceremonial uniform, noticeably different from the Army Service Uniform due to the stay bright medals that each Soldier must learn to make and produce on their own to place on their uniform in the exact precise location,” Whittenberg said. “Another noticeable item on the uniform that many people pick out and ask a lot of us about is, there is no name tag. They do not wear a name tag when they are in ceremonial uniform.”
Looking at the uniform and the memorabilia on display brought back some found memories by the team.
“This project was special because the time that I was at the Old Guard it really meant a lot and I got the chance to see the Army in a whole new light and perspective from a Soldier – from fighting on the battlefield to respecting them at internment,” Goodman said. “It actually took me back to when I was standing on the marks that I did with the Old Guard and I got ceremonial qualified. So seeing that uniform in that pristine condition it brought back a lot of memories.”
Chavez agreed. “Definitely, anytime I work with the uniform or see uniforms dress now, I will reflect back to the time in the Old Guard. That was a great time in my career and a very great experience including the funerals and ceremonies.”
“We were laughing because as we had the uniform and everything built on the mannequin, we were correcting each other, because we were like that’s not good, and this is not good. As a matter of fact about 10 minutes before the ceremony started this morning we noticed that the pant legs weren’t right, so we had to open the case and make another adjustment which is the same way it was in the Old Guard before a ceremony,” Whittenberg said. “You were constantly refining and retuning the uniform because you want to perform a perfect honor. Because for some American families and some foreign families it is the first time they have ever been involved with the Army so you try to give them, I hate to say that it is a show, but you try to honor that fallen Soldier by giving them perfect honors. And we wanted to have a perfect Soldier for our teammates here in the academy.”
The display, located in the foyer of the Cooper Lecture Center, is available for viewing during normal Academy hours, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 5 p.m. The display is one of several that are part of the NCO Heritage and Education Center and help tell the story of the Noncommissioned Officer Corps.
For more information about the Old Guard visit their website at http://www.oldguard.mdw.army.mil/regiment. Additional photos of this event can be seen on the USASMA Flikr page at https://www.flickr.com/photos/133821783@N02/albums. For information about the NCO Heritage and Education Center visit http://usasma.armylive.dodlive.mil/?page_id=419.
Photos by David Crozier, Command Communications