The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and in any weather by Tomb Guard sentinels. These sentinels are considered to be the best of the elite 3rd United States Infantry (the Old Guard), headquartered at Fort Myer, Virginia, which is adjacent to and directly behind Arlington National Cemetery, where the tomb is located.
In an elaborate ritual the guard is changed every hour on the hour from October 1 to March 31, and then from April 1 through September 30 the guard is changed on the half hour as well, allowing twice the amount of viewing of the Changing of the Guard during the warmer months when there are more tourists in the cemetery.
The ritual starts when an impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza near the tomb to announce the Changing of the Guard. Soon the new sentinel arrives from the nearly Quarters of the Guard and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle to signal to the relief commander to start the ceremony. The relief commander walks to the tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and stay silent during the ceremony.
The relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon of the sentinel who has just arrived, then the relief commander and the new sentinel meet the retiring sentinel at the center of the matted path in front of the tomb, then all three turn and salute the tomb. The relief commander then orders the retiring sentinel to “Pass on your orders.” The retiring sentinel commands by saying, “Post and orders, remain as directed.” The newly posted sentinel replies, “Orders acknowledged,” and steps into position on the black mat. Then the relief commander and retiring sentinel exit the plaza and leave the new sentinel to keep guard for the next half hour or hour, depending on the time of year.
To keep guard, the sentinel on duty marches back and forth before the tomb taking 21 steps in each direction, with a 21-second pause at each end before turning around. The number 21 was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed upon the unknown soldiers — the 21-gun salute.
Thank you to the groups “Alphabet Soup”, “Amazing Graves”, “A Place to Call Home”, “Cee’s Fun Artsy Friends” and “Friends” for featuring this photograph.
Camera: Canon Rebel XTi 400D
Arlington National Cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.