All posts by Martha C. Koester

4th female sentinel proud to revere tomb’s unknown Soldiers

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

Sgt. Ruth Hanks has many memories to choose from when explaining why she cherishes her job as a tomb guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

Perhaps it was when an honor flight of U.S. military veterans, either World War II- or Korean War-era, stopped to watch the changing of the guard at the tomb in the cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater. Hanks wondered if one of the veterans paying tribute that day had fought alongside one of the unknown Soldiers.

“Veterans see that Soldier will never be forgotten,” she said. “It’s a big thing.”

Or, maybe it was the first time she heard, “Oh, [the Soldier is] a female. I didn’t know they could do that,” while on duty as a sentinel at the tomb. Though sentinels are focused on performing their tasks, they do hear a few of the public’s comments.

Hanks knows that when she ultimately leaves the prestigious post she will have amassed a wealth of pride, experience and knowledge to share with other Soldiers about her momentous opportunity.

“I am always trying to bring it back to the unknowns so that everybody remembers what we are here for,” Hanks said. “I am there for the unknowns, and I will perform to the best of my ability.”

Demanding, yet humbling

Hanks, a military police officer, comes from a family of military service members, and acknowledges the responsibility she shoulders as the fourth female sentinel. For the most part, though, she sees herself as just another one of the guys.

“It’s a role for other females to look up to, but at the same time, from my point of view I’m just a sergeant in the United States Army who wants to do a job,” Hanks told her college newspaper.

It was after being deployed to Afghanistan in 2013 that she began researching the Old Guard, its specialty platoons and the Tomb of the Unknowns.

“I also happened to run into an old Tomb Guard Identification Badge holder and talked to him a little bit,” Hanks said. “That kind of set in stone what I wanted to try to do during my next assignment.”

“I am there for the unknowns, and I will perform to the best of my ability,” says Sgt. Ruth Hanks, a tomb guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)
“I am there for the unknowns, and I will perform to the best of my ability,” says Sgt. Ruth Hanks, a tomb guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)

Since 1948, Soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment “The Old Guard” have served in the distinguished duty as sentinels, guarding the tomb in any kind of weather, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. The Guard is changed every 30 minutes from April 1 to Sep. 30 and every hour from Oct. 1 to March 31. During the hours the cemetery is closed, the guard is changed every 2 hours.

The impeccably attired tomb guard wears the Army dress blue uniform, which is reminiscent of the style worn by Soldiers in the late 1800s. Sentinels shine their shoes, medals and belt buckles for hours to meet the high standards of uniform preparation.

During the ceremony, the relief commander appears on the plaza of the cemetery’s Memorial Amphitheater and announces the Changing of the Guard. The new sentinel leaves the tomb quarters, which is beneath the amphitheater, and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle ─ the signal to begin the ceremony.

The relief commander walks out to the tomb, salutes and faces the spectators, asking them to stand and remain silent during the ceremony. The relief commander conducts an inspection of the weapon, checking each part of the rifle once. Then, the relief commander and the relieving sentinel meet the retiring sentinel at the center of the matted path in front of the tomb. All three salute the unknown Soldiers. (The tomb contains the remains of one each for World War I, World War II and the Korean War. The previously unknown Soldier from the Vietnam War was identified as 1st Lt. Michael Blassie. After DNA identification, Blassie’s remains were moved to Jefferson National Cemetery, Missouri.)

The relief commander orders the retiring sentinel to pass on his or her orders, who replies, “Post and orders, remain as directed.” The new sentinel says, “Orders acknowledged,” and steps into position. When the relief commander passes by, the new sentinel begins walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute.

Sgt. Ruth Hanks is the fourth female sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)
Sgt. Ruth Hanks is the fourth female sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)

The tomb guard marches 21 steps down the mat behind the tomb, turns and faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors, signifying that the sentinel stands between the tomb and any possible threat. The number 21 was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed posthumously ─ the 21-gun salute, according to arlingtoncemetery.mil.

