By Cheryl K. Chumley
The Washington Times
Thursday, February 13, 2014 <script height="360px" width="640px" src="http://player.ooyala.com/iframe.js#ec=pxbDRuazozMPwczy7oAFgOKA5EBOZCa1&pbid=7d6243b6b5f74a6fb09a179d33842db2"></script>
The federal government may have shut its doors due to weather conditions — but the guards tasked to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier aren’t so quick to abandon their posts.
With what’s being billed as the storm of the season dumping inches of snow on the Washington, D.C., region, leaving a cloud of closures in its wake — Capitol Hill, area schools, airports, Metro bus service and almost all government offices in Maryland, the capital city and Virginia — the stalwart sentries for some of America’s most revered military sites stand tall and fast.
The Society of the Honor Guard's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier website sees its mission this way: “The guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (we call ourselves ‘Sentinels’) are completely dedicated to their duty of guarding the Tomb. Because of that dedication, the weather does not bother them. In fact, they consider it an honor to stand their watch (we call it ‘walking the mat’), regardless of the weather. It gets cold, it gets hot — but the Sentinels never budge. And they never allow any feeling of cold or heat to be seen by anyone.”
Sergeant of the Guard, Sgt. 1st Class Tanner Welch, said to Washington Times‘ Alex Swoyer that the guarding of the Tomb of the Unknowns started in 1926 — and that it’s been a 24-hour, round-the-clock mission since 1937.
As the website said, sentries’ safety is still a factor, however.
“The accomplishment of the mission and welfare of the Soldier is never put at risk. The Tomb Guards have contingencies that are ready to be executed IF the weather conditions ever place the Soldiers at risk of injury or death — such as lightning, high winds, etc. This ensures that Sentinels can maintain the Tomb Guard responsibilities while ensuring soldier safety. It is the responsibility of the Chain of Command from the Sergeant of the Guard to the Regimental Commander to ensure mission accomplishment and soldier welfare at all times.”
That being said — even Hurricane Isabel didn’t shut down the sentries.
Weather conditions in the region, meanwhile, are continuing to roar.
The National Weather Service reported nearly a foot of snow in Rockville, Md., by 6 a.m. At least 6 inches covered the ground at National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport. More than 300 flights were canceled, VRE was shut and Amtrak was running reduced service through the Northeast. Metro, meanwhile, had put a stop to its bus service.
Meteorologists predict snow will continue to fall in parts of the region throughout the day, turn to freezing rain in some localities, and ultimately move slowly up the Eastern Corridor of I-95, dropping inches of snow in its wake and possibly leaving thousands without power.
Spc. Jacob Davenport, Sentinel, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), walks his 21 steps as the snow starts falling at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Va. (Army photo)