My short bio: I joined the United States Army in 2008 and was stationed at Ft. Myer in Arlington Virginia. I spent two years in Echo Co. before I decided to volunteer for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier training cycle. After completing my training I stayed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for two years before exiting the service in 2012. My Proof:

Comments: 469 • Responses: 45  • Date: 

TheBawlrus213 karma

How often have you had to fight back soldiers rising from the grave thirsting for brains?

Formertombguard503 karma

Well you are in a 624 acre cemetery through all hours of the night so it's almost constant.

RSwordsman173 karma

What's a common reaction you get when you tell people, civilians or other military, you were a tomb guard?

And also, thank you for your service and congratulations for achieving such a highly-respected position.

Formertombguard203 karma

Thank you. The reactions vary. If the person actually knows what the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is then they are typically more interested and ask a lot of questions, which I enjoy. If they are not as familiar with it then they just kind of nod and don't bring it up again, which is fine as well.

s0m30n3e1s3166 karma

I'm not an American so forgive me for my lack of understanding, I mean no disrespect; why is this tomb so important?

edit: "mean NO disrespect"

Formertombguard266 karma

The Tomb was built to honor the men and women who gave there lives in defense of their country, but were never identified. Their families never received closure. This is a place for those families and the rest of the country to come and pay their respects.

UStoOz147 karma

What are some tricks you learned to keep yourself occupied during your shift? How long is a shift/what's the rotation like?

Is their any visitor that you specifically remember because of something they did?

Do people try to talk to you or generally leave you be while on shift?

Formertombguard423 karma

The veterans. I will never froget the honor flight veterans that would be flown from all over the country to come see the memorials in DC and to visit the Tomb. During changing of the guard the crowd is asked to stand for the ceremony. These men an women came in wheel chairs very often and we do not expect them to stand obviously, but they would struggle to stand, sometimes being held by family members just to salute their fallen brother/sister. It had a huge impact on me every time I saw it. We would all make a point to go out and talk to them whenever they came. Some of the most amazing men and women I ever had the opportunity to meet.

I remember as one man was struggling to stand up, one of the staff members tried to help him out of his wheel chair and I could hear him say, "Get your Goddamned hands off me". I had to hold backa laugh.

iBeyy86 karma

I thought you had to do the rounds continuously without making casual talk to the civillians. Kinda thought you were like the buckingham palace guards, who literally dont move once you dont touch them.

How much leeway do you have to stop doing your 21 pace routine?

Formertombguard134 karma

Unless you have to address unruly tourists who are being to loud or who have crossed the railing, then while you are on the plaza, you are doing your 21's. There is the guard box (small green hut) on one side of the plaza tht the guard can step into to adjust his/her uniform, or call down to the quarters to inform the other guards of whatever information needs to be passed on at that particular moment, but other than that you are counting your 21's

Formertombguard173 karma

While you are on shift you are generally very busy. If you are not on the plaza, you are either training in the full size mirrors that are down in the Tomb quarters underneath the amphitheater, or preparing your uniforms to go back out onto the plaza. In the winter it does slow down a bit. The walks (shifts on guard) are 1 hour long and being that it is usually bitter cold out, not as many people come so there is not as much to look at. People Don't really try to talk to us while we are guarding, but the will say thank you as we walk by sometimes. We had a Priest that would come down often and stand on one end of the mat and "bless us". i am not a catholic, but I always appreciated that. He would bring us magazines once a month and come talk to us.

UnicornStoreMgr133 karma

Is there any type of weather condition that will allow the tomb to be unguarded?

Formertombguard320 karma

Even If the guard was given a choice to leave his post due to weather conditions he would not. The Tomb has been guarded 24/7 since 1937. We all take entirely to much pride in the opportunity we are given to break that streak. If the weather conditions do get bad enough the plaza can be extended so the guard can walk up the steps of the amphitheater to get some cover, but I never witnessed that and I was there through Irene.

Ron_Jeremy48 karma

What about lightning?

Formertombguard204 karma

Lightning made me nervous because you are carrying a rifle with a metal bayonet on the end, and your shoes have metal on the bottom and sides of them so... but no, you do not leave your post. you walk.

callipygian1105 karma

after the first tomb guard gets toasted by a lightning bolt, they will put in a rubber mat/rubber boots/lightning rod nearby, it's the army way, they're very good at reacting to stuff.

Formertombguard148 karma

Well they already have a rubber mat so I suppose thats a step in the right direction.

Pinkpajamamama104 karma

I know you can't leave the tomb. Are you allowed to walk around at all? Or do you stay in one spot? And for how long?

Formertombguard238 karma

While you are posted for your guard shift you stand at one end of the mat, face down the mat, count 21 seconds, walk 21 steps, turn face the tomb, count 21 second, turn face back down the mat, change the rifle from one shoulder to the other so it is always on the opposite shoulder of the Tomb, count 21 second, and walk 21 steps. So you are moving quite a bit. Everything a Tomb Guard does involves 21 as a sign of respect. 21 is the highest honor that is rendered in the military, such as a 21 gun salute.

hazeleyedwolff88 karma

Do you count the 21 steps as you walk every time, or just know that at with a standard sized step, and your place on the mat, you've taken enough? Are you authorized to use any force to actually protect the tomb if someone goes after it? Are there any armed guards besides MPs with live ammo?

Formertombguard136 karma

when you first start out you count your steps because it is all new, but after a while it is like second nature, and the steps are taken so frequently that there are marks on the mat and the plaza from guards that came before. We are authorized to use the appropriate amount of force to keep someone from desecrating or damaging the Tomb and all other U.S. Government property on your post.

mecbath75 karma

Why did you decide to volunteer to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?

Formertombguard107 karma

I had visited the Tomb when I was in 8th grade, like a lot of kids do for field trips, and when I got stationed there I was very interested in it from the beginning. I knew how tough the training cycle was, especially on married soldiers, so it just took me about two years so get the courage to volunteer. Plus I felt I had gone as far as I could in the position I was at and wanted to do something new.

-WPD-37 karma

Are there any qualifications needed to volunteer?

Formertombguard89 karma

You have to be at least 5'10" tall with a GT score of at least 100 (its part of the military entrance exam known as the ASVAB.

killreaperz26 karma

Why 5'10"? Is it something to do with the need to be taller than most of the public?

Formertombguard16 karma

I have always been told, and this makes sense to me, that when foreign dignitaries and military officials visit the U.S. most of the time the only representation of American Military that they see is the Old Guard so they want them to seem as tall and imposing as possible.

crimsonnate3 karma

I posted this TIL a couple years ago about the rigorous process of becoming a tomb guard. Is that info inaccurate?

Formertombguard3 karma

Its not completely inaccurate. The guards are typically in very good physical shape, and the reliefs(squads) are separated by height, The tallest guys on 1st relief, middle guys on 2nd, and the little guys are on 3rd. there are 17 pages that have to be memorized as oppose to 7. so, not too far off.

hailca3sar71 karma

Did you ever have to deal with disrespectful tourists? Would you be able to share any stories?

Formertombguard125 karma

I can't really think of any specific stories because it happened so frequently. The video you see on youtube of the guard stepping off the mat and yelling at tourists happened multiple times a day in the summer. Usually if it was the first time you had to ask someone to quiet down it wouldn't be such a loud and angry yell, but after the second or even third time you get frustrated and need to get your point across more effectively.

Formertombguard99 karma

When you are dealing with such a high volume of people there will always be people who are loud and disrespectful, but typically after you address them they quiet down.

hazeleyedwolff66 karma

In a given week, how many shifts are you at the tomb? How long are the shifts? Do you have other duties (graveside funeral detail, etc) while assigned to The Tomb's guard? Has anyone fallen out from heat stroke? What happens then?

