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Posted: 12/29/2003 9:29:49 PM EST
December 19, 2003

Ceremonial no more: ‘The Old Guard’ prepares for combat

By Patricia Kime
Special to the Times

Members of the Army’s most famous ceremonial unit are swapping their dress blues for BDUs as they prepare to deploy for U.S. Central Command operations.
Bravo Company, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, from Fort Myer, Va., a unit of The Old Guard, is heading overseas right before Christmas. They’ve been told they will be gone for six months or more.

The deployment is the first for a unit in the regiment since the Vietnam War.

The Army isn’t officially saying when the soldiers are leaving or where they are going, but the company is to join the global war on terrorism, working in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.

The small African nation, about the size of Massachusetts, is seen as a strategic base for its proximity to Somalia and Sudan, former strongholds of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. It also lies across the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden from Yemen, where the destroyer Cole was attacked in 2000.

The pending deployment is uncommon for a unit known largely for ceremony. The company is one of six that rotates duties such as guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., escorting caskets at Dover Air Force Base, Del., and serving as the honor guard for the U.S. president.

The unit received deployment orders the last week of October and has been immersed in pre-deployment training ever since.

Training work-ups included exercises at Fort A.P. Hill near Bowling Green, Va., and the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., in November.

According to Bravo Company 1st Sgt. Michael Coleman, the unit was selected because it was “in the chute” for scheduled infantry training. The Old Guard, in addition to its ceremonial duties, is required to maintain fighting skills and routinely trains outside the Washington, D.C., area.

“All the companies train for contingency missions year-round,” said Coleman said. “This is our opportunity to put our training to use.”

But rarely do unit soldiers embark on long-term deployments. The order surprised both soldiers and family members who see a stint in The Old Guard as a tour of honor, not of deployments.

Unit members leave periodically for events that require pomp and circumstance, but don’t routinely leave for extended periods.

“At first it was a shock, quite honestly,” said company commander Capt. Michael J. Trotter. “Then it was exciting. Then it turned to ‘OK, how do I ready this company to deploy?’”

In less than two months, the company transformed from a spit-shined ceremonial detail to full combat readiness, he said.

“It’s been absolutely amazing,” said Trotter, a former company commander with the 82nd Airborne Division.

With an increased operations tempo, the Army has lengthened deployments, kept reservists on active duty for extended periods, called up National Guard units and redeployed units after little down time. Some see The Old Guard deployment as yet another sign that the Army is stretched too thin.

Others, including Dan Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a think-tank based in Washington, agree that the deployment is a sign of an active Army, but added that it also may be seen as a “solution to the problem.

This may be a sign of fairness to have units that don’t normally deploy bear some of the burden,” he said.

Bravo Company members, 90 percent of whom are infantry soldiers, say they are ready to do their share.

“To me, it means the Army is actually smarter. Why should you go to National Guard and reserve units when you have active duty who is not deployed?” Trotter said.

The Guard last deployed as a regiment in World War II. Battalion-sized elements of the 3rd U.S. Infantry deployed in Vietnam, and some members served as replacements in the Korean War. The historic significance of the deployment is not lost on Bravo Company members, Coleman said.

“It’s huge, but I tell you we are trained to fight and win, emotionally, physically and mentally.”

Overseas, Bravo Company certainly will meet a stereotype many foreigners have of Americans: tall, strong and somewhat larger than life. Male soldiers in The Old Guard are required to be at least five-foot 10-inches tall, must look sharp in uniform and meet stringent physical requirements.

“We don’t realize psychologically how much of an effect we have on people. When we hit the pavement at JRTC with all our gear on, the people there said ‘Holy Cow, you guys are huge.’ We are able to dominate a situation without even firing a weapon,” Trotter said.

But looks aside, Bravo Company is well-equipped and trained, Coleman said. “We are better trained to fight and win and that’s the bottom line. These guys are hoo-ha.”
Link Posted: 12/29/2003 9:38:18 PM EST
Originally Posted By KA3B:
“We are better trained to fight and win and that’s the bottom line. These guys are hoo-ha.”
View Quote

Well, they do have a lot of Dog and Pony shows under their belts.  

Christ are we that hard up?
Link Posted: 12/29/2003 9:43:22 PM EST
I heard about this a little bit ago... little over a month ago.  I'm on leave from basic training right now for the holidays.  When I was still in reception an old guard recruiter came by and told us about this.  Apparently the old guard is going thru alot of changes.  Pretty cool... I've always thought having a strictly ceremonial unit was kind of stupid.

