In the 240-year history of the U.S. Army, only 637 Soldiers have earned the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Identification Badge. Three 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) Soldiers Spc. Dakota Wilburn, Pfc. Justin Lee Robinson and Spc. Aaron Zachary Lopez-Stoner were awarded the Tomb Badge simultaneously in a ceremony on November 17, 2015 at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (TUS) in Arlington National Cemetery, Va. Each new Sentinel comes from a different background. All three faced a variety of personal challenges to achieve this honorable distinction. Yet each of these Sentinels devoted themselves in the constant pursuit of perfection and reached their goal.
Wilburn is a 42A (Human Resource Specialist) from Orange County, California. Human Resource Specialists are typically responsible for maintaining the personnel records of their fellow Soldiers.
Much like his job as a 42A, being a Sentinel requires a lot of attention to detail. That attention was tested in numerous ways during Wilburn’s training.
In addition to memorizing a 17-page information packet on the TUS and being graded on walks at the Tomb, prospective Sentinels are also graded on their uniforms.
Wilburn viewed the uniform component as the most difficult part of his training.
“You think in one phase you have a good grasp on it,” said Wilburn. “But as you proceed through training, there’s more and more attention to detail.”
Wilburn put in about a year of training to earn the Tomb Badge.
Becoming a Sentinel is something Wilburn has always wanted to do after visiting the TUS as an eighth grader on a school trip.
“Even then I thought they were really cool,” said Wilburn. “Just by luck I was assigned to The Old Guard. As soon as I found out I was coming here, this is what I wanted to come and do.”
Learning to manage his time was a challenge at first since the TUS does not follow a traditional work schedule, said Wilburn.
“We work 26-hour shifts,” said Wilburn. “We call it a 9-day work set.”
Wilburn was motivated to work on his uniform components, rifle movements, and study rather than sleeping in on his days off.
Yet, all of the motivation he could muster would not have been enough to be successful without the support of his family, said Wilburn.
“My wife has been a huge help this whole time,” said Wilburn. “She’s kept everything together at home, its allowed me to focus on work here.”
Unlike Wilburn, Robinson only became interested in becoming a Sentinel when he was assigned to The Old Guard.
“I just heard that it was hard,” said Robinson. “I wanted the challenge.”
An 11B (Infantry), Robinson found certain aspects much more difficult than perceived. In contrast, other areas weren’t as difficult as he first thought.
Realizing what the TUS represents was the biggest challenge he faced, said Robinson.
“You come down here not really knowing,” said Robinson. “And then when you get to a certain point, it hits you.”
Lopez-Stoner of Clarksville, Tennessee, is a 74D (Chemical, Biological,
Lopez-Stoner could boil down his biggest challenge to one word: shoes.
“A lot of time and effort go into our uniforms,” said Lopez-Stoner. “A lot of meticulousness goes into our uniform prep.”
Lopez-Stoner said being at the TUS was a huge culture shock at first.
Off time is spent working on uniforms and studying or getting rest for the long hours, so he had to designate time to spend with his spouse to strike some kind of balance.
“I did reserve certain days where I put my stuff down and it was a me and wife day,” said Lopez-Stoner. “Usually Tuesdays, five dollar movies.”
The sacrifice was worth it, as his wife was the one to pin on his Tomb Badge.
The experience has been equally difficult on he and his wife.
Ultimately the success is shared because she helped him, said Lopez-Stoner.
Lopez-Stoner is not as tall as the typical Sentinel, standing at 5’8”, but nothing would deter him.
“I had no clue there was a height requirement to come here,” said Lopez-Stoner. “I came here and did something that’s usually reserved for people that are taller. But I accomplished it.”
All three of the soldiers who earned the Tomb Badge could not explain the pride they felt.
What unites the three is their dedication to their new duties: preserving the reverence of Soldiers that gave everything, including their identities, to the nation.