The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been guarded for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, nonstop since July 2, 1937. The Tomb Sentinels that protect the site are the best of the best the U.S. Army has to offer and nothing short of Armageddon is going to break that discipline. By the time Hurricane Sandy hit the D.C. area in 2012, it was a “superstorm,” expected to kill more people and cause more damage than any hurricane since Katrina in 2005.
That didn’t faze Sgt. Shane Vincent one bit.
“This is what we all volunteer to do,” Staff Sgt. Michael Buelna, the commander of the first relief, told ABC News. “For us we don’t really think anything of it, it’s what we do.”
When the Sentinels due to stand watch during that timeframe found out they could be without power and food for an extended period of time, they brought extra. And they also brought MREs. They were as prepared as anyone else for a hurricane. The difference was they would be standing in it for their shifts and shift changes.
Like other government sites, the cemetery was closed by order of the Federal government. There would be no visitors, no crowds, no curious onlookers to catch the changing of the guards. The Tomb Sentinels would still guard the tomb, exposed to the elements, with their M-14 rifles – the unknown soldier would not be left alone. There were only a few slight differences in their routine.
Instead of Army dress blues, the six Tomb Sentinels on duty wore wet-weather ACUs. Instead of “walking the mat” for 21 paces back and forth, they would operate from “The Box,” a small guard shack made of green cloth. They also wouldn’t have to be at attention for the duration. It was more than ceremonial guard duty, the men of the 3rd Infantry Regiment would have to stay vigilant during the storm.
For Sgt. Vincent, it presented an opportunity. He’d told his fellow Tomb Sentinels that if the time ever came, he would volunteer for a full day of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – something that had never been done before.
“I stayed out there for the entire shift,” said Vincent. “I was the one that was out there, others would come and show love and spend time with me out there.”
As for Sandy, Sgt. Vincent, he was unimpressed, saying it was a basic storm, the worst of it only came when the winds picked up and even then, he enjoyed watching the rain fall sideways. He even walked the mat a few times.
That’s the Old Guard for you.