The Sentinels and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

"Soldiers never die until they are forgotten. Tomb Guards never forget"

from the Society of the Honor Guard
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

"The Sentinels Creed"
"My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted.
In the responsibility bestowed on me never will I falter.
And with dignity and perseverance my standard will remain perfection.
Through the years of diligence and praise and the discomfort of the elements,
I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect I protect.
His bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
this soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance."

The 3d U.S Infantry, traditionally known as The Old Guard, is the oldest continuously serving active-duty infantry unit in the Army, serving our nation since 1784.


Q: How many steps does the Guard take during his walk across the Tomb of the Unknowns and why?
A: 21 steps. It alludes to the twenty-one gun salute, which is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary. It is called 'Walking the Mat.'

Q: How long does the Sentinel hesitate after his about face to begin his return walk and does he carry his rifle on the same shoulder all the time, and if not, why not? 
A: He does not execute an about face. He stops on the 21st step, then turns and faces the Tomb for 21 seconds. Then he turns to face back down the mat, changes his weapon to the outside shoulder, counts 21 seconds, then steps off for another 21 step walk down the mat. He faces the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until he is relieved at the Guard Change.

Q: Why are his gloves wet?
A: His gloves are moistened to improve his grip on the rifle. 

Q: How often are the Guards changed?
A: The Guard is changed every thirty minutes during the summer (April 1 to Sep 30) and every hour during the winter (Oct 1 to Mar 31). During the hours the cemetery is closed, the guard is changed every 2 hours. The Tomb is guarded, and has been guarded, every minute of every day since 1937.

Q: There is a small green shack next to the Tomb. What is it for? 
A: "The Box" is used primarily during wreath-laying ceremonies for the Sentinel to retreat to while flowers and Taps are being presented.  There also is a phone with a direct line downstairs to the Tomb Guard Quarters - this is used in times of emergencies or just to notify the next shift of something.

Q: What is it like to guard in bad weather?
A: The guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (called"Sentinels") are completely dedicated to their duty of guarding the Tomb. Because of that dedication, the weather does not bother them. In fact, they consider it an honor to stand their watch (we call it "walking the mat"), regardless of the weather. It gets cold, it gets hot - but the Sentinels never budge. And they never allow any feeling of cold or heat to be seen by anyone.

Q: Do they guard in a blizzard or a bad thunderstorm?
A: The Tomb Guards walk the mat regardless of the threat of severe weather. In the fall of 2003, when Hurricane Isabelle moved through the Washington DC area, the Sentinels continued to walk the mat. Even when the wind knocked over trees, the Tomb Guards stayed at their post and guarded the Tomb.

Q: Do they guard all night long, even when the cemetery is closed?
A: The Tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In fact, there has been a Sentinel on duty in front of the Tomb every minute of every day since 1937. And the Sentinel does not change the way he guards the Tomb, even at night when there is no one around. The Sentinels do this because they feel that the Unknown Soldiers who are buried in the Tomb deserve the very best they have to give.


For more on this extraordinary group of people, please visit the Society of the Honor Guard - Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at: