Two Feet of Snow Not Stopping Sentinels at Tomb of Unknowns

PHOTO:Sentinels from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) continue to stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Jan. 22, 2016. Cpl. Cody W. Torkelson/U.S. Army
Sentinels from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) continue to stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Jan. 22, 2016.

Almost two feet of snow at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery has not stopped the small group of soldiers who continually stand guard at the hallowed memorial.

Since April 6, 1948, Tomb Sentinels from the Army 3rd Infantry Regiment's "The Old Guard" have guarded the Tomb for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year regardless of the weather. And that includes hurricanes and blizzards.

"They told me this morning that the snow on the plaza is up to their knees and the wind is blowing sideways," said Maj. Russell Fox, a spokesman for the Old Guard. "They’re working to maintain a small pathway so they can continue to perform their duty.

"One of our main concerns is the safety of these soldiers during blizzard conditions," said Fox, who added that the "reliefs" of soldiers on watch this weekend have been faring well through the storm.

"The Sentinels are an amazing group of soldiers," Fox said. "Their dedication to duty is unparalleled. As the rest of Washington, D.C., slept last night the Sentinels continued to maintain a vigil guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier."

A "relief" typically consists of six Tomb Sentinels who serve a 24-hour shift guarding the tombs. They turn over watch of the tombs to another relief every morning at 6 a.m.

PHOTO:Sentinels from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) continue to stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Jan. 22, 2016. Cpl. Cody W. Torkelson/U.S. Army
PHOTO:Sentinels from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) continue to stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Jan. 22, 2016.

Fox said some of the soldiers from the Saturday relief came in early to beat the snow accumulations and to assist their fellow soldiers before their shift.

"These soldiers work very closely with each other and would do anything for one another," he said.

Arlington National Cemetery is closed this weekend, but cemetery maintenance staff are plowing the vast cemetery's main roads. The sentinels are responsible for the plaza for the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The Tomb Sentinels are a familiar sight to most tourists who visit Arlington National Cemetery. Dressed in their dress blue uniforms, they "walk the mat" on the plaza in front of the white marble sarcophagus that lies above the remains of an unknown soldier from World War I. Unknown soldiers from World War II and the Korean War are buried in crypts in front of the sarcophagus.

The sentinels march in front of the tombs for 21 paces, then face north to stand at attention for 21 seconds before marching 21 paces in the other direction.

PHOTO:Sentinels from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) continue to stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Jan. 22, 2016. Cpl. Cody W. Torkelson/U.S. Army
PHOTO:Sentinels from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) continue to stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Jan. 22, 2016.

It is standard when the cemetery is closed for the members of the relief to change out of their formal uniforms into camouflaged uniforms.

The sentinels rotate guard shifts on the plaza and take breaks in a quarters area located in the building that also houses the memorial amphitheater next to the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Fox said that during the snowstorm the sentinels have stood watch over the tomb in the small enclosure made of green cloth with an awning known as "the box," which is located 20 feet from the tomb plaza. Sentinels can remain inside the box for two-hour intervals with their M-14 rifles by their side, though they are not required to be at attention.

As the snow has accumulated on the tomb plaza the sentinels have cleared a little pathway that goes over the mat and leads into "the box."