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    Badges awarded to Old Guard’s latest Tomb Sentinels

    Badges awarded to Old Guard’s latest Tomb Sentinels

    Photo By Spc. Brandon Dyer | After a year of training, Soldiers (from left) Spc. Aaron Zachary Lopez-Stoner, Pfc....... read more read more



    Story by Spc. Brandon Dyer 

    3d U.S. Infantry Regiment “The Old Guard”

    ARLINGTON, Va. - In the 240-year history of the U.S. Army, only 637 Soldiers have earned the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Identification Badge. Three of those badges were awarded to the newest additions to the ranks during a Nov. 17 ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

    After a year of training, Soldiers Spc. Dakota Wilburn, Pfc. Justin Lee Robinson and Spc. Aaron Zachary Lopez-Stoner, all of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), were awarded the Tomb Badge simultaneously during the ceremony.

    The three were awarded badge numbers 635 (Wilburn), 636 (Robinson) and 637 (Lopez-Stoner).

    Although the public may see similarities as each guard marches along the tomb during a sentinel’s watch, each of these Soldiers comes from different backgrounds. Wilburn, Robinson and Lopez-Stoner all faced a variety of personal challenges to join the ranks.

    Just ask Wilburn, an Orange County, Calif., native who joined the Army and became a 42A (human resource specialist). Human resource specialists are typically responsible for maintaining the personnel records of their fellow Soldiers.

    Much like his job as a 42A, being a Sentinel requires a lot of attention to detail. That attention was tested in numerous ways during Wilburn’s training. In addition to memorizing a 17-page information packet on the TUS and being graded on walks at the Tomb, prospective Sentinels are also graded on their uniforms.

    Wilburn viewed the uniform component as the most difficult part of his training.

    “You think in one phase you have a good grasp on it,” said Wilburn. “But as you proceed through training, there’s more and more attention to detail.”

    Wilburn put in about a year of training to earn the Tomb Badge.

    Becoming a Sentinel is something Wilburn has always wanted to do after visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as an eighth grader on a school trip.

    “Even then I thought they were really cool,” said Wilburn. “Just by luck I was assigned to The Old Guard. As soon as I found out I was coming here, this is what I wanted to come and do.”

    Learning to manage his time was a challenge at first since the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier does not follow a traditional work schedule, said Wilburn.

    “We work 26-hour shifts,” said Wilburn. “We call it a nine-day work set.”

    Wilburn was motivated to work on his uniform components, rifle movements and study rather than sleeping in, on his days off.

    Yet, all of the motivation he could muster would not have been enough to be successful without the support of his family, said Wilburn.

    “My wife has been a huge help this whole time,” said Wilburn. “She’s kept everything together at home, it’s allowed me to focus on work here.”

    Unlike Wilburn, Robinson only became interested in becoming a Sentinel when he was assigned to The Old Guard.

    “I just heard that it was hard,” said Robinson. “I wanted the challenge.”

    An 11B (Infantry), Robinson found the biggest challenge was overcoming the realization of what standing post at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier means, and what the tomb itself represents.

    “You come down here not really knowing,” said Robinson. “And then when you get to a certain point, it hits you.”

    Lopez-Stoner of Clarksville, Tenn., is a 74D (chemical, biological, radiological specialist).

    Lopez-Stoner could boil down his biggest challenge in becoming a Tomb Sentinel in one word: shoes.

    “A lot of time and effort go into our uniforms,” said Lopez-Stoner. “A lot of meticulousness goes into our uniform prep.”

    Lopez-Stoner said being at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was a huge culture shock at first.

    Off time is spent working on uniforms and studying or getting rest for the long hours, so he had to designate time to spend with his spouse to strike some kind of balance.

    “I did reserve certain days where I put my stuff down and it was a ‘me and wife’ day,” said Lopez-Stoner. “Usually Tuesdays, five dollar movies.”

    The sacrifice was worth it, as his wife was the one to pin on his Tomb Badge, he said.

    The experience has been equally difficult on him and his wife, he said.

    Ultimately the success is shared because she helped him, he said.

    Lopez-Stoner is not as tall as the typical Sentinel, standing at 5 feet, 8 inches, but nothing would deter him. The height requirement for males to join any Old Guard unit is 5 feet, 10 inches. Lopez-Stoner received a waiver because of his “exceptional performance,” according to Maj. Russell Fox, The Old Guard’s Public Affairs officer.

    “I had no clue there was a height requirement to come here,” said Lopez-Stoner. “I came here and did something that’s usually reserved for people [who] are taller. But I accomplished it.”

    To learn more about the Tomb Sentinels, visit http://go.usa.gov/cjrMB.



    Date Taken: 11.17.2015
    Date Posted: 11.25.2015 12:19
    Story ID: 182872
    Hometown: CLARKSVILLE, TN, US
    Hometown: ORANGE COUNTY, CA, US

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