At a quick glance from afar, the performers look as though they could be a marching band or some other group providing half-time entertainment at a sporting event. However, something sets this group apart. As one moves closer to the field, he or she will not notice looks of excitement beaming off the performers faces as each movement goes off without a hitch. Not one. This elite group goes about their business with a stone-faced seriousness that would make Buckingham Palaces world-famous royal guards blush.
At that moment, the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard, for many people the very face of the Navy, has reached the apex, the very peak of perfection.
Trying to attain perfection, whether it is during an exhilarating fieldshow or during the most somber of funerals, is not easy. The process makes top-notch young Sailors deal with a constant routine of drilling, shining, buffing and grooming that, for most, is worse than anything faced in recruit training. The journey culminates with the one-time recruits becoming members of the guard and working routinely in funerals, drill performances and highly memorable ceremonies throughout the United States.
For those Sailors, it all begins at the Ceremonial Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., where trainees straight out of boot camp converge to prepare for a two-year stint as a guardsman.
This is where all the fun begins, said Senior Chief Machinists Mate (SS) Gerald Konkol, the guards command senior chief. All the glory for these guys starts with the first day they walk through the door here. From there, they go on to represent the Navy.
But, its hard to find even the tiniest shred of glory during the first several weeks trainees spend in our nations capital. Upon arrival, every new trainee immediately begins a six-week training cycle that molds the raw recruit into a basic guard member. During that time, their colleagues do not recognize the trainees as full guardsmen. In fact, trainees are not even allowed to speak to other guardsmen; that only comes after completing the training period.
It doesnt take long for a trainee to realize being stationed with the guard and being an actual guard member are two totally different things.
You find out pretty quick that you have to work really hard to succeed here, said Seaman Apprentice Chris Simpson, a trainee in his fourth week with the guard. Right away they have you clipping strings off your uniforms, shining shoes and all that. Were always working on our uniforms. Its definitely a lot tougher than I first expected.
The life of a trainee at headquarters can prove to be a tough experience, with a wide array of inspections proving to be a thorn in the side of a soon-to-be guardsman. The typical trainee, who is looking for a break after the inspection routine of boot camp, has uniform and personal appearance scrutinized at nearly every part of the day. The experience can be daunting to a new Sailor.
We have room inspections in the morning before breakfast, utility inspections after breakfast, locker inspections during the day, utility inspections in the afternoon and [we] can expect a surprise inspection at any other time, said Airman Apprentice Bob Cronyn of the training platoons schedule.
On top of that, we drill throughout the day. Its a lot more difficult than boot camp. [The platoon leaders] take the boot camp standards and turn it up a few notches.