Walking the Mat
As most of the nation has plunged into freezing cold weather this week, it’s a good time to remember the men and women of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. This amazing group of soldiers have been guarding the tombs continuously (24/7, 365 days a year) since 1937. They are a special platoon with some of the strictest requirements, who stand guard in any and all weather and global political climates – never ceasing to watch over the unidentified soldiers who gave their lives in service of our country. They remain at their posts rain or shine, snow or hurricane, even during the blizzard of 2010 that shut down the rest of the city for days.
These guards go through difficult training and meticulous daily tasks – taking up to six hours to prepare their uniforms and memorizing seven pages (verbatim) of Arlington Cemetery facts, including the names and locations of almost 300 graves. They have very specific height and weight requirements and few even qualify to begin the training, with even fewer passing. Guards who serve for nine months are awarded one of the rarest badges issued, with only 400 earned (3 of them by women) since the badge was created in 1958. Another amazing fact about the guards is that while on duty they don’t wear their rank insignia, so they never outrank the Unknowns. To watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony is to watch human beings get as close to perfection of purpose as possible. Every step, every hair, every inspected speck of dust on a uniform or weapon (or lack of speck of dust) is coordinated and executed with exactitude and integrity.
Visitors to Arlington Cemetery can watch the ceremony during daytime visiting hours, but wouldn’t it be great to be a fly on the wall (or tomb) at 2:00am on a freezing cold February morning when these soldiers perform this ceremony with no one watching or holding them accountable but themselves. Even then, they pursue perfection. They wouldn’t be there if that wasn’t the case. They wouldn’t survive the trials and sacrifice and heavy wool uniforms (even in summer), if performing this task to the best of their abilities, with or without an audience, wasn’t an honor and a thrill. So, when visiting DC, be sure to include a trip to Arlington Cemetery and a viewing of the Changing of the Guard ceremony – you won’t be disappointed! Many find it to be one of the most inspiring elements of a trip to DC – it transcends personal ethics and opinions and awes visitors with an undeniable display of respect, honor and the pursuit of perfection.