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Focus on Service

Pursuit of Perfection

Behind the scenes at the Navy Ceremonial Guard

There is a slight breeze as the rifles are tossed in the air in perfect unison, performing several somersaults before returning to the capable hands of their master.

Click. Click. The sound of the bolt on a rifle being snapped in place.

Whoosh. Snap. Twenty-four hands launch Old Glory in the air then tightly grasp and pull on her descent.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. The boots of high-stepping Sailors bounce off the floor.

Onlookers stare in awe as a sea of Sailors stand stoic and motionless at the position of attention for hours at a time, seeming like an eternity.

It's almost impossible not to be amazed at the concentration and precision on display in Moss Hall at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, DC. However, for the Sailors of the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard it's just another day of practicing their craft and pursuing perfection.

The Ceremonial Guard is the official ceremonial unit of the Navy. Their primary mission is to represent the Navy in presidential, joint armed forces, Navy, and public ceremonies in and around the nation's capital. With such high visibility, maintaining a reputation of perfection is always the standard to be achieved.

Being a member of this Guard is more than flipping rifles and folding flags. It's a demanding job that introduces Sailors to a side of the military many will never get the chance to appreciate.

It's a really unique command. It's absolutely incredible being stationed here. Performing with my peers in front of crowds of hundreds of people is a great feeling that's hard to describe." - SN Tobias Butler
Sailors are hand-picked at Recruit Training Command to become members of the Guard. The Guard is broken down into three companies: Alpha, Bravo and Charlie.

Upon reporting to the Guard, Sailors must go through intensive 10-week training in Alpha company before officially becoming guardsmen.

The training we go through here at the guard is harder than the training I went through in boot camp. We're up at [5 a.m.] every morning for PT, [then we] go to chow and then we train all day. It's very intense." - AZAN Deion Sherwood

Sherwood said the Sailors in Alpha Company are constantly preparing their uniforms, practicing drill and marching exercises, learning new movements, and standing by for inspections.

Once trainees complete training and get their job qualification requirements signed off, they can put in a request for their top two platoons in the Bravo and Charlie companies. Trainees are then placed in the appropriate platoons based on the needs of the guard and the competency of the Sailor.

Bravo Company houses two platoons. The casket bearers are in the first platoon and the firing party is in the second.

In teams of eight, casket bearers deliver the remains of deceased service members to their final resting places within Arlington National Cemetery or another cemetery catering to veterans. The precise movements executed at each funeral are refined through months of practice and performance. Weight training and relentless practice sharpen focus and develop unity of motion and strength. Each synchronized move is an expression of respect for the Navy's fallen paid through effort and dedication. Over the span of a two-year tour at the Guard, each bearer strives for proficiency in all casket bearing missions and to achieve the top qualification of "Wreath Bearer."

It's very honorable to lay down your shipmate. You get a sense of pride and it makes you appreciate the Navy, the uniform you wear and your country as a whole." - AOAN Ambrileen Lee
The firing party is responsible for rendering the three volleys, the signature honor of military funerals. The teams consist of seven riflemen firing their weapons at the same exact moment, as though three cannon rounds were fired. The rhythmic motion of seven index fingers on seven separate triggers acting and sounding as one is the product of countless hours of training. The firing party also conducts guns salutes at the Washington Navy Yard during Chief of Naval Operations arrival ceremonies, retirement ceremonies and other events commemorating dates or people of significance. Each firing party member strives to achieve their top qualification "Battery Petty Officer."

"I've always wanted to be the one to shoot the rifle," said Aviation Ordnance Airman Ambrileen Lee. I earned my top qualification, which was a lengthy process and very hard but it was definitely worth it."

Charlie Company also houses two platoons, the Color Guard and the Drill Team.

A standard color guard has four members: a left rifleman, National Color, Navy Color and a right rifleman. Members of the colors platoon must learn the specific drill movements associated with the Navy Colors set. They must also learn the history behind the Navy Colors and the 30 battle streamers that accompany the flag and represent all of the wars and conflicts within the Navy's history. This prepares color guard members for their final top qualification of "Personal Colors Bearer." When they achieve this top qualification they can carry the personal colors flag of admirals and senior military officials including the president.

I did color guard when I was in high school and it's the only thing I wanted to do before I even joined the Navy. Now I'm trying to work hard to get there and eventually earn my top qualification." - AZAN Deion Sherwood
Drill team members are experts in the art of close order drill, coordination and timing. Drill routines are performed in 4-man or 9-man routines using the standard 1903 Springfield rifle with a 10-inch fixed bayonet. Performances feature marching and arms presentations with jaw-dropping aerial maneuvers. The drill team performs at national holiday observances, schools, sporting events, changes of command, ship commissioning ceremonies and retirements. Each drill team members works hard to achieve the "point man" top qualification.

Being on the drill team is a hard job. It takes hours to get good at your craft of spinning your rifle. If you really want to be good you stay after work and work hard so that you can perform at your best and if not then drill team is not the place for you." - SN Tobias Butler

As a guardsman there's one thing that never changes. Every day is a day to practice and become better.

"We practice, practice and practice some more," said Lee.

Whether it's wowing the crowd at a halftime sporting event, presenting the colors at a military ceremony, or serving as a funeral escort at Arlington National Cemetery these guardsmen are always ready to handle any task assigned. With precision and poise they have been performing as close to perfection as possible 360 days a year for more than three quarters of a century.