On Friday, March 15, 2013 I had the privilege of attending an Armed Forces Full Honor Wreath Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. Vice Chief of Defense Force of Australia, Air Marshall Mark Binskin (equivalent to a 3 Star General), laid the wreath. Major General Michael S Linnington, Commander of the Joint Force Headquarters National Capitol Region, US Army Military District of Washington, escorted the Vice Chief.
Thanks to Major General Linnington, who I met just before the ceremony began, I had a fantastic place to stand and watch. It was another cold and windy day in the DC/Virginia area but because it was spring break there was a huge crowd (mostly of high school students) present for the wreath laying. I've been to several wreath laying ceremonies at Arlington. They are all very moving but this one definitely had a lot of added pomp and circumstance.
Members of the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard gathered in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns. Many people think that the front of the Tomb is the side they face when watching the Changing of the Guard or Wreath laying ceremonies when, actually the front of the Tomb faces away from the amphitheatre and towards Washington, DC.
Members of the five branches of our Armed Forces waiting for the ceremony to begin
The units march up the steps towards the Tomb of the Unknowns in order of the date (oldest to newest) that their branch of service was organized - Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force then Coast Guard. The precision is impeccable.
Here they come
It is very moving to watch and listen as the Commanders of each group shout out orders to their men/women. Finally they are all in place.
All in place
Then the Joint Armed Forces Color Guard moves into place
The Joint Armed Forces Color Guard is in place
After the Color Guard is in place the US Army Band, Pershing's Own, moves in.
US Army Band - Pershing's Own
The US Army Band plays our National Anthem followed by the National Anthem of the visiting nation - in the case Australia.
The Old Guard Presidential Salute Battery was there to fired their cannons to honor Vice Chief of Defense Force of Australia, Air Marshall Mark Binskin. The cannons begin to fire for his arrival to the cemetery, timing the rounds so that the first round was fired as he entered the cemetery and the last one went off as his vehicle stopped at the memorial amphitheater. An amazing feat of timing and precision because they fire a specified number of rounds. I cannot remember if it's 17 or 18 but I know it's somewhere around that number. They were thunderous for sure!
The Joint Armed Forces Color Guard moves back towards one side of the Tomb and is joined by the Sentinel with the wreath, a bugler and a drummer. The bugler and drummer are members of the U. S Army Band, Pershing's Own. It was very impressive to me to watch the Joint Armed Forces Color Guard as they moved with such precision while navigating intricate turns.
The members of the Official Party are brought down the steps and moved into place
Members of the Official Party are escorted into place
Once the Official Party is in place the visiting dignitary who will place the wreath along with his/her host then move down the steps followed by a Color Guard with the flag from the visiting nation.
MG Michael Linnington accompanies Vice Chief of Defense Force of Australia, Air Marshall Mark Binskin followed by the Australian Color Guard
Placing the wreath
And then renders honors
Vice Chief of Defense Force of Australia, Air Marshall Mark Binskin saluting
Vice Chief of Defense Force of Australia, Air Marshall Mark Binskin then moved back next to Major General Linnington and honors are rendered again.
The bugler plays TAPS while all military personnel in uniform salute and all others are encouraged to place their hands over their hearts.
The visiting dignitary, Vice Chief of Defense Force of Australia, Air Marshall Mark Binskin, is escorted from the area by his host, Major General Linnington.
The Official Party leaves the area as the US Army Band leaves while playing and the members of the Armed Forces units march back down the steps.
I was incredibly proud to be an American that day. Of course I am always proud to be an American. But on that particular day, being able to see so many of our men and women in uniform, looking so sharp and and professional while representing us, was just extra special. I honestly had no idea about the Armed Forces Full Honor Wreath Ceremony and am thankful to COL James Markert for inviting me to attend.