Copyright John T. Reed

I am a West Point graduate. I was never in the Old Guard. Nor did I ever want to be. If, somehow, I had been assigned to the Old Guard, I would have asked to be transferred to a different kind of unit. Actually, the same thing is true of another elite unit I was in: the 82nd Airborne. I volunteered for that unit, but if I had ever been assigned again to that or another airborne (paratroopers) unit it would have been over my protest. I would have been okay with assignment to a ranger unit other than ranger school or to a sniper unit, although I was not aware snipers existed as a separate school or unit back then.

When I was an Army officer, the Old Guard seemed to be a rare assignment for a West Point graduate. It might be useful for meeting single women in a setting where you seem more attractive to them than you would wearing jeans and a polo shirt in a bar full of similarly attired guys. But what IQ does a single woman who is dazzled by an ultra neat human toy soldier have? I would rather start a relationship because the woman liked the real me, not a human Potemkin Village version of me wrapped in the American flag and behaving like a statue in some patriotic theatrical performance.

The Old Guard

The Old Guard is a ceremonial U.S. Army unit stationed in the Washington, DC area (Fort Myer, VA)

First, I respect the difficulty of what they do. We had to do a slightly less professional version of it at West Point hundreds of times.

Second, I appreciate the feelings of the families who are helped to bury their dead by the Old Guard. When I was a cadet at West Point, I once as assigned to a funeral detail on a Saturday. The deceased was killed in Vietnam after graduation. He had been a cadet in our company so the funeral detail was drawn from that company.

I was outraged that I was losing my precious weekend free time and wondered why the band (regular Army enlisted men and officers, not cadets) or other regular soldiers stationed at West Point was not doing it. Turned out, some of them were. But mainly, as the funeral unfolded, I realized how important what I was doing was to the family who were only ten or fifteen feet away from us. My anger at losing my free time gave way to deference to their far greater loss. I felt grateful to have been able to be part of honoring his sacrifice. I’m no politician. You had to be there if you cannot understand my change of heart.

However, the bottom-line fact is the Old Guard is the chickenshit outfit to end all chickenshit outfits. I do NOT respect the Army’s decision to maintain such a unit. I do NOT respect the decision of soldiers to volunteer for such an outfit.

Yes, I was in high school when President Kennedy was assassinated and was moved by his military funeral. But I probably would have been just as moved if it had been done by an ad hoc military unit created for that one ceremony or by a standard Army unit that happened to be stationed at a real Army base near DC, rather than a full-time, standing ceremonial unit. Why would the Army create such a unit? After all, they had little old me and similar cadets handle the West Point funeral I described above. Units other than the Old Guard handle military funerals and other ceremonies all over the world daily. The reason the Army has the Old Guard is because an Army officer career is a 30-year, marathon suck-up tournament. The president and a lot of other big shots work in Washington. There are a lot of big shot events that use military personnel as eye candy. The military brass never wants to make a bad impression—even slightly—on the big bosses who can help or end their careers. So they take men and women who are supposed to be defending the nation, men and women who have been trained to defend the nation, men and women who have served in combat units, and turn them into so many theatrical cast members like movie extras or members of a crowd scene in a theatrical play.

Word that describe the Old Guard

Here are some words and phrases that I and others have used to describe the Old Guard:

• chickenshit
• form over substance
• show-offs
• most obsessive-compulsive unit in the Army
• crazy about creases
• maniacally repetitive training
• model soldiers (visually—for example, gotta be at least 5'11")
• flawless is the only standard
• choreography
• ruler is almost as important as a rifle (to measure whether medals are within 1/16 inch of where they are supposed to be)
• imitating a marble statue
• “standards [of appearance] will be enforced ruthlessly” (from Old Guard manual)
• the appearance of being perfect
• down to the most picayune detail
• living statues like the Queen’s Beefeaters

A 5/30/10 Washington Post article says the Old Guard stand at attention with their toes together “because it looks more orderly.” Other U.S. military personnel stand at attention with their feet pointed outward at a normal, comfortable angle. Only a bunch of tight-ass, garrison sycophants would worry about such nonsense.


The Post had a photo they said was a sergeant performing the “mandatory 75-minute standing proficiency test.” I assume they mean motionless standing for 75 minutes. The closest I ever came to losing it was during a full-dress inspection at West Point. We were wearing a heavy large hat called a shako or tar bucket. Here is a photo of it:

It was an extremely hot, humid day. The hat is black and therefore attracts sun heat. We were also wearing full-dress gray over white. The coat was heavy wool and buttoned up to a turtle-neck level. The pants were starched to the point they were like cardboard. To get into them, we hung from a cross bar, called the “alcove rail,” in our rooms while a roommate held the pants open so we could lower ourselves into them. I kid you not. We were wearing white cotton gloves. Here’s a photo of that uniform:

We had to stand at attention on concrete in the sun. We were freshmen or plebes. The upperclass cadet in charge could have and should have let us relax periodically. He did not. It was an inspection. He went slowly from one cadet to the next asking “Where you from, Mister?” and grabbing and slowly inspecting each guy’s rifle. He also visually inspected every inch of every cadet with another upperclassman standing next to him with a clipboard writing down infractions.

