Hurricane Sandy and the Tomb of the Unknowns

This photo is old. It was not taken during Hurricane Sandy. Despite the propaganda.

This photo is old. It was not taken during Hurricane Sandy. Despite the propaganda.

These guys (the Tomb Guards) are out there for 15 to 30 minutes at a time during inclement weather. Their warm and cushy barracks/office stands a mere 20 feet from their duty station.

Please excuse me if I’m not all that impressed by their “sacrifice” but I served in The Old Guard for 3 years with these prima donnas.   Personally, I find the whole thing hilarious.  Certainly, it is difficult to become a tomb guard.  As part of the process, a prospective tomb guard must memorize the whole of  Arlington National Cemetery.  They must also be able to locate within a moments notice and within 15 minutes of being asked any tomb, placard or grave marker within Arlington National Cemetery.  Lots of useless information since they are NOT ANC tour guides.

Again, please excuse me, if I’m not impressed with their standing out in the rain or snow for 20 or 30 minutes.


Especially after I spent two to three weeks at a time in a tent, fox hole or on guard duty in the Siberian winter like cold of the Koreas where there is no absolutely no break from the cold and your tent freezes over night, your boots are frozen so stiff that you can’t get your feet into them and your socks that you left out to dry over night are standing at a rigid, imitation of the position of attention and you have to spend 15 minutes holding them over the fire to thaw them out enough to put back on your cold, near frost bitten feet.

The Old Guard is a cush assignment.  It’s one of the easiest assignments in the Army.  Sure, it’s a pain in the butt getting ready for ceremonies constantly.  Burial duty is sad and an equal pain in the ass.  But it was an honor to be able to participate in placing a veteran or soldier honorably in his final resting place.  Regardless of how difficult the Army made the act for it’s living soldiers.

I’m impressed by the arduous and danger filled lives led by combat soldiers.  That impresses me.  Show me photos of men and women sharing the danger of actual combat and I’ll be impressed.

Show me a guy sleeping in the mud on a FOB because they’re waiting to go on convoy, HELL…I did that as a civilian in Afghanistan.  A guy sitting on a FOB safe and sound.  Not impressed.  A guy standing for 15 or 20 minutes in the rain or snow wearing nice, warm clothing and standing a mere 20 feet from warmth and comfort.  Not impressed.

I don’t care how pretty they are or how many gravestones they can locate in Arlington National Cemetery.

I completely understand why retired Vets who never served in The Old Guard and civilians fall under the spell of ANC and the Tomb Guard.  That’s the whole purpose of the operation.

I’ve been there.  Seen it.  Stood in the Tomb Office and chatted with the guards before they walked out to their post and conducted the changing of the guard.  I’ve drank with guys who were Tomb Guards out on the town in Northern Virginia, Georgetown and DC.

They’re good guys most of them.  They go through hell to get that damnable badge and once they get the badge, they are held to a life long standard against which award of that badge might be rescinded for failure to uphold said standard.

I love the Tomb Soldiers and the idea of eternal vigilance.  What irks hell and holy water out of me is when these guys are used as political pawn by right wing freaks attempting to guilt me into feeling some kind of duty to their ideological dogma.  Guarding the Tomb is an honor.  Let’s leave it at that.

I’ve seen the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at least a couple of dozen times.  There is a certain majesty to it.  There is greatness in a Nation honoring it’s fallen thusly.

I’ve laid flags in Arlington National Cemetery 3 years in a row for Memorial Day.  It was an honor to complete this mission in honor of our veterans and fallen soldiers.  There is a tingling in my spine even now, years later as I write about it.  Yet, let us leave the politics out of it.  Let it be an honor to our soldiers.  Let it not be an attack along partisan political lines.

When it comes to silly, partisan political propaganda like this, there is an old saying oft repeated by a First Sergeant of mine in the late ’80s; “Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining.”

Insignia of The Old Guard and Other Unique Army Units

I was incredibly lucky in my assignments in the Army.  I served in some unique organizations.

The Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in Sinai, Egypt.

United Nations Command Security Forces–Joint Security Area in Panmunjom, Republic of Korea.

A Company (CinC Guard), 3rd United States Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) at Fort McNair, Washington, District of Columbia and Fort Myer, Virginia.

While I was stationed at The Old Guard, I was also fortunate enough to attend the Jungle Warfare Training Center in Panama.  It was closed down shortly thereafter.

All interesting assignments that were outside of the US Army norm.  Unique experiences for which I’m thankful.

