Here’s a more in-depth look at the making and background of the calendar – “The Old Guard on Mission – 2010″ – some history and little known facts…
In 2008, it was a milestone in itself that I designed and published “The Old Guard on Parade – 2009″ which has turned out to be the first Regimental Calendar for this historic and elite US Army Regiment. I faced many challenges in pulling together that product and presenting it to the public – - – Many of which I won’t go into – - – however the advice of “flank ‘em” has proved to be a very successful strategy. From that I suggestion, I now have a network of wonderful supportive friends that number in the thousands…
The 2009 calendar is a collector’s item with only several hundred produced. Some of which are “autographed” by yours truly, so they may be even more valuable over time. I attempted to deliver a complete view of the pageantry and skills that are within this unit and highlight the gamut of specialties that would fit the theme - all the photographs were taken on Fort Myer and on Summerall Field (which at one time, when the US Army moved by horse and every officer had a horse and knew how to ride, was a polo field)
The challenge for 2010 was since I selected the best photos I had, what would be the theme to improve on the 2009 calendar. With my travels, I have been blessed to see and capture a insightful look into some of the “behind-the-scenes” view of this regiment.
I thought beginning with something familiar to most people whether they have ever visited Arlington National Cemetery or not, would be the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a Tomb Guard. I visit and photograph that sacred shrine within Arlington very often. As many times as I’ve watched and photographed the changing of the guard ceremony, I find it to be a very impressive and one that I never grow tired of seeing.
I had hundreds of photos to choose from as I went through the pages on the computer. None jumped out at me, until the one you see on your left. There’s a great story about that photo. A friend and his father-in-law came in from Boston and we went to the Tomb of the Unknown to watch the changing of the guard. This was one of those photos I took that day - it just so happens that I know this Tomb Guard. I informed my friend that I did and later as we toured the interior of the building behind the tomb, the Guard who was just relieved of his watch came in and greeted me. I made the introductions and my visitors were rather impressed that I know someone who’s earned the honor of guarding the most sacred place in the US of A.
It was very obvious to me what would be the ideal photograph for January, since this did occur in January of 2009 – a very rare occurrence. Within the Guns Platoon also known as the Presidential Salute Battery there are two sections. So if need be, two missions can be conducted simultaneously or in different locations on the same day. It was simultaneous in this case. Both sections were set up in Arlington National Cemetery as they rendered GUN Salute honors to two flag officers.
I stood with one section in a winter “thunderstorm” as all around the snow that had fallen days before crusted with ice as the rain continued to fall – however, the Presidential Salute Battery flawlessly executed their mission to honor another fallen veteran being laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. This is a sight rarely seen by anyone, for most of their missions are conducted in another part of the cemetery away from the procession and grave site. They are “always heard, but rarely seen.”
Another rarely seen mission that the 3d Infantry Regiment of the US Army gets called on to do is the receiving of foreign dignitaries - Sometimes alone, often in concert with the other branches of the military (US Navy, Marines, US Air Force, US Coast Guard). Locations that this may occur could be at Andrews AFB, the Pentagon, the White House or at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.
One of the most splendid parts of this ceremony is the display of colors of the United States and US Army along with the country flag of whoever might be visiting. One of the other gestures of honor and respect during this visit to the Tomb of the Unknown, is the placing of a wreath by the dignitary who is greeted by and escorted by the Military District of Washington Commanding General.
The sound of hooves are heard as the Caisson Platoon of The Old Guard transports veterans to their final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery. It is fitting indeed that these are the last mounted Soldiers in the US Army – an Army that moved by horse until WW II. Fort Myer where the horses are kept that are used during the week to pull the Civil War vintage caissons, was a re-mount station for the Army and at one point there were 1,500 horses that were on post. During those times, notable units such as both the 9th and 10th Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers) were on Fort Myer. The 11th Cavalry was constituted on Fort Myer.
Today, the Soldiers of the Caisson Platoon are a fine example of those traditions. Soldiers selected for this duty often have no equestrian experience and are given extensive training in the care of as well as how to ride the horses of The Old Guard. All of the tack that is used is made on post and maintained by these Soldiers who are issued spurs which are earned after some twenty missions participating in final honors. When they surpass 250 final honors missions, they then are awarded “silver spurs” and finally after 500 missions the coveted “brass spurs.”
The Soldiers and their horses go “on-the-road” in support of the annual “Spirit of America” show which includes many units of the Old Guard and the US Army Band.
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When you attend a final honors at Arlington National Cemetery for a veteran, you will always see if not hear the “The Three Volley Salute” This is a tradition that dates back to the US Civil War. And most people confuse it for the “21 GUN Salute” that is reserved for the President of the United States or head-of-state (The Pope, Queen of England) The precision and sharp execution of this ceremony is carried out several times a day by the firing parties within the Old Guard. Timing is key in this as is the case with much of what the Old Guard does. The three cracks-of-sound made by the seven rifles firing in unison is a hallmark of these squads of Old Guard Soldiers. To achieve this level, they are constantly drilling and often if you’re on Fort Myer, you’ll hear the sounds of this being practiced before they head into the cemetery for their next mission. They want to make it just perfect and this drilling brings out that performance level.
Memorial Day Weekend, each headstone in Arlington National Cemetery has an American flag placed in front – one boot length from the stone. The Old Guard swarms into the cemetery late Thursday afternoon, loading up their rucksacks and before the setting of the sun, the entire cemetery which hours before had Old Guard Soldiers conducting final honors, now has tens of thousands of flags fluttering in the breeze. I’ve walked the sections with the Soldiers. It’s a breath-taking sight afterwards to see the flag of the United States of America honoring those who fought under and defended that flag and all the things for which it stands – the freedoms in America.
These flags are in place throughout the weekend, including Monday. And Tuesday morning, by the time sun rises, they’ve disappeared.
June brings another milestone to the oldest military service branch of the United States.
Happy Birthday US Army!
14 JUN is the Army’s birthday and before all the celebrations begin on that day, the Secretary, Chief of Staff and Sergeant Major of the Army come to Arlington National Cemetery and begin the day by placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The solemnity of the day continues as the CSA & SMA go around the cemetery and place a wreath at each of the prior CSAs & SMAs who are at rest – honoring them for the service to the United States of America and to the US Army. At each location is an Old Guard Soldier standing watch awaiting the arrival of the continuation of the ceremony.
Look for PART TWO: TOG on a Mission -2010
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Tags: 10th Cavalry, 11th Cavalry, 21 Gun Salute, 3 Volley Salute, 3d Infantry Regiment, 9th Cavalry, Arlington National Cemetery, Buffalo Soldiers, Caisson Platoon, Escort to the President, Fort Myer, Guns Platoon, military, Military District of Washington, Presidential Salute Battery, Summerall Field, The Old Guard, Three Volley Salute, Tomb Guard, Tomb of the Unknowns, US Air Force, US Army, US Army Band, US Marines, US Navy, Washington DC