Lessons learned

Sentinels are considered to be the best of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, which is headquartered at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia. Each Soldier must be in superb physical condition and have an unblemished military record. An interview and a two-week trial determine the Soldier’s capability to train as a tomb guard. Once chosen, he or she will undergo many hours of intensive training and testing, which focuses on overall performance, uniform preparation and knowledge of the tomb and Arlington National Cemetery.

Hanks credits leadership training and the maturity that comes as a noncommissioned officer for preparing her to take proper responsibility as a tomb guard, whether she is executing her duties in front of veterans or family members.

Sgt. Kevin E. Calderon, another tomb guard, shares Hanks’ sentiments.

“Coming down here to the tomb, I’ve developed myself so much to the point I know exactly what I’m looking for when I see a Soldier,” Calderon told Army publications. “Every day here is training. You become a trainer. When new candidates arrive, the goal isn’t to make them as good as you. You want them to be better. It’s the epitome lifestyle of an NCO.”

A great sense of time management and a supportive family has also helped her cope, she said.

“My family loves it,” she said. “When they came out here for my Tomb Guard Identification Badge ceremony, they got to see me out there, and they really enjoyed it. It’s just overwhelming pride that you see in your family. I don’t do it for that, but seeing that is just phenomenal. It’s one of those things; you just want to make your parents proud, so it was pretty neat.”

It wasn’t until 1994 that women were permitted to volunteer to become sentinels when the 289th Military Police Company was attached to the Old Guard, according to the Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknowns. The MP branch is a combat support unit.

In 1996, Sgt. Heather L. Johnsen became the first woman to earn the Tomb Guard Identification Badge. She volunteered for duty in June 1995 and earned her badge in 1996. Since then, two additional female Sentinels who are also NCOs were awarded the badge ─ Sgt. Danyell E. Wilson in 1997, and Staff Sgt. Tonya D. Bell in 1998.

Women must meet the same requirements as male Soldiers to be eligible as tomb guards. The only difference is that women have a minimum height requirement of 5 feet 8 inches, which is the same standard to be a member of the Old Guard. Male sentinels must be between 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet 4 inches tall.

“I do not get treated any differently,” Hanks said. “The crowd might have more of a response because there is a female there, but when it comes to work and training, it’s absolutely the same.”

Hanks foresees that her praise of the tomb, guards and the military ritual will endure long after she has moved on from her duty, urging prospective visitors to Washington, D.C., to stop by the Tomb of the Unknowns for the Changing of the Guard. “Check this out, and I’ll tell you a little story about them,” she would say.

“I would be passing on history,” Hanks said. “The motto of the tomb guard is ‘Soldiers never die until they are forgotten. Tomb guards never forget.’ That’s what we have to keep doing.”

 

The Sentinel’s Creed

My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted.
In the responsibility bestowed on me, never will I falter.
And with dignity and perseverance.
My standard will remain
Through the years of diligence
And the discomfort of the elements,
I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect I protect,
his bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well-meaning crowds by day,
alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
this Soldier in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.

To join ‘The Old Guard’

Prospective noncommissioned officers and enlisted Soldiers interested in joining “The Old Guard” may call The Old Guard Recruiting Office at commercial 703-696-3007 or email Old Guard Recruiting at usarmy.jbmhh.mdw.mbx.tog-recruiting@mail.mil

‘Pershing’s Own’ NCOs shine during inaugural festivities

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

The ceremonial splendor on display during inaugural festivities never fails to transfix the Soldiers of The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” whether it’s their first presidential inauguration or their sixth. The band’s noncommissioned officers fully understand their responsibility in representing the Army and their fellow Soldiers on that global stage.

The baton of Sgt. Maj. Julian R. Ayers Sr., the drum major for U.S. Army Band "Pershing’s Own", lies on the ground during a rehearsal on Summerall Field at Fort Myer, Virginia. The band was preparing for the inaugural parade. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
The baton of Sgt. Maj. Julian R. Ayers Sr., the drum major for U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” lies on the ground during a rehearsal on Summerall Field at Fort Myer, Virginia. The band was preparing for the inaugural parade. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“When we put on that uniform, we want to make sure that we are representing Soldiers absolutely the best we can,” said Sgt. Maj. Jerry J. Amoury, the senior enlisted leader for The U.S. Army Concert Band. “We provide musical support and we represent the Army, but are also there to represent our brothers and sisters in uniform. If there is an NCO who is downrange and they see us marching [in the inauguration parade], I want them to know that we think about them when we put our uniform on.”

