Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

June 4, 2013
Twenty-one steps: reflections on duty, honor and privilege

Suppose you had the following job. Stand ramrod straight, and maintain that ramrod posture, come what may—oppressive cold or oppressive heat, wind, rain, snow or shine. Maintain it through driving rain, blinding snow, and sometimes even in gale-force winds.

While maintaining that ramrod posture, execute the following maneuvers. Take twenty-one steps—not sauntering steps; not jaunty steps; not the sometimes-lazy, imprecise steps that often we’re prone to take; but twenty-one precise steps, each one measured with care so that all of them are as equal, as identical, as possible.

Strike one foot against the other smartly, so as to make just the proper sound, and make a precise quarter-turn to your left—not a fifth of a turn, not a third of a turn, but a precise, carefully-executed quarter-turn. Repeat this procedure, again taking care to make just the proper sound and to make a precise, carefully-executed quarter turn.

Take another twenty-one steps—precise steps, each one measured with care so that all of them are as equal, as identical, as possible. Repeat the strike-and-quarter-turn procedure twice, taking care to make just the proper sound and executing each turn precisely and with care.

Now repeat the whole process in its entirety – over and over again, in half-hour or hour-long shifts depending on the time of year. Do it in attire that is designed for anything but comfort and which, while it may provide warmth in fall and winter, also is oppressively hot during much of the warmer part of the year.

And which is more, not only are you expected to execute each of these tasks with precision, you are subjected to a strict protocol, even the smallest, seemingly most-inane violation of which will subject you to discipline.

This job doesn’t sound very appealing, does it? In fact, it sounds downright repetitive, boring, and even oppressive, doesn’t it? But that’s not how members of the U.S. Army’s Third Infantry Regiment (also known as The Old Guard) see it. Indeed, to them, it is not just a job—it is a cherished duty, an honor, and a privilege.

It is a way for them to pay the utmost respect to those who have given what President Abraham Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion” to their country. Volunteers from the regiment, who have successfully completed a rigorous selection and training process, guard the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

The Tomb of the Unknowns contains the remains of unknown soldiers who fought in World Wars I and II and Korea. It also contained the remains of a once-unknown soldier who fought in Vietnam until his remains were identified and his family reburied him elsewhere.

People of various cultures, races, and socioeconomic and religious backgrounds come from far and wide to witness the changing of the guard ceremony at the tomb. No doubt, they have varying opinions about the conflicts that have led to the burials there.

But at the tomb, debates about the rightness or wrongness of any given conflict fade into insignificance. What matters is that those who sacrificed so much were willing to answer the call of their country. May we ever remember, and never forget.

Tooele resident Ken K. Gourdin is a certified paralegal.

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