Still Vigilant at the Tomb of the Unknowns Despite Irene

Elite soldiers who are the sentinels at Arlington Cemetery remain at posts.

August 28, 2011, 2:19 AM

Aug. 28, 2011— -- While Hurricane Irene bears down on much of the mid Atlantic states on its way north, and residents of the Washington, D.C. area have been advised to remain indoors, the elite soldiers who are the sentinels at Arlington Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns remain at their posts.

Since taking over the mission on April 6, 1948, Tomb Sentinels from the Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment's "The Old Guard" have guarded the Tomb for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year regardless of the weather.

Sentinels trade off marching in front of the tombs that are the final resting place for unknown soldiers from World War I, World War II and the Korean War. The Changing of the Guard at the Tomb is a popular stop for Washington tourists.

The Old Guard's Facebook page has drawn an overwhelmingly positive response from readers moved by the posting of three pictures showing a lone sentinel still marching by the tomb despite the Hurricane Irene's heavy rains and strong winds .

A caption says, "A lone Tomb Sentinel, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), walks his tour in humble reverence during Hurricane Irene in Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Aug 27. Members of The Old Guard have guarded the Tomb every second, of every day regardless of weather or holidays since April 6, 1948."

The elite soldiers known as the Tomb Sentinels pride themselves on not letting bad weather interfere with their post. They stayed at their posts in 2003 during Hurricane Isabel, the last hurricane to come near Washington, and during blizzards in 2009-2010, which shut down the Washington, D.C. area for days.

Typically when it rains, Tomb Sentinels have the option of standing their watch under a green tent located to the side of the Tomb where they usually remain during wreath-laying ceremonies at the tomb.

According to the Society of The Old Guard's website, Tomb 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."

The Society is an alumni association for the more than 400 soldiers who have earned the Sentinel badge since 1958.

The website for The Society says that despite their commitment, the welfare of the soldier is never put at risk: "The Tomb Guards have contingencies that are ready to be executed IF the weather conditions EVER place the Soldiers at risk of injury or death -- such as lightning, high winds, etc. This ensures that Sentinels can maintain the Tomb Guard responsibilities while ensuring soldier safety. It is the responsibility of the Chain of Command from the Sergeant of the Guard to the Regimental Commander to ensure mission accomplishment and soldier welfare at all times."

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