Tradition dictates that the 99-piece band, which is made up of members of the Ceremonial Band, Concert Band and the Army Blues jazz ensemble, lead the official Presidential Escort down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., from the Capitol to the White House parade reviewing stand. The band has held the honor since March 4, 1925, during President Calvin Coolidge’s second inauguration. Joining “Pershing’s Own” in this celebrated custom are honor platoons from every branch of service and Maj. Gen. Bradley A. Becker, the commanding general of the Military District of Washington.

Members of the U.S. Army Band "Pershing’s Own" rest during a rehearsal on Summerall Field at Fort Myer, Virginia. The band was preparing for the inaugural parade. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Members of the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” rest during a rehearsal on Summerall Field at Fort Myer, Virginia. The band was preparing for the inaugural parade. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

At the reviewing stand, another team from “Pershing’s Own” takes over. The U.S. Army Herald Trumpets are ready to welcome the new president to the White House by playing the famous “Hail to the Chief” anthem.

On Jan. 11, then President-elect Donald J. Trump sung the band’s praises during a news conference.

“I look very much forward to the inauguration,” Trump said. “It’s going to be a beautiful event. We have great talent, tremendous talent, and we have all of the bands … from different segments of the military. And I’ve heard some of these bands over the years. They’re incredible.”

Lessons learned

The elite musicians perform in countless high-profile events for the Army during their careers and are seasoned professionals. Major events such as the inauguration give the band’s NCOs an opportunity to bring their leadership training to the forefront.

Staff Sgt. Sidonie H. Wade (center), a percussionist for U.S. Army Band "Pershing’s Own", marches during a rehearsal on Summerall Field at Fort Myer, Virginia. The band was preparing for the inaugural parade. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Staff Sgt. Sidonie H. Wade (center), a percussionist for U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” marches during a rehearsal on Summerall Field at Fort Myer, Virginia. The band was preparing for the inaugural parade. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“Any training opportunity is a great opportunity for an NCO because that is what we do: We train, we educate, we prepare the future of the Army,” said Sgt. Maj. Julian R. Ayers Sr., the band’s drum major. Ayers performed at his fifth inauguration Jan. 20. “These experiences certainly help me to figure out how I can be a better leader. The way I see my role, the band is outstanding, all I need to do is provide Soldiers with the avenues for success. I try my best not to get in their way and give them all the information that they need. Then I let them fly, and I just stand up in the front and dance and do my thing.”

After 27 years in the Army and performing in five inaugurations, Amoury said Trump’s inauguration would be his last. Amoury said he has used such events to impress upon Soldiers the importance of how much their participation matters.

“I have told this to many people over my years: You don’t think that what you are doing is important, but you are going to get that phone call from an aunt or an uncle or an old teacher or someone in your town saying, ‘I saw you do something,’” he said. “We just did something for the CBS This Morning show a couple months ago. [CBS This Morning’s] Charles Osgood retired, and he is a former member of the Army Band. I can’t tell you how many calls I have received. An old trombone teacher said, ‘I saw you on television.’ It’s not me, it’s the organization.

The U.S. Army Band "Pershing’s Own," marches down Sheridan Avenue during a rehearsal at Fort Myer, Virginia. The band was preparing for the inaugural parade. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” marches down Sheridan Avenue during a rehearsal at Fort Myer, Virginia. The band was preparing for the inaugural parade. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“And so as an NCO you really are actually doing something that’s going to be remembered,” Amoury said. “You matter, and sometimes you don’t get that feeling as an NCO because you are always answering to other people. You are more of an enforcer, less of a planner. I have been lucky because I have had a lot of great NCO mentors in my career who have done that for me. I just hope to pass that [knowledge] on to my peers and my colleagues, the people who are going to replace me. It’s all about setting up your replacements for success because my replacement is already in the building somewhere. So if I am not preparing those folks to do my job, then I fail as an NCO.”

