The Unknown

Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, DC

Inscription: Here Rests In Honored Glory
An American Soldier Known But To God

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier actually holds three sets of remains,
one each from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War.

Do you know how many steps the Sentinels, also known as Guards, take during their walk across the front of Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and why?

21 steps, commemorating the twenty-one gun salute, which is our highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary.

Do you know how long they hesitate after each about face to begin their return walk, and why?

21 seconds, for the same reason.

And do you know why the Sentinel's gloves are wet?

The gloves are moistened to prevent losing a grip on the rifle.

The Guards always carry the rifle on the shoulder away from the Tomb. After marching across the path, they execute an about face, and move the rifle to the outside shoulder

How often are the Sentinels changed?

Guards are changed every thirty minutes, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. Currently, the Tomb Guards work on a three team rotation - 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, 96 hours off.

The time off isn't exactly free time. It takes the average Sentinel 8 hours to prep his/her uniform for the next work day. In addition, they have Physical Training, Tomb Guard training, and haircuts to complete before the next work day.

What are the physical requirements to become a Sentinel?

For a person to apply for Guard duty at the Tomb, they must be between 5' 10" and 6' 2" tall and have a waist size not to exceed 30".

Each Sentinel is provided with an Identification Badge that is worn to signify their service as a Guard of the Tomb. The Identification Badge is awarded only after the Sentinel passes a series of tests and is permanently awarded after a Sentinel has served 9 months as a Guard at the Tomb. Over 500 Badges have been awarded since its creation in the late 1950's. And while the award can be revoked, the offense must be such that it discredits the Tomb. Revocation of the award is at the U.S. Army's, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 'Old Guard,' Regimental Commander’s discretion. The Badge is a full size award, worn on the right pocket of the uniform jacket.

Guards' shoes are standard issue military dress shoes. They are built up so the sole and heel are equal in height. This allows the Sentinel to stand so that his back is straight and perpendicular to the ground. A side effect of this is that the Sentinel can "roll" on the outside of the build up as he walks down the mat. This allows him to move in a fluid fashion. If he does this correctly, his hat and bayonet will not appear to "bob" up and down with each step giving him a more formal and smooth look to his walk, rather than a "marching" appearance.

The soles have a steel tip on the toe and a "horseshoe" steel plate on the heel. This prevents wear on the sole and allows the Sentinel to move smoothly during his movements when he turns to face the Tomb and then back down the mat.

Then there is the "clicker". It is a shank of steel attached to the inside of the face of the heel build-up on each shoe. It allows the Sentinel to click his heels during certain movements. If a Guard change is really hot, it is called a "smoker" because all the heel clicks fall together and sound like one click. In fact, the Guard change is occasionally done in the "silent" mode as a sign of devotion to the Unknowns. No voice commands - everything is done in relation to the heel clicks and on specific counts.

There are no wrinkles, folds or lint allowed on their uniform. Guards dress for duty in front of a full-length mirror. Every Guard spends hours a day getting himself and his gear ready for duty.

For the first six months of duty a Guard's off duty time is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. A Guard must memorize who they are, and where they are interred. Among the notables are:

President Taft; Joe Louis, the boxer; and Medal of Honor winner Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of WW II, and of Hollywood fame.

In September, 2003 as Hurricane Isabel was approaching Washington, DC, Congress recessed for two days in anticipation of the storm. Because of the dangers associated with the hurricane, the Sentinels guarding the Tomb were given permission to suspend the assignment. They each respectfully declined.

Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of a tropical storm, they declared that guarding the Tomb was not just an assignment, it was the highest honor that can be afforded to a serviceperson.

There have been 3 female Sentinels.

The Tomb has been patrolled continuously, 24/7, since 1937. 

See To The Greatest Generation...Before You Go.

History of the Tomb

In The Arms of An Angel

Frequently Asked Questions



Keep Up

The Sign



The Salute

God's Web

Dress Blues

Going Home

A Love Story

Khalsa Power

Patriotic Photos

For Marines Only

The Marine Sniper

SEAL The Mission

The Memorial Rock

Iwo Jima - The Battle

Born Again American

America The Beautiful

A Native American Hero

In The Arms of An Angel

Christmastime Arlington

Delta Airline Honor Guard

The Sikh Warrior's Anthem

The Meaning of 'Semper Fi'

America's National Anthem

The After-Death Experience

The Greatest Story Never Told

A Tale of Six Boys On Iwo Jima

Look, Listen and Experience Peace

For Men Only: MasculineMoments.com

How The Marines Transform Me Into We

Museum of The American Military Family

To The Greatest Generation...Before You Go

U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Team With Rifles

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