Founded in 1953, the Presidential Salute Battery (PSB) from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) honor of the President of the United States, visiting foreign dignitaries, and official guests of the Unites States by firing cannon salutes.
In addition, PSB also honors service members being interred in Arlington National Cemetery, salutes retirees at their official ceremonies and during special public outreach events in the National Capital Region.
One such event will take place on July 4, 2016 at noon, when PSB will perform a 50 Gun Salute to the Union on Whipple Field in Joint Base Myer Henderson Hall, Va.
“That is the only mission, outside of the cemetery, that we do five second intervals for,” said Sgt. Cody L. Grunwald, and Assistant Watchman with PSB. “They go in sequential order by when the states joined the union.”
During each five-second pause, an announcer will say the states name and it’s nickname., said Grunwald.
PSB is a one-of-a-kind unit in the Army, and carries out it mission at more than 300 ceremonies each year.
Cannons have been fired at Presidential Inaugurations and State Funerals since the Regan Administration, said Grunwald.
Retirement ceremonies will vary the amount of rounds fired in a salute depending on the retirees rank.
“We fire 11 rounds for a one star general in the Army, and the equivalent in the other branches as well,” said Grunwald. “Two star would get 13, three star would get 15.”
Four star generals are saluted with 17 rounds, Chief of Staff get 19 rounds, and Presidents get 21 Grunwald said.
The only positions that receive 21 rounds are Presidents, Vice Presidents, and ex-Presidents, said Grunwald.
The guns PSB fires are ten M5, 105-mm antitank cannons. Each cannon is mounted on the M6 howitzer carriage.
These are the last 10 operable cannons of their kind, said Grunwald.
“These cannot fire live rounds,” said Grunwald. “They have a sleeve inside the breach that limits them to firing only a 75-mm blank round.”
At 5,775 pounds, the M5 Cannons last saw service starting in 1943. The cannons were utilized in northern Africa, Italy, and northwestern Europe until the end of World War II.
PSB fires 3,000-4000 75mm blank ceremonial shells with 1.5 pounds of powder every fiscal year.
From start to finish, it takes four Soldiers approximately 5-7 days to bring a gun fully up to ceremonial standards, said Grunwald. That process includes removing any dust and dirt, polishing components, and ensuring lug nuts and chains are painted to standard.
Painting more then minor chips is performed by the motor pool.
When the number two gun was recently taken in for a paint job, it took a full two weeks, said Grunwald.
“The guns are covered in layers upon layers of paint,” said Gunwald. “They have to sand all the paint away and repaint it.”
Operationally, the platoon serves as 1st Battalion’s mortar platoon. During tactical training exercises at Fort A.P. Hill, Va, PSB Soldiers fire the 81mm M252 mortar, which provides indirect fire support.
A five-man staff and a two-man team for each gun is required for ceremonies.
The staff is comprised of a Battery Commander, whom ensures the proper number of rounds is fired and initiates fire commands; the Sergeant of the Watch, who marches the battery to their marks, monitors the watchman and his assistant, and controls the firing of the backup gun; the Watchman gives the command to fire and controls the timing between rounds; the more experienced Assistant Watchman ensures the Watchman stays in time; and the Counter, counts the rounds and signals the last round to the battery.
The two-man gun teams consist of a gunner who fires the cannon and a loader. The loader must fit a 75mm shell into the block at a particular angle by feel. A loader can take up to six weeks to master their skill before participating in an actual ceremony.
There are some major changes on the horizon for PSB.
Until recently, PSB was made up entirely of 11C, military occupational specialty (MOS) indirect fire infantryman.
“We’re starting to progress, we are turning more into a specialty platoon,” said Grunwald. Soon, PSB slots will be opened up to Soldiers in other MOSs.
“Letting them try out, so they can be apart of this platoon too, so it’s not strictly an 11C platoon anymore,” Said Grunwald. “We’re trying to make it so its an actual specialty platoon like Caisson, Drill Team, Tomb Sentinels.”