— July 1, 2011 -- As U.S. soldiers are engaged in combat in several countries, it is inevitable that some make the ultimate sacrifice.
Any American soldier killed in action has the right to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and it falls to the United States Third Infantry Regiment to represent the nation at these funerals.
Ahead of Independence Day, we spent several days with the unit, which has the most somber task in the military.
"This is just not another mission, another funeral," said Captain Terry Brown, commander of the Third Infantry Unit's Charlie Company. "We take pride in conducting each and every funeral."
Most of the soldiers of The Old Guard, as these men are known, are between 18 and 24 years old. Their mission is to stand guard at these funerals, day after day, week after week.
One soldier, Shane Vines, has been in the unit for more than two years. He says he has been to hundreds of funerals.
"As far as the mission is concerned, [it is] both mentally and physically draining," said Vines. "You know it gets hard to watch people who have lost loved ones due to wars."
Despite the emotional and physical hardship, the soldiers continue to serve, for many reasons.
"Me, personally, I do it for the respect factor, respecting what people have done for this country," said Vines.
It is extremely competitive to become a member of The Old Guard, and the soldiers take their training and preparation seriously, knowing that at each funeral, or "mission," as they call them, the guard stands in place of the servicemen and women and other Americans unable to be there personally to thank their fallen comrade for their ultimate sacrifice, and to take them to their final resting place.
"You stay motivated because you know that while we are here doing this, there are people that are abroad that are fighting our nation's wars, and they're out there every day protecting our country and we are here," said Brown.
"We know that we don't have it as rough as others that are over there, that are away from their families," the captain added.
One recent morning, Charlie Company represented all other Americans at the funeral of Sergeant Jeffery S. Scherer, from Four Oaks, N.C. He was 29 when he was killed in action in Afghanistan. His was one of about 25 funerals these young soldiers will attend this week alone.
Brown said each funeral serves as "a constant reminder that freedom isn't free, and that we have to value every day of our lives."