VA honors the unidentified brave service members who made the ultimate sacrifice. This Veterans Day, we honor the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We will not forget the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice but were never identified or returned.
We also recognize the sentinels of The Old Guard who serve to protect this eternal resting place, day and night. The history of guarding the Tomb includes the contributions of our nation’s five women sentinels who wear the Tomb Guard badge – and their journey to be allowed to hold this honored role.
“…this soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.”
The last line of the sentinel’s creed underscores the sacred duty of the sentinel – keeping a careful watch over the Tomb every hour of every day.
The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) has served our nation since 1784 and is the Army’s oldest active regiment. The Old Guard is the Army’s official ceremonial unit, escort to the president, and guard of the Tomb of the Unknowns.
The Old Guard is a combat unit. Before 2015, women were not permitted to serve in most combat roles. In the early 1980s, women were allowed to join The Old Guard for ceremonial purposes, such as serving in the Fife and Drum Corps.
In 1994, the decorated 289th Military Police Company became attached to The Old Guard. This MP branch is a combat support unit which includes women. The reactivation and attachment of the 289th MP Company provided the first opportunity for women to serve as sentinels.
Sgt. 1st Class Chelsea Porterfield, Sergeant of the Guard, 4th Battalion, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment, 2020.
Of the nearly 700 who have earned the Tomb Guard Identification Badge, five have been women.
In 1996, Sgt. Heather Johnson became the first service woman to earn the prestigious Tomb Guard Identification Badge. The following year, Sgt. Danyell Wilson became the first Black woman to earn the badge. In 1998, Staff Sgt. Tonya Bell became the third woman to earn the badge and the first woman to serve as relief commander.
When all military occupational specialties were opened to women in 2015, more women earned the badge. Sgt. Ruth Hanks earned her badge in 2015, and Sgt. 1st Class Chelsea Porterfield earned hers in 2021. Porterfield was also the first woman sergeant of the guard.
On Sept. 29, 2021, Porterfield made history again. She completed her final walk at the Tomb and conducted a changing of the guard ceremony in the first all-women shift change in 84 years, on the 30,770th day of continuous guarding.
“And with dignity and perseverance my standard will remain perfection.”
Line six of the sentinel’s creed “… my standard will remain perfection,” can often be heard as sentinels speak with each other and their chain of command. Sentinels, whether women or men, are the most elite Soldiers of The Old Guard.
They must meet strict physical requirements to be eligible to volunteer for this role. Women must meet the exact same requirements as men but they have a minimum height of 5’8″ versus 5’10” for men.
“Through the years of diligence and praise, and the discomfort of the elements…”
Sentinels have guarded the Tomb 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, since 1937. As mentioned in line eight of the sentinel’s creed, they also serve through “the discomfort of the elements” – in any weather conditions, even during a hurricane.
Throughout the year and especially this month, VA honors the service and sacrifice of our nation’s Veterans, especially POW/MIA and the unknown, and the women who have stepped into the prestigious role of guarding the Tomb.
No matter their era, branch or role, VA recognizes the millions of Veterans who have protected our freedom – and protected the final resting place of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
“Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God.”
– Inscription on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
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Every woman Veteran is welcome at VA. It is our honor to provide you with high quality, comprehensive health care from clinicians who understand and respect you. We strive to make our centers a welcoming and comfortable place for you to receive your health care.
Learn more about women’s health at VA – and access the benefits and services you have earned and deserve through your service. The Women Veterans Call Center can help you get started. Call, text or chat online as often as you need: 855-829-6636.