The recruiter also said the old guard was supposed to be the first unit to get issued the land warrior system.  Maybe thats BS.. I have no clue.
Link Posted: 12/29/2003 9:47:51 PM EST
I thought that you guys would be all for it.
Link Posted: 12/29/2003 9:52:17 PM EST
During Gulf War I Gen Al Gray Commandant of the Marine Corps, ordered a Company from 8th and I (Marine Bks. Washington, DC ) to the gulf as a replacement company. Not sure what action they saw, I think they were attached to 1st MarDiv. I was with 2nd MarDiv.
I live near AP Hill and have seen the old guard in action in the field on exercises, for a ceremonial Army unit they seem to have their shit in one bag.
Link Posted: 12/29/2003 9:54:22 PM EST
I too am wondering if our troops are stretched that thin that we need to deploy this unit. I'm not against it, just concerned.
Link Posted: 12/29/2003 10:53:23 PM EST
[Last Edit: 12/29/2003 10:53:38 PM EST by Sukebe]
Originally Posted By gunny345:

they seem to have their shit in one bag.
View Quote

Now there's a good old Marine Corps phrase!
Link Posted: 12/30/2003 1:10:35 AM EST
Yep, 1st thing that went through my mind is this is because we are stretched to thin.
And the recruiter says I'm to old.
Link Posted: 12/30/2003 2:19:38 AM EST
Originally Posted By Sukebe:
Originally Posted By gunny345:

they seem to have their shit in one bag.
View Quote

Now there's a good old Marine Corps phrase!
View Quote

Having one's shit in one bag was a good thing even when I was in the Corps in the '60s. [:D]

Link Posted: 12/30/2003 2:40:57 AM EST
Originally Posted By dskeet:
The recruiter also said the old guard was supposed to be the first unit to get issued the land warrior system.  Maybe thats BS.. I have no clue.
View Quote

Is that a good thing because some of the kinks will get worked out by a part of the regiment that isn't going to see combat.

Or is it a bad thing because it keeps new gear away from front-line units.

Or are those the guys being shipped over?

Good luck to them anyway.

Link Posted: 12/30/2003 3:12:00 AM EST
whats hoo-ha?

Is that like Who hash?
Link Posted: 12/30/2003 3:21:19 AM EST
[Last Edit: 12/30/2003 4:15:01 AM EST by 95thFoot]
Originally Posted By Sukebe:
Originally Posted By KA3B:
“We are better trained to fight and win and that’s the bottom line. These guys are hoo-ha.”
View Quote

Well, they do have a lot of Dog and Pony shows under their belts.  

Christ are we that hard up?
View Quote

We might be.

They are very good at their drill, but it's a strange sort of drill, and, like their odd uniforms, is not representative of any thing that was ever done in the US Army historically.

(Edited to add: they were in tricorn hats, some sort of 18th century-inspired uniform, wore white wigs, and carried muskets.)

As a reenactor, our group and several others appeared together with the US Army's Old Guard at the 225th anniv. reenactment of the Battle of Brooklyn of the American Revolution, (one month before 9/11) much of which was fought in, well, Brooklyn, NY, specifically Battery Park. Our group are [url=http://www.najecki.com/40thfoot/40index.html]Redcoats[/url], and we spent some time talking with these guys.

First and foremost, they seemed to think [b]we[/b] were active duty members of the modern-day British Army. "But y'all don't talk like you're from England..."[lol]

When they found out we were, (ahem), [b]not[/b] British and [b]not[/b] real soldiers [:O], they seemed incredulous that we would be doing this as a hobby. "Ya mean, y'all do this shit for fun?" said one.....[rolleyes]

Edited to add: one guy asked us: "How come you guys wanna be the bad guys?"

"What bad guys?"

"You - the British."

"Hey", we said- "we ARE the good guys. In 1775, America was British. We're the Federal government of 1775, and we're here to protect the American people against illegal gun-toting rebels. What would you guys think and do if there were some people in the USA who wanted to take over the government by violent means?"

"We'd kick their asses" was the answer.

"Would you ever rebel against your own government?"

"No, never."

I replied: "Congratulations- you'd have made very good Tories- and very good British soldiers- in 1775." [shock]
Link Posted: 12/30/2003 3:57:28 AM EST
Yeah, what about the M-14 thing????