Formertombguard113 karma

You work a 5 day work set. Day on/Day off/Day on/Day off/Day on/ 4 day off. The four days are used to get your uniforms back to the standard after using them all week, taking care of any appointments such as medical or otherwise, and the last day of the four day is a training day. It sounds like a lot of time off, but you really do not havee much time for yourself, Esp. while you are in training. You really have no time off. No one has fallen out at the tomb. We make sure to stay in very good physical shape and stay hydrated. While you are assigned to the Tomb that is your main priority. You still have the opportunity to go to other schools, but you don't do funerals or anything else.

some_random_kaluna60 karma

Hi OP,

My grandfather was a Navy pharmacist's mate during WWII, and I know what he would say to you right now: mahalo for your service. Because this is what he would consider an actual service; watching over the dead and forgotten. Everything else is just doing your job and earning money so you can buy beer later.

My question is: are you paid more for doing this job, or are there any perks that come with it, besides the respect of those in the know?

Formertombguard80 karma

Tell your grandfather I said thank you for his service.

We are not paid anymore for our service at the Tomb. At the end of the day we are all just soldiers, and are rightfully paid according to our pay grade/rank.

mean_burrito58 karma

What is your best shoe shining tip?

Formertombguard91 karma

Water and Kiwi. We would start off by sanding the texture out of the shoes. Then we leather dye it back to that deep black color. Then i liked to use Lincoln polish to start building up a base, then just kiwi. sometimes we used Kelly's shoe polish to get a really deep black color

ImNotScotch30 karma

Did you use any of the cheating techniques? Lacquer, Hairspray, etc.?

Formertombguard82 karma

I heard about other guys in the military melting the polish on the the shoe, but that doesn't work well for us. It causes the wax to crack and flake off. We have to have a mirror finish with no texture, dings, or cracks, among other things. The guards have pretty much tried it all, but water, a cotton clothe, and kiwi has always worked best. There are no short cuts, just hard work.

allbeefpatties51 karma

What's all involved in the training?

Formertombguard130 karma

There are three parts to the training: Knowledge: All guards are given 17 pages of knowledge they have to memorize down to every period and punctuation. This consists of Facts about the Tomb, Army, Cemetery, and important figures interred there. Outside Performance: From the walk to the facing movements, Heel clicks, and weapons manual. Everything has to be exact, Precise, and in cadence with the other guards on the plaza. It is so much more in depth than that, but there is not enough time to really go into detail. Uniforms: Everything a Guard wears is altered in some fashion. We are issued genuine leather shoes that we shine ourselves. In training a soldier will typically spend 6-8 hours a day shining his/her shoes, and that is just one part of the uniform. We build our own medals racks, alter our pants and blouses(jackets) and we have an industrial press machine (along with the rest of the old guard) that we use to press our uniforms every day, multiple times a day.

There is SOOOOO much more in those three categories, but that is a very generalized over view.

skrulewi37 karma

This is just fascinating to me. I watched a short documentary on the tomb guards, which went into a tiny bit of detail about your uniforms. The level of dedication required to such small details seems like it would weed out a lot of people. Do you believe you are an unusual person in any way, for being able to accomplish these tasks? Or can anyone do it if they try hard enough? Do many people quit while in training?

Formertombguard9 karma

With some of the guys that become tomb guards, you can tell that they have always been a little neurotic and detail oriented, but for some it is more of a learned skill. Its more a question of dedication. Many people do quit or just wash out during the training. when I was there it was about 1 in every 10 or 12 would make it.

DivineBlue50 karma

How does a guard deal with the extreme weather? (Heavy snowstorms, heavy rains, hot days, cold days...)

Formertombguard141 karma

They just suck it up, really. It does get hot and humid, and we arein 100% wool uniforms which does not help, but we stay hydrated. The cold and wet was the worst for me. I LOVED being out there in the snow. As long as it was snowing I didn't care that I couldn't feel most of my body parts and I had snot frozen to my face, but when it was cold and raining, it was much less enjoyable, but I would not trade a second of my time on the plaza. We all know what an honor it is to be able to guard the Unknowns, and to be in the presence of the servicemen and servicewomen that come to pay there respect.

