Windsor Graduate Holds Distinct Honor of Guarding Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington
Since its creation in 1952, only 659 Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Guard Identification Badges have been awarded. One of those badges, the third least awarded badge in the entire military, has been given to a man from the Southern Tier.
Jeff Colwell, a 2016 graduate of Windsor Central High School has the distinct honor of guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) at Arlington National Cemetery and in March, Colwell was honored in a special ceremony where he received badge number 658.
When he joined the Army, Colwell tells the Windsor Central School District that he wanted to be part of the Continental Color Guard which is the group responsible for the impressive patriotic displays seen at events such as the Super Bowl, but the Army had other ideas. They were sending Colwell to the Tomb.
Colwell didn’t just wake up one morning and find himself serving at Arlington. As a matter of fact, it was the complete opposite.
Members of the Old Guard, those who guard the Tomb of the Unknowns, have to go through an insanely difficult training in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and on orders. That's not all though. There’s also a knowledge test in which an applicant must prove successful memorization of the 35-page history of the Tomb.
Once the rigorous tests are passed and a person is selected to join the Old Guard, they can expect to work some pretty crazy hours. According to the Society of the Honor Guard, "Currently, the Tomb Guards work on a three Relief (team) rotation - 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, 96 hours off. However, over the years it has been different. The time off isn't exactly free time. It takes the average Sentinel 8 hours to prep their uniform for the next work day. Additionally, they have Physical Training, Tomb Guard training, and haircuts to complete before the next work day."
Colwell tells the Windsor Central School District that the 24-hour shifts started to take a toll on him and that he began questioning whether he should forge on or quit. Colwell said things were put into perspective, “When I laid a wreath down for a First Lieutenant and saw his widow cry, when I saw a World War Two veteran at the top of the stairs need help just to shake my hand and thank me for what I was doing, that’s when I realized the reason I needed to do this is the people. I give that closure to people who have lost their loved ones or anyone who gets emotional seeing us represent the troops.”
The average time a Sentinel commits to guarding the Tomb is 18 months. Colwell is planning to apply to Ranger School this summer and hopes to do well enough to be selected to be part of the Ranger Assessment Selection Program. Until then, Colwell will continue to guard the Tomb of the Unknowns.