WASHINGTON - With each swift movement echoing in the silence of the cemetery, service members assigned to the Defense Logistics Agency quietly watched as the Army’s 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment performed the “Changing of the Guard” ritual at the Tomb of the Unknowns during a Nov. 21 visit to Arlington National Cemetery.
Part of the quarterly DLA Military Day highlighting separate branches of the Armed Forces, the half-day tour, sponsored by the DLA Army National Account Manager Team, treated DLA service members to a hands-on history of the Army’s oldest active-duty infantry unit, known as The Old Guard.
After arriving at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Fort Myer, Va., more than 40 attendees, including DLA Senior Enlisted Leader Army Command Sgt. Maj. Sultan Muhammad, were given a command brief on The Old Guard. The 1,600 member unit, established in 1784, primarily conducts ceremonies, special events and memorial affairs, averaging 4,000 funerals a year, said Army Maj. Ed Matthaidess, regimental operations officer for The Old Guard.
Afterward, attendees walked over to nearby Conmy Hall to observe a general officer retirement ceremony rehearsal and later toured the hall’s history exhibits, studying several displays dedicated to uniforms, historic photos and campaign streamers.
After learning about the regiment, the group headed for a 45-minute tour of the John C. McKinney Memorial Stables. Known as the caisson barn, the facility houses horses of The Old Guard that participate in full honor funerals performed in Arlington National Cemetery. Attendees toured the stable, learning about the horses, caissons and military funeral escorts, as well as the barn’s farrier, a blacksmith who takes care of the horse’s feet, who answered questions from participants.
As the day progressed, participants were transported to Arlington National Cemetery to watch the soldiers of The Old Guard march their 24-hour vigil of the Tomb, a tradition since 1948. Afterward, Army Spc. Patrick Leamy, a sentinel from The Old Guard, explained a guard’s daily regimen, uniform and mission and also answered questions from attendees.
Navy Rear Adm. Ron MacLaren, director of DLA’s Joint Contingency Acquisition Support Office, said visits like these help promote understanding between the military services.
“Obviously, a huge highlight is just coming to the Tomb [of the Unknowns] and watching the sentinel,” he said. “It’s such a sobering experience, and it’s always one that is filled with emotion for me. And just talking to the Soldiers and hearing about their experiences, about what they’re doing, is always a highlight. It’s uplifting to see how dedicated they are to it, to seek perfection. I think [these events are] a great idea to promote jointness, to learn about each of the service’s cultures and their traditions. I look forward to seeing the Navy’s traditions on one of these visits, as well.”
For Air Force Lt. Col. Scott Hopper, deputy Air Force national account manager at DLA, the experience was a good one and set the bar high for the next DLA Military Day.
“I thought it was great,” he said. “The Army got a chance to show us something that they’re proud of and share it with the rest of the services, and it was a great experience. It was enriching for all of us to learn a little bit more. I’ve been [to Arlington National Cemetery] as a tourist many times, but I got a chance to see behind the curtain and understand what it takes to make these incredible young men do what they do out there.”