Bignicky944 karma

Of all 17 pages of text you had to memorize in your training, which facts stand out to you the most? What knowledge of The Tomb and its history stand out to you the most?

Thank you for your time, and thank you for your service.

Formertombguard99 karma

The Sentinels Creed. It is one of the first things you have to memorize. It is the creed all guards live by, Particularly line 6, "My standard will remain perfection". We know that we are far from perfect and that no one can actually achieve perfection, but it reminds us that everything we do is to honor the Unknowns and their sacrifice, and that we should strive for perfection in all endeavors, while at the Tomb and in life in general.

Aylapsz43 karma

I see that you said 21 is the highest honor and that everything a Tomb guard does is a sign of respect.. What would happen if the Tomb Guard miscounted/lost track of 21 steps, 21 seconds, etc.? Also, how many Tomb Guards are there? Thanks for your service!

Formertombguard65 karma

It does happen. Learning to accurately count your 21s is part of the training, but no one is perfect, as hard as we try. If it happens too frequently, then that soldier would probably engage in some corrective training.

SupremeGoblin38 karma

Have you ever broken military bearing during your shift? And if so, what was it for?

Also, thank you for what you do. It is the highest honor to have that job.

Formertombguard74 karma

I never broke ceremonial composure while posted, and I never witnessed it either. No matter what happens you always keep composure.

And thank you very much.

MadameIronMouse29 karma

How did kids react to you and your job?

Formertombguard65 karma

Most kids are very interested. It seems the older they get, however, the less interested they become. Teenagers are kind of hit or miss. Most of the school kids have been dragged all over DC for a couple of days in the heat so by the time they come to see the Tomb they are tired.

A-Terrible-Username27 karma

How long is one shift? And is the rifle you carry actually loaded or is it just "part of the uniform?"

Formertombguard49 karma

They are supposed to be 24 hour shifts, but they typically end up being longer.

jakfrosty27 karma

How is the mental strain of keeping the focus or dealing with boredom? It's incredible what you did.

Formertombguard52 karma

During the training process you are under an pretty high level of stress, but it is all relative. We are not deployed, being shot at, and we do get to go home at the end of the shift. however, the stress and sleep deprivation does get to you after a prolonged period of time.

Ron_Jeremy25 karma

Was the echo company also ceremonial? How'd you get picked for that? Did you enlist for something else and get chosen?

Formertombguard33 karma

Echo Co. is another company in the 3rd Infantry Reg. (The Old Guard). It was mainly ceremonial as well, but we had a lot more time to go to the field and do other things more geared toward our MOS (jobs). You volunteer to go to The Old Guard when you are at 30th AG (the in processing station you go to before you begin your basic training)

Boonaki22 karma

What was your last day in the military like?

Formertombguard46 karma

I honestly do not remember much. The one thing I do remember was pulling my last night hours (night time guard shift). It was peaceful.

ISIS-the_Archer_one22 karma

I assume you're an NCO so Sergeant; the M14 you guys carry for the Guard Detail, is there a round in the chamber or is it all ceremonial?

Did some Google fu. Much respect Sergeant. Good Luck & God Speed.

Formertombguard30 karma

I am a Sergeant, and thank you. You as well.

Philip_Schwartzerdt20 karma

Is two years a standard length tour for Tomb Guard duty, or was that longer or shorter than most others?

Formertombguard41 karma

Typically a guard will serve for about 2 years, but some serve for longer, some for shorter. It depends on how much time that soldier has left on his/her contract, and the needs of the Army.

Philip_Schwartzerdt16 karma

It sounds like a really intense experience in the first place, but especially to continue for that long. Do you think it changed you as a person at all?

Formertombguard44 karma

It absolutely changed me as a person. My experience serving as a guard changed my entire outlook on life and taught me the meaning of selfless service.

