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Pair make history at Tomb

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 29, 1997) -- Two soldiers from Echo Company Honor Guard, 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) were awarded the Tomb Guard Badge Jan. 22 in a quiet ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

As quaint as the ceremony was, it was historical, too. One of the soldiers, Sergeant Danyell E. Wilson, became the first African-American woman to earn the prestigious badge and guard the Tomb of the Unknowns. The other soldier, Staff Sergeant Sean Robinson, of Greensboro, North Carolina, also earned the privilege of wearing the sacred symbol.

Wilson, of Montgomery, Alabama, became only the second woman to receive the honor. Sergeant Heather Lynn Johnsen was the first, receiving the badge early last year. About 400 tomb guard badges have been awarded since the badge was created in February 1958.

The 22-year-old Wilson joined the Army in 1993. Prior to her duty at the tomb, she was a military police officer assigned to the Military Police Company, 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard).

After receiving the silver emblem, Wilson said she was glad the training was over.

"I figured it [finishing the training] was the highest honor," she said before making her first official "high-visibility" walk.

The walk was special because her companion in training -- Robinson -- was her relief commander.


DE Wilson PHOTO

Prior to becoming a sentinel, soldiers must go through an interview session and two-week trial to determine their capability to train as a tomb guard.

During the trial phase, would-be sentinels must memorize seven pages of Arlington National Cemetery history. This information must be recited verbatim in order to earn a walk.

If successful during the trial, trainees then learn the history of the cemetery and the grave location of nearly 300 veterans. They also must learn the Guard Change Ceremony and the manual of arms which takes place during the inspection portion of the changing of the guard. Weapon and uniform preparation and maintenance is a priority.

New sentinels must pass a two-part test before receiving the badge. First, they are tested on their manual of arms, uniform preparation and their walk. Then, the badge test is given. This test is 100 randomly selected questions of the 300 items memorized during training on the history of the cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Once badge testing is complete, sentinels must honorably serve at the tomb for nine months. At that time, the award can be made a permanent badge which may be worn for the rest of a military career.

"I'm definitely glad it happened," said Robinson, after receiving his badge. "I'm overwhelmed."

"I was taught never to let anything stand in my way," Wilson said. "If I want it, I'll go for it." According to Wilson, she did not even realize the precedence she was about to make. "Others brought it to my attention, I didn't even think about it," she said.

Once Wilson realized she was the only black woman to earn the honor, she said she figured she'd be trained just like the rest of the sentinels. Nothing different.

Wilson said the hardest part of the six intensive months of training for her was "building up arm strength and the manual of arms."

"I'm very proud of her," boasted her mom, Shirley Wilson. "She used to call home all the time [during her training] saying it was hard. I'd always tell her, 'Don't give up!' "