The Tomb of the Unknowns is a monument dedicated to American service members who have died without their remains being identified. It is also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; it has never been officially named. It is located in Arlington National Cemetery. The World War I "Unknown" is a recipient of the Medal of Honor, the Victoria Cross, and several other foreign nations' highest service awards. The U.S. Unknowns who were interred afterwards are also recipients of the Medal of Honor, presented by the U.S. presidents who presided over their funerals.It is considered one of the highest honors to serve as a Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Fewer than 20 percent of all volunteers are accepted for training and of those only a fraction pass training to become full-fledged Tomb Guards. This attrition rate has made the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Identification Badge the second least-awarded decoration of the United States Military (the first being the Army Astronaut Badge, no longer being issued).The soldier "walking the mat" does not wear rank insignia on his or her uniform so that they do not outrank the Unknowns, whatever their rank may have been. Non-commissioned officers (usually the Relief Commander and Assistant Relief Commanders), do wear insignia of their rank when changing the guard only. They have a separate uniform (without rank) that is worn when they actually guard the Unknowns or are "Posted."Walking the MatThere is a meticulous routine which the guard follows when watching over the graves:
1. The soldier walks 21 steps across the Tomb. This alludes to the twenty-one gun salute, which is the highest honor given to any military or foreign dignitary in America. His weapon is always on the shoulder opposite the Tomb (i.e., on the side of the gallery watching the ritual).
2. On the 21st step, the soldier turns and faces the Tomb for 21 seconds.
3. The soldier then turns to face the other way across the Tomb and changes his weapon to the outside shoulder.
4. After 21 seconds, the first step is repeated.This is repeated until the soldier is relieved of duty at the Changing of the Guard.The mat is usually replaced twice per year: before Memorial Day and before Veterans Day. This is required due to the wear on the rubber mat by the special shoes worn by Tomb Guards. The sentinels have metal plates built into the soles and inner parts of their shoes to allow for a more rugged sole and to give the signature click of the heel during maneuvers. The sentinels wear sunglasses due to the bright reflection from the marble surrounding the Tomb and the Memorial Amphitheater.On the ground not covered by the mat, a wear pattern in the tile can be seen that corresponds to the precise steps taken during the changing of the guard. On the mat itself, footprints worn in by hours and hours of standing guard are also visible.Changing of the GuardDuring the day in summer months from April 1 to September 30, the guard is changed every half hour. During the winter months, from October 1 to March 31, the guard is changed every hour. After the cemetery closes to the public (7 p.m. to 8 a.m. April through September, and 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. October through March), the guard is changed every 2 hours. The ceremony can be witnessed by the public whenever Arlington National Cemetery is open.The guard change is very symbolic, but also conducted in accordance with Army regulations. The relief commander or assistant relief commander, along with the oncoming guard, are both required for a guard change to take place. The guard being relieved will say to the oncoming guard, "Post and orders remain as directed." The oncoming guard's response is always, "Orders acknowledged."
Thank you all for your service and enjoy your extended weekend.