Deathdeathanddeath18 karma

Favorite fast food burger?

Formertombguard58 karma

West Coast: In N Out East Coast: Good Stuff Eatery

MasturbationMonday14 karma

Do you get any days off? For example vacations?

Thanks for all your service!

Formertombguard30 karma

You get the same amount of vacation days as any other soldier in the military. Over the course of one year you accrue something like 30 days of leave. The difference is that because of the fact that the Tomb is constantly under manned it is harder to use your leave days.

Formertombguard12 karma

One tourist was taking pictures of a funeral procession. The security guard asked him to be respectful of the family and not take Pictures of the procession. The man, very rudely and loudly exclaimed that it was his right to do so. He was very wrong. The security guard tried stopping him again and the man shoved the camera in the security guards face and began taking pictures, trying to get a rise out of him. The security grabbed the camera to try to stop him. The man complained and the security guard was fired. We all knew this security guard very well and understandably we were very upset, but there was nothing we could do.

Tylerolson081311 karma

Has anybody ever failed the inspection at the ceremony? How do you handle that?

Formertombguard8 karma

It does happen, although not often. When the guard is standing in the inspection block (the first place he stops when he walks onto the plaza) the changer (guard with a pistol) walks up to him and inspects his weapon and uniform, If he finds a deficiency, he tells the guard, sends him back down to fix it or have it fixed and waits for him to return. When he returns the ceremony goes on as normal.

spinnaker9897 karma

Hypothetically, if a tourist kept being disrespectful after multiple warnings, what would be the next step?

Formertombguard9 karma

Either the security guard or another tomb guard would escort them out of the cemetery. If they refuse to go the MP's would be called do deal with it

latchkey_adult7 karma

I'm surprised nobody has asked this, but after you get the hang of the 21 steps down, what are you thinking about for your long shift? I mean your mind has to be wandering a bit, yes? Are you thinking about lunch sometimes or what? Also, and I mean no disrespect by this, but do you need to be a little OCD or even autistic to be able to repeat this procedure and think of nothing else for hours on end?

Formertombguard5 karma

I wish I could say that while we are doing this job, we are just meditating on what it means to guard The Unknowns, but we are human and we are on duty for long hours so our minds do wander quite a bit.

MpVpRb5 karma

Why does it need to be guarded?

Is vandalism a problem?

Or, are there expensive, easily stolen things present?

Formertombguard11 karma

Back when the Tomb was built, it was just one flat slab of marble, and there was nothing keeping the public from coming up and touching it. Because of its location, it has a beautiful view into DC, people began using the crypt as a picnic site. A WWI veteran witnessed this and took it upon himself to stand guard each day to ensure that did not happen and people showed the proper amount of respect. The cemetery found out and decided to post a guard. After a year The military decided it was there job to post a guard and the first military guard was posted. The guard was only during the day, however, and the Tomb had had some trouble with vandalism at night, so the military decided to post the first 24 hour guard on 2, July 1937. It has been guarded 24/7 ever since.

Haplo781-6 karma

So... Who is he?

Formertombguard12 karma

Well the Vietnam Unknown is 1st Lt. Micheal J. Blassie of the U.S. Air Force. He was disinterred and identified in 1998, but as for the other 3 sets of remains, no one knows and we will never know.

callipygian12 karma

due to advances in technology, isn't it true that there will likely be no further unknown soldiers interred there? i'm a little surprised that they breached the tomb to identify lt. blassie, but if they were willing to do that, the next step would be to get dna from the other three sets and go to work identifying them. i suspect that your use of "never" may prove to be incorrect.

Formertombguard4 karma

From what I have been told, and mind you I'm just a soldier, the remains of the other would likely be too old to identify, and they have decided not to exhume the other remains.

[deleted]-25 karma


Formertombguard11 karma

I'm not familiar with that. I never saw anything of the sort on the news, or heard about it, but as a soldier, if you are ordered to do something, as long as it is a lawful order, you obey.