Sgt. Kevin E. Calderon became the 640th recipient of the Tomb Guard Badge in a ceremony on March 4, 2016.
Originally from New York City, Calderon grew up in Miami, Florida. He is married with two children.
“The person that always should have been awarded the badge is my wife,” said Calderon. “She’s definitely put forth more effort then I have.”
Calderon began his career at Fort Polk, Louisiana. As an 88M, a driver, Calderon was more used to performing oil changes than guard changes.
“This is a continuation of the lineage between outstanding high caliber Soldiers, regardless of MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), that want to pay their respects and honor those that made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Capt. Jason A. Griffin, 529th Regimental Support Company Commander. “It is an honor to have another 88M continue the legacy.”
His initial interest began when doing research for a new assignment led him to finding the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment and the Tomb Guards, he said.
Griffin said he thought the attention to detail as an 88M does play a role in making a successful Tomb Guard.
“Regardless whether a Solider drives a bus, or a military vehicle, whatever he or she is driving, you are charged with the lives of your passengers,” said Griffin. “The amount of attention to detail that goes into safeguard your customer base, is prevalent in guarding the Unknowns.”
Since that moment he was devoted to earning the right to perform Sentinel duty.
Calderon describes being a Sentinel as an absolute pleasure. He looks at the Unknown Soldiers not only as faceless Soldiers, but someone’s father, brother, or grandfather.
The training process for Calderon took 10 months.
Calderon said he has grown exponentially as a Soldier, husband, and father since beginning to train as a Tomb Sentinel.
The Tomb has helped Calderon grow into a non-commissioned officer that can be an example.
“Coming down here to the Tomb, I’ve developed myself so much, to the point I know exactly what I am looking for when I look at a Soldier” said Calderon. “Everyday is training. You become a trainer, that’s the lifestyle of an NCO.”
For new Soldiers training to be Tomb Guards, the goal isn’t for them to be as good as you, you want them to be better than you, said Calderon.
He said he has developed “Tomb Guard Eyes” that can find even the smallest deficiency.
His growth has only come with some hard fought lessons in attention to detail and time management, he said.
“What an hour or two hours is back at regiment is what like 10 seconds is here over,” said Calderon. “Every second matters.”
Training at the Tomb has helped Calderon realize there are many new ways to be a better driver.
“I’ve tried to conduct myself to the highest standards prior to coming down here, “said Calderon. “But now being down here, it just amazes me how
much more I can strive for.”
Tomb Sentinels must completely build their uniforms by hand, in what Calderon described as “Arts and Crafts”.
Overcoats are gutted and tailored to each sentinel, and leather shoes are sanded down and polished to a mirror shine.
“My shoes at times didn’t look the best,” Calderon said. “Shoes are a sensitive subject down here.”
There were many times over the course of training Calderon began doubting he would even achieve this prestigious honor, he said. Calderon said he committed himself to completing the training because he wanted to be an example of tenacity to his children.
In his darkest moments when he doubted he would make it, Calderon thought about his commitment to what it means to be a Soldier reciting the Soldier’s Creed, he said.
Calderon said he used the lines “I will not quit, I will never accept defeat” as his mantra.
Griffin said he is proud of Calderon’s accomplishment and hopes other members of 529th attempt to become Tomb Guards, albeit for the right reasons.
Griffin said the badge is merely a symbol of the duty and drive to pay it forward to those that made the ultimate sacrifice. “Its about genuine care for the past and the future,” said Griffin.
Calderon is the 640th Tomb Guard because he has done it for the right reasons.
“I’m guarding the worlds most precious gifts,” said Calderon. “I will do it in any weather and in any condition, and I will do it to the best of my ability.”