The Old Guard: My Experience as a Soldier

Today, I want to write about my experience as a Soldier in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, The Old Guard.  In case you don’t know much about the Old Guard, here is a brief overview.

  • The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as the Old Guard is the oldest Active Duty Regiment in the U.S. Army
  • The regiment’s mission is to conduct memorial affairs to honor fallen comrades and ceremonies and special events to represent the U.S. Army, communicating its story to United States citizens and the world. On order, it conducts defense support of civil authorities in the National Capital Region and deploys elements in support of overseas contingency operations.
  • They are the Army’s Presidential Escort and Official Ceremonial Unit in the Army
  • Some of their subordinate units include the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, the Continental Color Guard, the Caisson Platoon, the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard, the Army Drill Team, the Fife and Drum Corps, the Escort Platoon, and Pershing’s Own Army Band
  • There are three active battalions within the Regiment

Source: Wikipedia

My Story

I was fortunate enough to serve in the Old Guard from October 1996 to December 1998.

Prior to serving in the Old Guard I was a 71L (Admin Specialist) assigned to Fort Leonardwood, Missouri as a medical holdover.  I had orders to go to Korea. I was a medical hold for some dental work (root canal)  and I while I was on medical hold they had me working in the G1 Office.  During that time, an Old Guard Recruiter (SSG Champion) visited Fort Leonardwood, Missouri on TDY.

He visited the G1 Office and him and I got talking.  He educated me about the Old Guard and asked if I would be interested in serving in the unit.  I said YES.  Although I had to get a waiver for the height requirement (I’m a short dude by their standards), I met all of the other requirements.  Within a day or two, my orders were amended and I was headed to Fort Myer, Virginia.

old guard photo

I’m actually in this photo!

I arrived at Fort Myer, Virginia and was immediately assigned to the Headquarters Company.  My Company Commander was Captain Goins.  They placed me as a clerk in the S3 Office.  I spent a little over two years in the S3 Office and worked my way up to the rank of E-4 (Specialist).

I served with some amazing officers and NCOs in the S3 Office.  SFC Childress and SSG Hairston were my supervisors.  I also worked with SSG Bishop, CPT Hughes and CPT Agee.  Everyone was very professional, knowledgeable and helpful.  They took good care of me, mentored me well, and provided a good example to follow.

I was a hard worker, but I liked to party and I had a bad attitude.  I’m sure it was difficult to supervise me at times; and probably very frustrating at times.

After a couple years of working hard, learning how to be a good Soldier, and going to college, I applied for the Army’s Green to Gold Program and was accepted.  I ended up leaving the Old Guard in December 1998 to attend the Clarkson Army ROTC Program in upstate New York.

Here are a couple of my achievements while I was in the Old Guard (from an award I was presented):

  • Participated in more than 60 ceremonies as usher or S&T’s including twenty Department of the Army Retirement and General Officer Cermemonies, over ten Twilight Tattoo Ceremonies, 8 America’s Army in Review Ceremonies and numerous Arrival Ceremonies at Whipple Field.
  • Participated in President Clinton’s 1997 Inaugural Ceremony
  • Earned my Associate’s Degree from Northern Virginia Community College

What I Loved About the Experience

Here are a few things I really loved about my experience in the Old Guard:

# 1 Location – Fort Myer, Virginia is in the greater D.C. area.  There is so much to see and do.  I got the opportunity to see all the historical sites and also enjoy the downtown nightlife.  Being a guy from small town Maine, this was an exciting change!

# 2 The Mission – The mission of the Old Guard is much different than most Active Duty Army units.  They are the official ceremonial unit of the Army and the Presidential Escort.  They do all types of ceremonies in Arlington National Cemetery and the greater Washington D.C. area. I enjoyed doing the ceremonies and parades.

# 3 The Leadership – The Old Guard is very selective about their leadership teams.  I had TREMENDOUS NCOs and Officers to work with/for.  I didn’t realize it at the time, because I was so young and inexperienced.  I now know that all personnel are hand picked for the Old Guard.  Some of the best leaders I ever worked for were in that unit: CPT Goins, CPT Hughes, CPT Dickey, CPT Agee, SGM Hoban, SFC Childress, MSG Wheeler, etc.

# 4 The People – I served with a bunch of great guys and gals and met lots of good friends.  We looked out for each other and built memories that will last a life time.

# 5 The Environment – While I served in the Old Guard, it was pretty much a Garrison environment.  That means I had the opportunity to go to college at night.  Also, we didn’t deploy and we rarely went to the field other than to qualify with our assigned weapon.  Please note, I’m not sure if the unit is still that way or not.

# 6 The High Standards – Another thing I really admired about the Old Guard is the high standards they have for everyone.  They expect people to exceed the Army standards.  Their level of professionalism and attention to detail is phenomenal, and much higher than most Army units.

Reflecting On My Experience

Hindsight is always 20-20.  I must admit that I am VERY grateful to have had the opportunity to serve in the Old Guard.  I can look back with great pride and be proud of my service.  I even have some of my mementos from the Old Guard hanging in my office at home.

To be quite frank with, you I really didn’t appreciate the opportunity that was given to me at the time.  I was a young man with a bad attitude and a chip on my shoulder.  I didn’t “soak in” the experience like I should have: the opportunity to be in such a good unit with such tremendous leaders.   If I was to go back now, I’m sure I would appreciate the experience much more than I did at the time.

If you are fortunate enough to get assigned to this amazing unit, consider yourself lucky.  Learn what you can, enjoy the experience and excel your career!

Final Thoughts

In summary, I was very fortunate to serve in the Old Guard from October 1996 to December 1998.  The lessons I learned in the Old Guard still live within me today.  If you ever get the opportunity to serve in this wonderful unit, DO IT!  It will be the experience of a lifetime and probably the best experience of your military career.

What are your thoughts?  If you’ve ever served in the Old Guard, I would love to hear from you.  Please leave a comment below to tell us when you served, what unit you were in and what your experience was like.  I look forward to hearing from you.

You can read more about the Old Guard here!

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6 thoughts on “The Old Guard: My Experience as a Soldier”

  1. Sounds like you were in the right place at the right time when that recruiter came along. What an amazing way to serve your country. You spent two years with a front-row seat witnessing history. It’s great to work in an environment where everyone is a professional, but man, the Old Guard, that is one elite unit! If you hadn’t gone Green to Gold, would you have tried to stay longer?

  2. An excellent account of your experiences in the Old Guard. It sounds like a great unit filled with tradition and quality people.

    I would recommend that if you have any interest in something like the Old Guard or any other ceremonial post that you give it a try. Most of those units are looking for quality people and the experience can be very rewarding both personally and professionally.

  3. I enjoy reading about your experiences and adventures in the service. You have a healthy ability to look back and see what you did right, and admit what you might have done wrong, and learn from both. How great that you had the opportunity to serve in the Old Guard. You must have really impressed that visiting recruiter, considering that he was willing to overlook that height requirement for you. Thanks for serving!

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