Whirlwind of activity

Members of “Pershing’s Own” began preparing for the inauguration well before the main event. One of the many rehearsals included a full-dress rehearsal of marching down Constitution Avenue in Downtown Washington, D.C., in the early morning hours the Sunday before Inauguration Day. In between other rehearsals, band members also performed a number of gigs, which included Army ceremonies for members of the Cabinet. The day before the inauguration, “Pershing’s Own” was tasked with opening the Making America Great Again Concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

Performing at many high profile events never loses its luster for Staff Sgt. Sidonie H. Wade, who performed at her first inauguration.

Sgt. Maj. Julian R. Ayers Sr., the drum major for U.S. Army Band "Pershing’s Own," demonstrates baton moves he will use during a rehearsal on Summerall Field at Fort Myer, Virginia. The band was preparing for the inaugural parade. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Sgt. Maj. Julian R. Ayers Sr., the drum major for U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” demonstrates baton moves he will use during a rehearsal on Summerall Field at Fort Myer, Virginia. The band was preparing for the inaugural parade. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“Being in the Army, we are able to participate and be a part of history every single day, which is extremely cool,” Wade, a percussionist in the band, said. “Living in the District of Washington and working in the military district of Washington, there’s just so much history happening all the time. History is being made on a daily basis in the Army, and it’s really cool. It’s really humbling.”

Some members of “Pershing’s Own” even took part in the pre-planning of the inauguration, working with the Presidential Inaugural Committee and the Joint Force Headquarters – National Capitol Region leadership. Amoury served as a planner for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013.

The PIC, a private organization, is one of three entities who take charge of inauguration festivities and celebrations. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies plans the swearing-in ceremonies of the president-elect and the vice president-elect. The Joint Force Headquarters – National Capitol Region is responsible for planning military support for the inauguration and many of the parade logistics. Lastly, the PIC is in charge of planning and funding all of the events surrounding the swearing-in ceremony.

Following the U.S. Army Band "Pershing’s Own," members of military rifle guards march down Sheridan Avenue during a rehearsal at Fort Myer, Virginia. The groups were preparing for the inaugural parade. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Following the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” members of military rifle guards march down Sheridan Avenue during a rehearsal at Fort Myer, Virginia. The groups were preparing for the inaugural parade. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“The inauguration is a very coordinated, cue-driven event,” Amoury said. “I was a supporter for the music playing lists of the ceremony, so I got to see a different side of it.”

Ayers hopes “Pershing’s Own’s” performance inspires NCOs watching events such as the inauguration.

“I want them to appreciate and understand the importance of Army music,” he said. “Military music has such a great importance in the lives of the American people.”

As Amoury gets ready to transition, he has many past performances with “Pershing’s Own” upon which to reflect.

“The thing about being in this job is that I have a lot of these [memories],” Amoury said. “Being in front of people who are world leaders or people who are global opinion leaders, and you are there ─ a trombone player ─ standing in the White House. It’s kind of ludicrous to think, ‘Well, what am I doing here?’ but the job requires my presence. I get to see people who are impacting lives all over the world. To see American government, an American leadership working, and living and talking, people don’t see that very often. These are real people doing real jobs, and it’s not frivolous. They take it seriously, and we get to see that a lot. It’s exciting, and it’s humbling. That’s the stuff I always take away from these kinds of jobs ─ the energy, the moment.”

Sgt. Maj. Julian R. Ayers Sr., the drum major for U.S. Army Band "Pershing’s Own", leads the band during a rehearsal on Summerall Field at Fort Myer, Virginia. The band was preparing for the inaugural parade. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Sgt. Maj. Julian R. Ayers Sr., the drum major for U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” leads the band during a rehearsal on Summerall Field at Fort Myer, Virginia. The band was preparing for the inaugural parade. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

NCOs of Old Guard lead 58th Presidential Inauguration

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

Being a part of the renowned 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) affords many Soldiers unparalleled opportunities on a global stage. For Sgt. 1st Class Christopher G. Taffoya, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon Honor Guard Company, it was an opportunity to perform in his second inauguration in an honor guard cordon – this time, as noncommissioned officer in charge of the ceremonial unit.

