Pursuit of Perfection
Life of a Ceremonial Guardsman
Petty Officer 3rd Class Austin Reed stands focused, his uniform spotless.
He is confident with his rifle. As lethal bayonets swing swiftly within inches of his body, he performs the drill movements, absent a single flinch or misstep, proud with the knowledge that he knows his skill inside and out. Spectators seem to be in awe of his flawless execution.
Suddenly, something feels off. Reed's concentration is broken for a fraction of a second. Time slows to a crawl as he tosses his rifle to another teammate. Reed hesitates, missing the rifle he was intended to catch, and there it is: his first mistake in front of what feels like the entire world. His stomach turns over; his heart beats hard enough to be perceived by the naked eye. He "tightens up" and continues on as he has rehearsed so many times before. His confidence shaken, he continues to make miniscule mistakes. His focus now clouded by doubt and embarrassment, he knows that as close as he came, today, he was just short of perfection.
For Reed, pointman of the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard Drill Team, perfection is not optional. It is obtained through countless hours of practice, unwavering dedication and extensive attention to detail.
"As the face of the Navy, we perform for high-ranking officials and foreign dignitaries," said Petty Officer 1st Class Urgessa Gemeda, drill team lead petty officer. "I am in charge of making sure the Sailors complete the rigorous training here as efficiently as possible, so that whenever the drill team goes out, they put on their best performance. Our best has to be perfection. Perfection is expected; excellence is tolerated."
The definition of perfection is being free from all flaws or defects. Reed's arduous journey toward that goal began before he stepped foot in the U.S. Navy's Ceremonial Center of Excellence.
"I arrived at the airport straight from basic training, still waiting to receive my luggage by the carousel, and two large (guardsmen) started yelling at me immediately in the airport, not caring that anyone else was around," Reed said. "They were yelling 'Tighten up!' and being fresh out of (basic training), I had no idea what that means. They taught me how to close my feet, not to look around, don't breath with your mouth open, don't do this, don't do that, and it's so challenging the first day because it's so much that they throw onto you in one moment."