The Tomb Guard
Serving at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (TUS) was a defining period in the lives of many Tomb Guards. Although Tomb Guards come from every state in the United States of America (US) and every walk of life, they are forever bonded through their shared experience of service at the Tomb. A strong bond was formed through an extremely demanding and humbling experience.
"It had not even been a week after first arriving at Ft. Myer in Feb. 1972 that I first visited the Tomb and witnessed the guard change. I was so impressed by the solemnity and precision of it that I knew right then and there that I wanted to be a part of it and immediately asked permission for a tryout. Permission was granted and I spent the next two and a half years as a Sentinel, Assistant Relief Commander and Relief Commander." ~ Richard Carlson (1972-74)
Tomb Guards are handpicked and rigorously trained, and they describe their service as a privilege and an honor, and are undeniably proud of their service. They are part of an unbroken chain of Soldiers dating back to March 25, 1926. The ideals of the Tomb became the guidepost for their lives, as well as a motivating factor and measuring stick for future endeavors. The Sentinel’s Creed is the Tomb Guard standard. The 99 words of the creed capture the true meaning of their duty. You will often hear the words “Line-6” proudly uttered by Tomb Guards as they converse with each other or with their chain of command.
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.
As a Tomb Guard you are asked many different questions by the public, but the one that we hear the most is: "When did you join the Marines?"
The United States Army was given the honor of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1926, as the Army is the oldest of the military services. Prior to 1926, there were no military guards posted at the Tomb. In fact, after the internment of the Unknown Soldier in 1921, the Tomb remained unguarded until 1925, when a civilian guard would be present during the day. The military posted its first guard on March 25th, 1926.
The weapons used by the Tomb Guard are more than just for show. These weapons are fully functional and are kept ready for use at all times. The weapon inspection conducted prior to the new Sentinel assuming the post, is a real inspection.
Over the years there have been many different types of weapons used by the Tomb Guards. The changes in weapons reflect the changes in the Army, however each weapon system is picked for good reasons.
Support the Society
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 680 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 a total of five female Sentinels awarded the Tomb Guard Identification Badge:
SGT Danyell Wilson earned
her badge in 1997
SSG Tonya Bell received hers in 1998
SGT Ruth Hanks earned her badge in June 2015
SFC Chelsea Porterfield earned her badge in 2021
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.