By Matt Forck
Freedom is misnamed because it isn't free-it comes with a high price. This high price has been paid by many thousands of young men and women since our country's birth. This high price has not only been paid for with the lives of those fallen, but also in the mourning and grieving of the families left behind. To honor those who have fallen, our country goes to great lengths to manicure, care for and guard the places where they now lie. The greatest of these honors is paid to four fallen soldiers laid to rest in the Tomb of the Unknown Solder-The Unknown of World War I, The Unknown of World War II, The Unknown of the Korean War and The Unknown of the Vietnam War.
With great reverence, honor and ritual we continue to celebrate the freedom these brave men and women gained for us by exercising great responsibility. The responsibility lies in the commitment we have made to them. There is no better example of commitment and responsibility than that of one who guards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The guard marches 21 steps in one direction, symbolizing a 21-gun salute, which is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary. After 21 steps, the guard will hesitate 21 seconds, again to represent a 21-gun salute. The gloves are moistened to prevent them from losing their grip on the rifle. They carry the rifle on the shoulder away from the tomb. After marching across the path, an about face is executed and the rifle is repositioned to the outside shoulder.
It is rumored that to be able to apply for guard duty one must meet certain criteria. He must be between 5-foot-10-inches and 6-foot-2-inches tall and his waist size cannot exceed 30 inches. Guards must commit two years of their lives to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty. They cannot swear in public and otherwise disgrace the uniform or tomb. After two years, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapel signifying they served as guard of the tomb. There are only some 400 pins presently worn.
Shoes are made with thick soles to keep the heat and cold from their feet. There are metal heel plates that extend to the top of the shoe to make the loud click as they come to a halt. There are no wrinkles, folds or lint on the uniform. Guards dress for duty before a full-length mirror. Every guard spends many hours a day getting his uniforms ready for guard duty and spends 30 minutes per shift guarding the tomb.
It is also rumored that for the first six months of duty a guard cannot talk to anyone, nor watch TV. All off-duty time is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. A guard must memorize who they are and where they are interred. Among the notables are: President Taft; Joe E. Lewis, the boxer; and Medal of Honor winner Audie Murphy-the most decorated soldier of World War II.
These guards honor the tomb 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Because of the danger from Hurricane Isabelle approaching Washington D.C. several years ago, the military members assigned to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were given permission to suspend the assignment. They respectfully declined the offer, saying "No way, Sir!" Soaked to the skin and marching in the pelting rain of a tropical storm, they said that guarding the tomb was not just an assignment-it was the highest honor that can be afforded to a serviceperson. The tomb has been patrolled continuously since 1930.
There is no doubt our freedom is not free; it is accompanied by responsibility that we all have. Safety is the same. We have to work hard to be safe. We must make a commitment to ourselves, to our families, to our company and to our country to follow all safety rules-no matter the circumstances. We must be responsible for our safety and the safety of our co-workers. Safety and freedom come with a price-it's the price that sets us free.
About the Author: Matt Forck, CSP & JLW, is a leading voice in safety. Matt keynotes conferences and consults industry on safety's most urgent topics such as safety awareness, employee engagement and motivation, cultural alignment, accountability and leadership. To learn more about Matt, book a presentation or download FREE safety tools, go to www.thesafetysoul.org.