Taffoya was in charge of a six-man cordon, which serves as an official escort, for President Donald J. Trump at the Capitol before his presidential swearing-in ceremony Jan. 20.

“We are the first Soldiers that he interacts with, which is really cool,” Taffoya said. “It’s just six Soldiers and me.”

It’s a pretty big deal to the NCO from Montclair, California. His first inauguration was President George W. Bush’s second in 2005, where Taffoya served in an honor cordon for the entire day.

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher G. Taffoya, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon Honor Guard Company, stands at attention during the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C., Jan. 20, 2017. More than 5,000 military members from across all branches of the armed forces of the United States, including Reserve and National Guard components, provided ceremonial support and Defense Support of Civil Authorities during the inaugural period. (Photo by U.S. Army Spc. William Lockwood)
Sgt. 1st Class Christopher G. Taffoya, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon Honor Guard Company, stands at attention during the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C., Jan. 20, 2017. More than 5,000 military members from across all branches of the armed forces of the United States, including Reserve and National Guard components, provided ceremonial support and Defense Support of Civil Authorities during the inaugural period. (Photo by U.S. Army Spc. William Lockwood)

“It’s a big deal to me, being just a kid from California coming from an extremely modest upbringing,” Taffoya said. “And then to be in two presidential inaugurations, making that history, just for my family alone, is really awesome. But to be [a part of] the representation of the free world, showing the world that this is what right looks like. This is how you change power. It’s just really cool. It’s a big thing, and it’s not something I take lightly.”

Celebrating pageantry

More than 2,000 Soldiers from the Old Guard were tapped to support the 58th Presidential Inauguration. The Old Guard’s Presidential Salute Battery, the Fife and Drum Corps, as well as Army cordons were among the performers. Service members participating in the inauguration represent a joint force, which includes Soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen and Coast Guardsmen.

Every Soldier from the Old Guard who has a role in the presidential inauguration has a responsibility to get every detail right.

“The magnitude of the operation was immense,” Old Guard commander Col. Jason T. Garkey, told Army publications. Garkey participated in President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration in 1997 and Bush’s second one in 2005. “In previous inaugurations, I participated in specific parts, but as the regimental commander responsible for Joint Task Force Ceremony, I had visibility on every detail involving the regiment.”

Garkey was pleased with the inauguration planning.

“The complexity and amount of detail developed into the plan was extremely impressive,” Garkey said. “The seamless integration of our ceremonial and contingency tasks capitalized on every aspect of the regiment. It validated everything we have worked toward since this past summer.”

Military tradition

The military’s contributions to the presidential inauguration have evolved into a centuries-old tradition. The U.S. military has participated in inaugurations since April 30, 1789, when members of the Army, local militia units and Revolutionary War veterans escorted President George Washington to his first inauguration ceremony at Federal Hall in the nation’s first capital in New York City.

Taffoya takes pride in the Old Guard’s historical role in such a momentous event like the inauguration.

“One thing in common through all 58 inaugurations is … us ─ from the start with President George Washington until now,” Taffoya said. “The Old Guard has always been a part of inauguration. We have been a part of that foundation, and America has seen us. To be part of that representation is a big deal. It’s an honor. Just being in the unit is cool, but to be able to have the president 1 foot from you, passing you by and being able to render honors to him is just surreal.”

Every NCO in the Old Guard strives for perfection in performing ceremonial duties, and discipline is necessary to serve. Soldiers in the Old Guard must pass the demanding Regimental Orientation Program, a three-week course designed to teach new arrivals the subtle distinctions of the uniforms of the Old Guard, rifle movements and marching that is unique to the elite precision unit. Maintaining ceremonial composure is critical to the unit’s Soldiers.

Members of the Joint Honor Guard stand at attention during a early morning rehearsal for the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C. The rehearsal was held on Jan. 15, 2017, the Sunday before the inauguration. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Members of the Joint Honor Guard stand at attention during a early morning rehearsal for the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C. The rehearsal was held on Jan. 15, 2017, the Sunday before the inauguration. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“My discipline didn’t start when I showed up to the Old Guard,” Taffoya said. “It started with my first squad leader, who instilled the discipline in me as a Soldier in 2002. I do the same for my Soldiers. Whether it’s here or at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the one thing that carried through is discipline and enforcing it as an NCO.

