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Tomb Guard Earns Badge After His Final Watch

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Tomb Guard Earns Badge After His Final Watch

"Conducting a final walk at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a high honor for a Tomb Guard of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), as is earning the Tomb Guard Identification Badge. However, to do both on the same day is a rare event. That’s just what happened to Staff Sgt. Thomas Tavenner on March 11, 2024.

At noon, when Tavenner completed guarding the Tomb, he walked to the southern end of Memorial Plaza, where the ceremony's host, Spc. Wyatt Stearns, told him “Staff Sgt. Thomas Tavenner, for the last time fall out.” Instead of leaving the plaza, Tavenner handed his rifle to a waiting Tomb Guard and returned to the center of the plaza, where a sergeant first class, along with Tavenner’s parents and grandfather, awaited him.

Tavenner took off his sunglasses and gloves and gave them to the sergeant, who, in return, handed Tavenner five red roses. Tavenner shook his father’s hand and hugged his mother, giving her a rose. Then, in the disciplined cadence the Tomb Guards are known for, he walked to the Tomb of the World War I Unknown, dropped to one knee, and laid a rose at its base. He did the same for the Vietnam War, World War II, and Korean War Unknowns.

Once he finished, Tavenner saluted the Tomb as a bugler sounded Taps. He then escorted his parents and grandfather away from the Tomb for the last time.

But the day was not over. Soon after, Tavenner stood in the center of the chapel under the Memorial Amphitheater, in front of his family, his fellow Guards, and guests as he awaited the presentation of his Tomb Badge. Tomb Guards earn the badge after completing five phases of testing. It is considered one of the most challenging badges to earn in the U.S. Army.

Commander of the Guard, 1st Lt. Henry Newstrom, overseeing the ceremony, explained why Tavenner had his last walk on the same day as earning his Tomb Badge. “Despite our best efforts to retain Sgt. Tavenner,” said Newstrom, “our Army Human Resources Command needs recruiters, so he will be recruiting in Norfolk, Nebraska.”

Then Newstrom read out a list of Tavenner’s accomplishments. “Over the past eleven months, Staff Sgt. Tavenner has completed 210 walks and 102 public wreath-laying ceremonies,” he said. “He has walked ceremonially for over 111 miles while guarding the Unknowns —a distance that will get you to Richmond, Virginia, Ocean City, New Jersey, or Philadelphia.”

Then Newstrom explained something even more impressive: A twelve-hour post guarding the Tomb from dusk to dawn is known as a vigil. Similarly, an ironman consists of performing a back-to-back guard change, followed immediately by a vigil. Newstrom said that Tavenner conducted 14 vigils, with two of those being ironmans, an average of one vigil per month. “That is honestly incredible,” said Newstrom. “What you did to support your relief and our team as a whole is awesome.” from the video introduction

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