By Lishamarie Hunter

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has a long history of being a male-only institution. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was created in 1921 and is located in Arlington National Cemetery.  It started as a plain marble slab that held the remains of an unidentified soldier who served in World War I.  The Army began guarding the location in 1926 and 1937 the guard duty went to a 24 hours a day and 7 days a week rotation. This year it celebrated 100 years. 

“The Old Guard” offers soldiers one of the most special assignments in the Army. Not only do the sentinels guard the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier, but they also escort the president, provide military funeral services, and even protect Washington DC in times of emergency.  

The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment has served this nation since 1784, making it the oldest active regiment in the military. It is a combat unit. SGT Heather Johnson become the first woman who earned the Tomb Guard Identification Badge. The following year SGT Danyell Wilson became the first African American woman to earn the Badge, 1998 Staff SGT Tonya Bell became the third woman and the first to serve as relief commander.  It wasn’t until 2015 that women were permitted to serve in most combat roles. Once that barrier was broken more women earned the the badge.  This led the way for the first sergeant of the guard,  SFC Chelsea Porter. Before this women in the early 1980s could only serve for ceremonial purposes, an example was playing in the Fife and Drum Corps. 

What does it take to become a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Honor Guard? Soldiers must meet strict standards to join the Army’s Honor Guard.

Because it is a highly visible position the soldiers must meet appearance and fitness standards, education, character, and Army requirements. The only distinction between the male and female requirements is the height standards. Males must be between 5’10 and 6’4” and females must be between 5’8” and 6’2”. They each must meet the height and weight standards must score at least 230 out of 300 on the Army Physical Fitness Test. All soldiers must not have any physical limitations that would restrict making sharp crisp movements while serving in The Old Guard.

Education standards are have a high school diploma or GED, officers must have a bachelor’s degree.  All soldiers must have GT of 110 or better.  Character qualifications must have a clean criminal record, no civil convictions or conviction under the Uniform Military Code of Justice.  They can not have been in involved in any drug or alcohol related issues. The 3rd Infantry Regiment has the critical security task of escorting the president of the United States. Army service requirement are they must be active duty Army. Must hold one of 35 MOS and have an exceptional service record to be selected. 

This year is the 100 year anniversary for the Tomb of The Unknown soldier and this year on 29 September 2021, SFC Porterfield made history. She took her final walk at the Tomb and conducted a changing of the guard ceremony. It was the first time ever in the history of the changing of the guard at the Tomb that an all-women shift change in 84 years, on 30770 day of the continuous guarding.  

This historical event is a sign of change.  Woman in the military are making gains throughout this country’s history.  This shows our youth that they can hold any position or job, accomplish anything if they are willing to just apply themselves. 

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