Walking the Mat, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery
The soldier “walking the mat” does not wear rank insignia, so as not to outrank the Unknowns, whatever their ranks may have been.
There is a meticulous routine that the guard follows when watching over the graves. The Tomb Guard:
- Marches 21 steps south down the black mat laid across the Tomb.
- Turns and faces east, toward the Tomb, for 21 seconds.
- Turns and faces north, changes weapon to outside shoulder, and waits 21 seconds.
- Marches 21 steps down the mat.
- Turns and faces east for 21 seconds.
- Turns and faces south changes weapon to outside shoulder and waits 21 seconds.
- Repeats the routine until the soldier is relieved of duty at the Changing of the Guard.
After each turn, the Guard executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the Guard stands between the Tomb and any possible threat.
Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed—the 21-gun salute.
The mat is usually replaced twice per year: before Memorial Day and before Veterans Day. This is required because of the wear on the rubber mat by the special shoes worn by Tomb Guards. The sentinels have metal plates built into the soles and inner parts of their shoes to allow for a more rugged sole and to give the signature click of the heel during maneuvers. The sentinels wear sunglasses because of the bright reflection from the marble surrounding the Tomb and the Memorial Amphitheater.
On the ground not covered by the mat, a wear pattern in the tile can be seen that corresponds to the precise steps taken during the changing of the guard. On the mat itself, footprints worn in by standing guard are also visible.
We thank all for their service and sacrifice.
Have a safe and enjoyable Memorial day, thanks for stopping