A friend of mine who I went through Basic with went to the Old Guard. Now this was 20 years ago but he said when they went to the field they took their M-14's in synthetic stocks (so as to not ding up their pretty parade stocks). Maybe they will deploy with M-14's, huh? After all, we have seen them being dragged out of storage a lot here lately in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As far as the "stretched thin" thing goes, watch what happens after the 2004 elections. Local draft boards are already taking volunteers to staff them....
Link Posted: 12/30/2003 4:13:11 AM EST
Keep in mind that these guys are highly motivated, well disciplined infantry soldiers.  True, they may be assigned to a unit that is traditionally non-combat but I'm sure every single one of them is in top shape and ready to do the job. To say they aren't is just stupid. Compared to my Reserve Component buddies that were activated and deployed there would be no contest.
Link Posted: 12/30/2003 4:23:44 AM EST
this Gunny345 character is alright...i say we keep him HAHAHAHA
Link Posted: 12/30/2003 5:11:58 AM EST
This is not unusual.  They did a mission for my organization about six years ago.  They did a good job.
Link Posted: 12/30/2003 7:40:36 PM EST
You know I have my shit in one bag the only problem is I forget where I left the bag.......
Link Posted: 12/30/2003 8:37:53 PM EST
My unit trained with them at NTC, they had a good grasp of the fundamentals. [inside joke]Sucks that their fighting positions had to be so deep.[/inside joke]
Link Posted: 12/30/2003 9:01:32 PM EST
[Last Edit: 12/30/2003 9:02:41 PM EST by Phil_in_Seattle]
Sucks that their fighting positions had to be so deep
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That's what happens when you're tall. (of course some of us need deep and wide fighting positions)

I find the 5'10" requirement odd though, I'd figure they'd want tall soldiers, get them 6'2" or so.  [:D]

Looks like an M14 to me
"Also on display in "The Old Guard Today" room are the three rifles currently used by the 3rd Infantry for ceremonies and other demonstrations: the model-1776 British Brown Bess musket, the M-1903A3 Springfield rifle and [u]the M-14 rifle.[/u] The Brown Bess and the Springfield are originals, while those actually used by the unit today are reproductions or altered versions"

These are [b]NOT[/b] toy soldiers!


The 3rd U.S. Infantry, traditionally known as "The Old Guard," is the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army, serving our nation since 1784.

The Old Guard is the Army's official ceremonial unit and escort to the president, and it also provides security for Washington, D.C., in time of national emergency or civil disturbance.

The unit received its unique name from Gen. Winfield Scott during a victory parade at Mexico City in 1847 following its valorous performance in the Mexican War. Fifty campaign streamers attest to the 3rd Infantry's long history of service, which spans from the Battle of Fallen Timbers to World War II and Vietnam.

Since World War II, The Old Guard has served as the official Army Honor Guard and escort to the president. In that capacity, 3rd Infantry soldiers are responsible for the conduct of military ceremonies at the White House, the Pentagon, national memorials and elsewhere in the nation's capital. In addition, soldiers of The Old Guard maintain a 24-hour vigil at the Tomb of the Unknowns, provide military funeral escorts at Arlington National Cemetery and participate in parades at Fort Myer and Fort Lesley J. McNair.

Along with these duties, The Old Guard presents historic theatrical productions to audiences in the Washington, D.C., area. One show, "Twilight Tattoo," is presented weekly during the summer at the White House Ellipse. The show is free and open to the public.

The Old Guard annually participates in more than 6,000 ceremonies, an average of 16 per day.

Despite this arduous schedule, The Old Guard continuously prepares for its security and infantry missions by conducting year-round training, culminating in a rigorous evaluation of unit tactical proficiency. Because of this, all soldiers are as familiar with traditional infantry or military-police duties as they are with ceremonial duties.

The black-and-tan "buff strap" worn on the left shoulder by each member of the 3rd Infantry is a replica of the knapsack strap used by 19th-century predecessors of the unit to display its distinctive colors and distinguish its members from other Army units. The present buff strap continues to signify an Old Guard soldier's pride in personal appearance and precision performance that has marked the unit for 200 years.

A further distinction of The Old Guard is the time-honored custom of passing in review with fixed bayonets at all parades. This practice, officially sanctioned by the War Department in 1922, dates to the Mexican War in 1847 when the 3rd Infantry led a successful bayonet charge against the enemy at Cerro Gordo. Today, this distinction is still reserved for The Old Guard alone.

Link Posted: 12/30/2003 9:36:33 PM EST
Some of you seem to think it is unusual for this unit to be deploying.

What is REALLY unusual is we just had multiple Marines post nothing but GOOD things about an Army unit.

Is the world coming to an end? [:)]

Oh - and 3rd Infantry Regiment isn't the only unit that passes in review with fixed bayonets - perhaps others do it without such high level and hostorical sanction, but many other infantry units do; 1st and 2nd battalion of the 9th Infantry (Manchus) did every time I saw them in changes of command when I was in 2ID.
Link Posted: 12/30/2003 9:53:15 PM EST
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