Always Heard But Never Seen
(May 24, 2011)
ARLINGTON, Va. (5/20/2011) - Members of the U.S. Army Presidential
Salute Battery, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), have the duty
of firing final salutes during memorial ceremonies for service members
laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, Va. and are responsible for
rendering honors to visiting foreign dignitaries and heads of state at
the White House, Pentagon and throughout the National Capital Region.
Soldiers of The Presidential Salute Battery, 3d U.S. Infantry
Regiment (The Old Guard), stand at the position of ceremonial at
ease in anticipation for their next command to commence fire of two
3-inch anti-tank guns during an arrival ceremony of Brig. Gen.
Ibrahim Salim Al Musharrakh, Commander, United Arab Emirates, May
19, 2011 at Arlington National Cemetery, Va. Courtesy Photo
This elite element of the Old Guard, the only one of its kind in the
Army, consists of about 34 soldiers, most serving as an indirect
fire infantryman, ranging from private to sergeant first class.
“To be a part of a brotherhood and of the few indirect fire
infantrymen in the whole Army that only renders honors the way we do
is the highest honor for me,” said Sgt. Aaron Ratigan, the platoon's
The platoon is stocked with high-gloss
black, three-inch 5,775-pound World War II vintage anti-tank guns
mounted on 105mm Howitzer chassis. Each gun weighs 5,775 pounds and
fires 75mm blank shells with one-and-a-half pounds of
Most ceremonies require a five-man staff and a two-man team for each
gun. The staff consists of an officer-in-charge, who initiates the
firing commands; the non-commissioned officer-in-charge, who marches the
battery into position and controls the firing of the backup gun; the
watchman and his assistant, who both act as backup and the counter, who
counts rounds and signals "Last Round!" to the gunners.
position is an important role in the mission's success, Ratigan said.
The two-man team at each gun is comprised of a loader and a gunner.
Without making a sound, the loader must fit a 75mm shell into the block
noise at a certain angle. The backup gunner and loader are to be the
fastest and most experienced of the platoon. The standby gunner and
loader are the most qualified on battery so that they can quickly react
to a misfire or malfunction.
The 21-gun salute is the highest
honor the military can bestow and is reserved for presidents and
visiting heads of state. This tradition dates back to the 1956
inauguration of President Dwight Eisenhower.
The number of
salutes varies depending on the rank of official. For colonels and
one-star generals, 11 salutes are fired,13 for a two-star, 15 for a
three-star, 17 for a four-star and 19 for a foreign dignitary.
“The most important part of the salute is how much it means to the
family,” said Spc. Markus William, a member of the battery.
Incoming soldiers undergo rigorous training for nearly a year to become
a part of the Guns Platoon.
“There isn't any room for the
unmotivated so it's great to see soldiers go from a ‘new guy' to an
invaluable asset,” said Ratigan.
Once qualified as a loader, a
soldier can excel into other positions in the platoon through more
“It takes more practice and experience to become a
gunner,” said Ratigan. “You need visual and auditory verification that
you're going to achieve fire.”
People watch the guns platoon's
timing and precision unfold during ceremonies such as the annual 1812
Overture concert, Twilight Tattoo and full honor arrivals at the White
House, where the platoon is placed at a far distance in the middle of
the public eye.
The Presidential Salute Battery maintains the
highest level of ceremonial proficiency through persistent training and
will continue to perform to the greatest principles and traditions of
The Old Guard.
By Army 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment
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