“That’s the biggest thing because everything else is a breakaway of discipline,” he said. “You could have all of the Army Values, but if you don’t have the discipline to use them or to implement them, you don’t have any of them. We in the Old Guard take it seriously because we are representing our Army. If we don’t represent the Army right, then we are not doing Soldiers justice, whether we are deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

NCOs such as Taffoya recognize that all of the painstaking attention to detail at the Old Guard helps make for better leaders.

“You have to be on your game,” he said. “This is like our Super Bowl. It comes once every four years, so it’s all hands on deck. A lot of the whole regiment is bringing their ‘A’ game so you don’t want to be that one guy who doesn’t bring his and ends up being the sore spot. I appreciate my subordinates, my squad leaders and team leaders … [because] they know what this involves. They understand that they, too, are making history for their families and legacies.”

Old Guard’s NCOs take places among horses, big guns in inauguration parade

NCO JOURNAL WIRE REPORT

When the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (the Old Guard) began to gear up for its role in the 58th Presidential Inauguration, all Soldiers knew the meticulous preparation necessary called for all hands on deck. So, the Soldiers of the Presidential Salute Battery and the Caisson Platoon trotted out their big guns and elegant horses and set about getting them ready to take their traditional spots in one of the nation’s most celebrated parades.

The PSB, which was founded in 1953 and is the only unit of its kind in the Army, fires cannon salutes in honor of the president, visiting foreign dignitaries and official guests of the United States.

Members of the Joint Honor Guard stand at attention during a early morning rehearsal for the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C. The rehearsal was held on Jan. 15, 2017, the Sunday before the inauguration. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Members of the Joint Honor Guard stand at attention during a early morning rehearsal for the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C. The rehearsal was held on Jan. 15, 2017, the Sunday before the inauguration. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

Ceremonies require a five-man staff and a two-man team for each gun. The staff consists of the battery commander, who initiates fire commands and ensures the proper number of rounds is fired; the sergeant of the watch, who marches the battery into position, controls the firing of the backup gun, and monitors the watchman and his assistant; the watchman controls the timing between rounds and gives the command to fire; the assistant watchman ensures the watchman stays in time; and the counter counts the rounds and signals the last round to the battery.

The cannons have been fired at presidential inaugurations and state funerals since President Ronald Reagan’s administration, said Sgt. Cody L. Grunwald, an assistant watchman.

“Our number one task is to give the president his first 21-round gun salute,” said Sgt. Jordan Goodman, escort officer. “It is the highest honor that we can render to the president.”

The battery will use four vintage, 75mm, anti-tank cannons from World War II mounted on the M6 howitzer carriage.

“It’s an honor to lead the Soldiers onto the battery for the Inauguration,” said Staff Sgt. Eric Wintzell, the noncommissioned officer in charge. “This is one of the reasons I came to the Old Guard, so that I could render honors to our president.”

Caisson Soldiers also take great preparation for their moment in the inauguration spotlight. Preparing the horses for the festivities often begins in the early morning hours, when Soldiers shine brass and perform horse grooming duties.

“We want to show the public that units like ours are still in existence,” said Staff Sgt. Jonathan English, operations sergeant of the Caisson Platoon. “We are the last full-time equestrian unit. So, it’s important to represent not only ourselves, but the Army as a whole.”

Seeing the Soldiers on their elegant and disciplined horses take their place among the military pageantry often wins the Caisson Platoon many adoring parade fans.

“Proud to have the Caisson Platoon, home of the army’s oldest and most famous horse, Black Jack, take part in Inauguration Day 2017!” tweeted then President-Elect Donald J. Trump on Jan. 2.

Caisson Platoon Soldiers are thankful for the opportunity to render military honors to the new president in the national spotlight.

“All of our Soldiers are excited to be serving in the parade,” said Cpt. Austin Hatch, Caisson Platoon leader. “Whether we are on the side walker detail, helping prepare the horses and tack, or riding in the parade, we are all honored to serve.”

