Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) described the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment’s — nicknamed the Old Guard — funeral performance duties as offering “one final indelible moment of perfect honor” to the families of fallen military servicepersons. He offered his comments in a Friday interview on SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Daily, reflecting on his newly-published book, Sacred Duty: A Soldier’s Tour at Arlington National Cemetery.
In addition to his combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq as a U.S. Army officer, Cotton served in the Old Guard.
“Every action — every step — is taken, as I describe in Sacred Duty, to ensure that that family gets that one final indelible moment of perfect honor from the United States Army,” said Cotton of the Old Guard’s preparation and procedures.
Cotton described the screening standards for aspiring Old Guard applicants.
“The army selects the highest caliber of soldier because they know how high stakes the missions are, not just military honor funerals, but guarding the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, performing internationally famed ceremonies like the presidential inauguration or arrival ceremonies for state visits on the south lawn of the White House,” explained Cotton.
Cotton continued, “The soldiers have very strict height and weight standards, physical fitness standards, very high test scores on the army’s general intelligence test, no blemishes on their legal record. For officers like me, you also had to be ranger-qualified and airborne-qualified.”
Cotton added, “You get there and you don’t know how to do your job. The Old Guard is a unique unit. There’s not other unit like it in the army. So you spend two to three months only preparing to do that job, training how to perform those funerals, how to get your uniform in a condition that it’s ready to present to a family in Arlington. Again, all that is taken very seriously by these soldiers because they know that this is the last moment we have to honor our fallen heroes.”
“[There is] no more honorable way to serve stateside than to serve at Arlington National Cemetery,” said Cotton in explaining his motivation to join the Old Guard.
Cotton contrasted the pressures of Old Guard responsibilities with those of combat.
“My very first ceremony — it was about three months in — change of command for our outgoing commander and our new commander, my first ceremony to stand on the marks, as we call it, out on Summerall Field — a beautiful parade field at Fort Myer, and you’re standing there all by yourself as an officer, you’re in front of those troops, and the eyes of everyone is on you and you have no support,” recalled Cotton.
Cotton went on, “In Iraq, I had sergeants in my Humvee, multiple Humvees in my patrols, every soldier there was more experienced than I — that’s by definition when you’re a platoon leader — that’s not the case when you’re at the Old Guard on the march. you’re out there all by yourself.”
Cotton remembered, “The battalion commander of the battalion that leads funerals in the cemetery told me — and he’s a five-time combat veteran, he served in the elite 75th Ranger Regiment — when I asked him what it was like for him to perform funerals at Arlington, now, he said, ‘I’ve never felt pressure like this anywhere in the army.'”
“The Fife and Drum Corps, as the Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley — soon to be the chairman of the joints chiefs — says, is one of the most highly educated units in the United States military,” stated Cotton.
Cotton continued, “Almost all of them have — I think all of them do have — college degrees, today. More than half have master’s, and several have PhDs in things like music theory, and they have them from some of the world’s most elite conservatories like Julliard or Berklee.”
Cotton praised the character of the Old Guard and broader American military.
“When you spend as much time around soldiers as I have, not just 12 years ago, but over the last year researching this book, you realize that there are at least some young men and women who are not soft in our country,” declared Cotton.
Cotton concluded, “They are willing to bear considerable hardship to pay honor to those who went before them and laid down their lives, or in the case of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, who gave up not just their lives but their identities so that we could live in freedom.
Breitbart News Daily broadcasts live on SiriusXM Patriot 125 weekdays from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Eastern.
Follow Robert Kraychik on Twitter @rkraychik.