The Eagle Scout badge is extremely rare, but the U.S. Army has a badge that’s even rarer.
It’s the badge worn by members of the Honor Guard who keep 24-hour watch over the Tomb of Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Fewer than 700 men and women have worn the badge since the round-the-clock patrol began in 1937.
The Honor Guard badge is the second-rarest in the military — behind only the astronaut badge. Also called Tomb Guards and Sentinels, these Honor Guard members have a solemn duty to fulfill day or night, in rain or snow.
The changing of the guard is something to behold. Every 30, 60 or 120 minutes — depending on season and time of day — one Sentinel is replaced by another. The changeover ceremony happens with awesome precision indicative of the intense training Tomb Guards must complete. Each member of the Tomb Guard perfects his or her technique for hours in front of the mirror.
Witnessing a changing of the guard is something every Scout and Scouter should try to do. Weaved into the ceremony is an important lesson about patriotism and sacrifice, and you can learn more about visiting in these FAQs.
Paying their respects
On Monday, the Report to the Nation delegates got to do more than watch. They stood with the Sentinels for a wreath-laying ceremony. One representative each from Boy Scouting, Venturing, Sea Scouting and Exploring took on this solemn role. Adam V., Pratik Vaidya, Rachel West and Tyler Schutt represented Scouting well.
Wearing white gloves and crisp uniforms, the group of four descended the steps and placed a special Boy Scouts of America wreath in front of the tomb.
An Army bugler played “Taps” as the Scouts and Venturers saluted. Audience members not in uniform placed their hands over their hearts.
Everyone paused to think about the ultimate sacrifice made by American service members who died in battle but never were identified. It was an earnest moment during which the Scouts reflected on the soldiers buried both in the Tomb of the Unknowns and throughout Arlington National Cemetery.
“It was very powerful. It’s a ceremony that not everybody gets to participate in,” said Tyler, the National Youth Representative for Law Enforcement Exploring. “It was an honor to be chosen.”
Wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery
The chance to participate in one of these ceremonies is available to individual Scout units, and I encourage you to look into this opportunity. The moment has meaning that will remain with your Scouts for a long time.
FYI: You should make your request to Arlington National Cemetery well in advance.
Watch the changing of the guard and the wreath-laying ceremony
I filmed the events described live on Facebook, and you can watch a replay below.
The Scouts’ portion begins at about the 18:15 mark.
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Photos by Michael Roytek and Randy Piland. See more photos here.