 

Members of the Joint Honor Guard stand at attention during a early morning rehearsal for the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C. The rehearsal was held on Jan. 15, 2017, the Sunday before the inauguration. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Members of the Joint Honor Guard stand at attention during a early morning rehearsal for the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C. The rehearsal was held on Jan. 15, 2017, the Sunday before the inauguration. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

Soldiers thrive in WRAIR’s busy laboratories

Related story

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

Established in 1893 as the Army Medical School, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research has a long and respected history of serving America’s military. With more than 120 years of advances in military and public health, the goal at WRAIR remains to supply life-saving products to sustain the readiness of the warfighter.

Because infectious diseases threaten national and global security, WRAIR is able to shift focus quickly when illnesses, such as Ebola, emerge.

“Army medical research plays a foundational role in the success of our all-volunteer force,” said Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army, during a visit last year to WRAIR. “The success of our Army relies on trust – trust between Soldiers and the military institution, and trust between the military and the American public.”

Sgt. Christopher A. Springer, a lab technician at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland, has thrived in the number of opportunities he found at WRAIR. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)
Sgt. Christopher A. Springer, a lab technician at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland, has thrived in the number of opportunities available at WRAIR. (Photo by Martha C. Koester / NCO Journal)

The emergence and swift spread of Zika in the outbreak zones of North and South America and Southeast Asia, where service members are located, forced WRAIR’s scientists to channel their expertise toward developing a successful vaccine earlier this year. Human testing is underway at WRAIR in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Col. Nelson Michael, director of WRAIR’s Military HIV Research Program and Zika program co-lead, recently briefed Gen. Mark A. Milley, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, on WRAIR’s Zika vaccine progress.

“One of the things I am going to tell the general is of one [new concern] we have got to think about when we send our troops overseas and they come back home,” Michael said before his meeting with Milley. “We’re obviously very obligated toward military families, and there has been one case that is not as well documented where a woman transmitted it to a man sexually. The problem with Zika is that even though it’s been around a long time we didn’t know much about it until very recently.”

Soldiers help make successful medical technologies possible at WRAIR because they are accustomed to tackling problems quickly, Michael said. Sgt. Christopher A. Springer, a lab technician, is part of the team that developed the Zika vaccine at WRAIR.

“I am hoping someone like Sgt. Springer looks at this and at some point in his Army career says, ‘I want to be like those guys,’ and then continues to be involved at some level either as a noncommissioned officer or in some other capacity as a civilian scientist,” Michael said. “At either rate, he is exposed to something that he would never see anywhere else in the U.S. Army.”

Springer, as a young NCO, has found many opportunities to hone his leadership skills at WRAIR.

“I definitely like the new responsibilities as an NCO,” Springer said. “I feel like I am more involved with WRAIR. Recently I was afforded the opportunity to become the NCO in charge here for the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge. We get them trained up.”

Named in 1953 after Maj. Walter Reed who was a military research physician best known for discovering yellow fever, WRAIR developed treatments for dysentery and malaria as well as vaccines for typhoid fever, dengue, Japanese encephalitis and meningitis. Among its many medical victories, WRAIR’s Military HIV Research Program spearheaded the first clinical trial in humans showing vaccine protection from the AIDS virus.

“We are the largest biomedical research laboratory in the DOD [Department of Defense] and the largest laboratory in the Army,” Michael said. “We work on diseases that are either infectious or that cause Soldiers to not be able to do their jobs.

“We have focused on things such as malaria and HIV infections since 1986,” Michael said. “We focus on the flaviviruses. Dengue has been the one that we have been banging away on for a very long time. We are very instrumental in the current leading candidates for vaccines for HIV, malaria and dengue, which is something we are very proud of. The institute also has a very strong program in bacterial infection diseases, especially with the growing problem of resistant bacteria.”

WRAIR is recognized as the oldest school of public health and preventive medicine in the United States. The institute has been home to Michael for much of his military career, and he is proud to be a part of it.

“[The challenges] make me want to continue to stay in the Army even though I am 59 [years old],” Michael said. “I could go anywhere I want. I trained at Stanford University and Harvard University. With my degrees I could be anywhere I wanted to, but I choose to remain in the Army because I adore what I do.”