On September 29, 2021, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier made history with an all-female-led guard change. The event occurred on the 30,770th day of continuous guarding by The Old Guard, which has held the duty since 1948.
According to leaders from The Old Guard – also known as the 3rd US Infantry Regiment – this was the first time in the Tomb‘s nearly 100-year history and came at the request of Sergeant First Class Chelsea Porterfield, the 28th Sergeant of the Guard.
SFC Porterfield was the first woman to lead the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb, and the change on September 29 marked her final walk. According to Commander Patrick Roddy, the all-female guard change was done in her honor.
“It wasn’t anyone’s intent to ‘engineer’ this event, but we knew an event like this had significant meaning,” Commander Roddy told Task & Purpose. “So in honor of SFC Porterfield’s service, and at her request, the schedules were aligned for the first all-woman changing of the guard as part of her last walk.”
This week, at the Tomb Of The Unknown Solider @ArlingtonNatl history was made. For the first time in the 84-year vigil, on the 30,770th day of the continuous guard, an all-woman changing of the guard occurred under the direction of the 38th Sergeant of the Guard, SFC Porterfield. pic.twitter.com/8dRhqNdT1P
— Patrick Roddy (@PatrickRoddy4) October 1, 2021
The ceremonial changing of the guard occurs every hour on the hour between October 1 and March 31, and every half hour between April 1 and September 30.
“We commemorate the achievements of these trailblazing Tomb Guards,” said The Old Guard on Instagram. “While this historic event may be a first, it is not the last. With diversity in our ranks, race, gender, or any characteristics will never hinder, but only enhance the execution of our sacred mission.
“As we recognize this monumental day, we reflect on the Unknowns and their ultimate sacrifice,” they continued. “The world will never know their names. Their life’s poetry was silenced in the defense of this great nation. We will never forget their sacrifice, and we will never falter as our standard will remain perfection.”
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was erected in 1921 as a way to pay tribute to unidentified US service members who have died in conflict. It is located at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, and while guarded since 1926, it wasn’t continuously watched over by members of the military until 1937.
It was created from a marble slab with the remains of a single unidentified soldier who died during World War I, and after President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill has become home to Unknowns from World War II and the Korean War. Those selected were interred in 1958.
The Tomb was also home to an Unknown from the Vietnam War, whose remains were later exhumed and identified through DNA analysis as Air Force 1st Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie. It was decided that, in his place, the crypt would remain vacant. Its cover was replaced with a new inscription, which reads: “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958–1975.”
Those soldiers who watch over the Tomb are known as Sentinels and must undergo extensive training in uniform and arms preparation. They must also pass several tests before becoming Tomb guards.