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, and represent every walk of life. They are men and women from many different backgrounds and specialties. 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 as well as Draftees.

The duty at the Tomb is not for everyone, with the majority of soldiers who begin Tomb Guard training unable to meet the standards.

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.

The United States Army was given the honor of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1926, as the Army is the senior of the United States military services. Prior to March 25, 1926, there were no military guards posted at the Tomb. In fact, after the internment of the World War I Unknown Soldier on November 11, 1921, the Tomb remained unguarded until November 17, 1925, when a civilian guard would be present only during the day.

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, and 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) depending on staffing. The Headquarter (HQ) Relief consists of the Commander of the Guard, Sergeant of the Guard, and the Assistant Sergeant of the Guard.

If you have ever watched the Changing of the Guard, you will have noticed that not all Guards do the same thing. 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 Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) with the rank of Corporal (CPL) or Sergeant (SGT). 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) or Commander of the Guard (COG): This duty position has been assigned at various times through out the Tomb Guard history, and when not assigned the SOG runs the platoon. The PL/COG duties include administrative functions at both the platoon and company levels, with the primary job to oversee the daily functions of the Tomb. Many times the PL/COG mingles with the crowd in civilian attire, and find out the reaction of the visitors to the performance of the Guards. The average age of the PL is 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.