An American soldier only dies when they are forgotten, and a Tomb Guard never forgets. These men and women are few, only 621 of them have stood watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier since 1958. But why do they remember? Why do they stand guard 365 days a year, seven days a week, 24 hours a day? These questions and more were answered by the newest of the Tomb Guards, or Sentinels — Riley Krebsbach.
Riley, badge number 621, has been defending the tomb for little more than a year, but when asked, he says that one year has been the greatest service he could do for our country even after his three previous years of enlistment. The Unknowns represent past, present, and future soldiers whose sacrifice have cost them their lives, and have never been identified; it is the duty of a sentinel to ensure their honorable service lives on forever.
"That kind of dedication must need a core value, more important than the rest, what do you think that is for you?" I asked.
In a proud voice, he responded, "Motivation, respect, honor for your fellow servicemembers, work ethic, and above all ... integrity. There have been so few of us because not many understand that to be a guard, you have to truly care for what your protecting."
Sentinels conduct many ceremonies to portray this value of integrity. One of which includes the wreath-laying ceremony, in which a crafted wreath is set before the unknowns as a sign of respect by presidents, past and present, elementary school groups, and highly decorated service personnel.
Riley said that among those who has stood out to him is a recent Medal of Honor recipient.
"I had the an amazing opportunity to meet Medal of Honor recipient, Sergeant 1st Class Leroy Petry when he came to pay respect to the tomb."
Arlington is home to the souls of American soldiers dating as far back as the origin of our country, and hallowed grounds of the Unknown Soldiers. Such history and loss will be represented for many years to come.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier represents honor and sacrifice, and the duty that lives on in all of us to understand the freedoms we so often take for granted. Sentinels have the most highly respected position in the United States military, and that is to stand guard for the unknowns to always be remembered, thought not by name, but by valor.
Inscribed on the tomb, there is a statement written to all who come to pay their respects. "Here lies an American soldier, known but to God."
And forever standing before these words, will be Guards, such as Riley.
"We are here, and we want you to know we will always be here."
(Photo copyrighted to Niccole Beavers)