Only a couple more places that I wish I had been able to talk DA into assigning me.

1.  The Berlin Brigade — during the Cold War

2.  Honduras

They seem like they would have been equally unique assignments.

CinC Guard, Alpha Company 3rd US Infantry (TOG)

CinC Guard, Mount Vernon

I was stationed in The Old Guard from 1993-1997.  One of the best tours of service that I had in the Army.  I loved the pomp and ceremony of the Unit.  The Pride that every member of The Old Guard takes in their duties and responsibilities was amazing to me.  These guys, then and now, are professionals.  They endeavor to do everything the right way every time.

I was in Alpha Company.  The Commander in Chiefs Guard.  They wore the uniforms of Washington’s Guard detachment of the Colonial Army.  The assignment was unique.  We traveled to places like Yorktown and Williamsburg to put on demonstrations and participate in Colonial Ceremonies and Celebrations. We participated in ceremonies at the White House.  The CinC Guard is in every Presidential Inauguration on Capital Hill.  They line the steps of the Capital and “stand guard” for the whole of the ceremony.  Adding an extraordinary and realistic  touch of history to each iteration of the event.

Alpha Company is stationed at Fort McNair.  It’s the only unit of The Old Guard not on Fort Myer.  The primary mission is burial honors at Arllington National Cemetery and the CinC Guard Ceremonial Unit for the White House and other National Events.

I had a great time on Fort McNair and worked with a bunch of great guys while there.  Some with whom I still maintain contact.  Though we live on opposite sides of the planet.  CinC Guard is one experience in the Army for which I am hugely grateful.  It’s a different side of the military.  Yet, still and integral part of the whole as shown by the recent deployment of a detachment of The Old Guard to Djibouti.  They’re a bunch of pretty sons of bitches who can still fight.  Nothin’ wrong with that…

CINC GUARD!!!

Arlington National Cemetery Burial Honors (Enlisted vs. Officer)

SFC Durbin is currently serving a tour of duty in Iraq. He makes a few excellent points about the rendering of honors for our fallen soldiers at our Nations most prestigious National Military Cemetery.

While serving in The Army Honor Guard (The Old Guard) as a Full Honor Casket Team Squad Leader, I was responsible for carrying the Remains of deceased Army Officers on a regular basis, which included Former President Ronald Reagan. While there, I wondered why only Officers received Full Honor Funerals in Arlington National Cemetery (ANC), regardless of what they did or didn’t do in their careers. The difference between a Full and Standard Honor Funeral is dramatic. However, if one has not served in the Old Guard , one would never know the difference. In fact, the only way an Enlisted Service Member can receive a Full Honor Funeral is to be a Medal of Honor Recipient. The Medal of Honor is more often than not awarded posthumously. Well after burial.   Therefore, an Enlisted Medal of Honor Recipient would not receive Full Honors at time of burial.

Basically, a Full Honors at Arlington consists of the following:

  • Horse Drawn Caisson
  • Transfer from Chapel to gravesite
  • 8 pallbearers
  • Army Band
  • 1-2 escort marching Platoons
  • Cannon Salutes for General Officers
  • “Cap” Rider-less Horse(0-6 and above)
  • Firing Party
  • Bugler
  • Chaplain

A Standard Honors Funeral consists of the following:

  • Hearse Transfer
  • 6 Pallbearers
  • Firing Party
  • Bugler
  • Chaplain

Another common misconception is that CSM/SGMs receive Full Honors. In fact, they do not. In addition to the Standard Honors rendered above, a CSM/SGM is authorized a Caisson, 1 escort marching platoon and a drummer to keep escort platoon in-step while marching.

I would add that the above Special Officer Honors rendered at Arlington National Cemetery are not offered at any other National Cemetery in the United States. Why the discrimination. Is it simply a coincidence that Arlington National Cemetery is across the street from the Pentagon? Honors at Arlington should mirror those of our other National Cemeteries.

For the past year, I have been addressing this issue with various Veterans Organizations of which I am a member. As well, I have addressed them with Army Offices in Washington D.C. I have received little or no response. I’m currently addressing this with my Congressman’s Military Liaison. The ANC Superintendent sent me a response stating that he agreed with my position. However, he believed changes would be difficult to implement. I have talked to numerous Senior Officers and Senior Non-Commissioned Officers as well who support this and are addressing this in ways which they feel appropriate for them.

The bottom line is that a 2nd Lieutenant can die in a car accident 2 days after graduating Officer Candidate School. He will receive a Full Honor Funeral. Conversely, a Senior Enlisted member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard with 22 years of Service can die in Combat in Afghanistan or Iraq and be awarded a Silver Star for Valor. He or she receives a Standard Honor Funeral. In the most hallowed ground on American soil. A place which commands the respect of our nation. The burial ground of several Presidents. Audie Murphy. SGT York. Oliver Wendell Holmes, JR.

This issue deserves our attention. Honors rendered should be equal. Action based rather than rank. A panel should decide official criteria for Honors rendered based upon career, circumstances of death, combat record and the like. Not Rank. Funerals should be reminiscent of the Tombstones in Arlington. All the same.

At a minimum, all Service Members killed in Combat should receive a Full Honor Funeral. All other Service Members should have a simple funeral matching the eloquent simplicity of the white tombstones of Arlington National Cemetery themselves.

[This is from an email from SFC Durbin. I paraphrased and re-organized the email a bit before I posted it here.]

I served in The Old Guard from 1994-1997. I was in Alpha Company “CinC Guard” on Fort McNair. I understand what SFC Durbin is saying here. I have always felt that it is disgraceful the manner in which the US Military treats it’s Enlisted soldiers. Not only in death but in retirement as well as on active duty. Enlisted Retirees and Vets are discarded as if they are but so much waste in a dumpster. Such is my opinion.

I agree wholeheartedly with the above. Full Honors should be given to all of the Nations soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who fall in combat. These men and women have laid down their lives in the greatest sacrifice that our Nation could ask of anyone. They should be honored as if such were the case. What does rank matter at such a time. It should not.

Anyone who wishes to assist, can contact SFC Durbin at allen.durbin@us.army.mil or contact your Congressman or Senator.

Bill and Me

bill-clinton-and-dave-kaelin-1996-2.jpg

This picture was taken about a week after Kentucky won the 1996 NCAA Championship.

At that time, I was in The Old Guard. Stationed at Fort McNair, Washington, D.C. President Clinton ran on post all the time. It was a secure place. Relatively light risk. The Secret Service would swarm the post. Snipers on the rooftops. Bikers would be on post stopped at not so random points talkiing to the wind. Those huge Suburbans would be stationed at strategic points. All of them with their Tripod mounted .50 Caliber Machine Guns. The post would basically be closed down for a few hours on those days.

Each time he came on post, guys from Alpha Company would swarm the man. The first time that I met Bill, I was walking back from a dentist appointment. I saw a group of our soldiers surrounding someone directly in my path. About ten feet out, I realized that it was President Clinton. I was fairly surprised.

I had taken a copy of U.S. Grants Memoirs with me to read while I waited at the dentist’s office. So I walked on into the crowd and when I got the chance, I asked him to sign my book. He signed it and then asked me how I liked it. He told me that he had read it in college. He stood there and talked to me about U.S. Grant for about 5 minutes.

Changed my opinion of the man. I didn’t really like his policy on the military. But I grew to like the man.

In that picture, I walked up to him and asked him to take a picture with me. He actually talked to me a little about SEC Basketball. Being from Arkansas, he was, of course, a Hog fan. I wonder how he likes John Pelphrey these days.

I have to say. I really wasn’t a big Bill Clinton FP fan. Among other things, he made Yassar Arafat when he should have been hunting him down. He damn near shut down the military even as he upped the tempo with deployments to the Balkans. One thing that I did like was that the move out of Germany and into Eastern Europe started during his Presidency. I don’t know how much he had to do with it. It was a good move.

I knew that eventually President Clinton would be back to McNair. So I had this picture enlarged to get it signed. The next time that I caught him on post, I ran out to try to get him to sign it. I was a bit late. He was already getting back in to his ride. So I approached the vehicle but was cut off by a Secret Service Agent. The guy took the picture from me and promised to get it signed for me. As they drove away, I realized that I hadn’t given him my name.

I thought that was it. No signature and no pic.

About two weeks later, my First Sergeant called me up to his office. I walked in as a guy in a suit walked out. 1SG Thompson looks at me strangely and hands me a large yellow envelope. I open it there in his office and start laughing. The envelope contains the picture signed;

To SGT Kaelin

Thank you for your service to your country.

Bill Clinton

Pretty Sweet!

My Personal experiences with Clinton were great. The man always seemed to have a moment to spare for Joe Soldier. That’s enough for me to give him some respect. I may not have liked all of his policies. Even so, he was a really cool guy. I always thought that he’d be a great guy with whom to hang out, watch a ball game and down a few beers.