As we stood there, we could feel streams of sweat going down our backs between our shoulder blades. That may not sound like much, but it is like a Chinese water torture. All your life when that happened to you, you instantly rubbed at the wet spot. We could not move a muscle. This went on for over an hour.

I spent most of the time debating in my head whether I was going to hit that son of a bitch as hard as I could in the face with my 9.5-pound M-14 rifle swung a la baseball bat. He probably would have been killed and I would have gone to jail but I would have known that absolute justice had been done. You probably had to be there, but I expect that any of my classmates who were would send me an email saying they were thinking the exact same thing that day. The fundamental problem was the upperclass cadet was enjoying and savoring this exhibition of his power at age 21 and making it last as long as possible. When the sweat rolled down between his shoulder blades, he immediately rubbed his white gloved hand against his back during the inspection.

The problem was not mere anger at the guy. The problem was the interaction between heat and the human brain. I have been more angry, but never again experienced that combination of anger and having my brain being fried. Commanders from Obama on down need to be far more concerned about the men than they generally are.

If you think my reaction as I depict it here is exaggerated or nutty, read Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes. The main character in the book is Lieutenant Mellas whose reactions to the military bear significant resemblance to mine when I was a lietenant. Pay particular attention to page 490 where Lieutenant Hawke stops Lieutenant Mellas at the last second from shooting their battalion commander.

Matterhorn is allegedly a novel—that is, fiction. But as I say in my review of that book, I see little fiction in it. My impression of it as a professional writer myself is that Marlantes wrote a non-fiction book but changed the names and created composite people and composite events to avoid being sued for libel and to reduce the fact-checking workload and to achieve a more dramatic story flow. Another bit of evidence that it is non-fiction is that I am incapable of reading fiction. I cannot get more than about five pages into a fiction book before I toss it aside in disgust.

There is no question that there were many fragging incidents in Vietnam. Fragging is deliberate killing of superiors. It is called fragging after the fragmentation grenades that were often used to do it. Shooting with a rifle would also be fragging. Doing it without hiding it as Mellas was about to do is unusual. When a rifle was used, it was typically during a firefight so it would not be apparent who did it.

The issue in both my inspetion at West Point and the Matterhorn near murder was the same: a high-ranking military boss treating his subordinates with utter disregard for their welfare as if they were plastic toy soldiers in the hands of a child.

This shit is what the Old Guard does for a living. And our current commander in chief, who never served a second in the military, and a bunch of brass hat ass-kissers are the ones who are savoring prancing around with these human statues as visual background furniture to enhance their preening. If I were president, I would strip the White House and presidential aircraft of all military personnel. I would hire footmen and doormen and such from the same sources civilians do when they put on some charity ball or similar ceremony. Any security would be provided by civilian security personnel from the White House guard detail and the Secret Service. It is an insult to the very nature of a soldier or marine to use them for these servile and ornamental purposes.

I suspect it is the Lucifer Effect discovered by Stanford Professor Philip Zimbardo.

Butlers, footmen, lawn jockeys

If you pay attention to photos and videos of the goings on around the White House, you will often see a marine or soldier in full dress standing at attention outside doorways or at the bottom of the stairs from a presidential aircraft.


I assure you it has nothing to do with national defense. But soldiers and marines are not supposed to have any reason to exist other than national defense. The U.S. military needs to get out of show business and get into the defense business, perhaps even the war-winning business, which we have not been in since 1945.

Where do Old Guard soldiers go after they leave the Old Guard?

Hollywood? Broadway? TV?

Perhaps politics—another all-show-and-no-go profession. The most famous White House military servant was Chuck Robb. He was a marine White House “social aide.” Could we get the Military Channel to do an hour-long documentary on the rough-tough school the few, the proud, the marines go to for that? “Salad fork!? You think that’s a salad fork!? You’re calling a relish fork a salad fork in my mock White House!? Drop and give me 25, trainee!”

Robb married then President Lyndon Johnson’s daughter Lynda. He subsequently served in Vietnam, got out, became a lawyer, got elected senator from Virginia, got caught cheating on his wife, and left the Senate and was thus able to spend more time with his family. There’s probably a statue of him at the Quantico marine officer school, or maybe at the Quantico Marine Social Aide Finishing School. (In the interest of full disclosure, we had to study “Cadetiquette” at West Point. Once again, I kid you not. We also got ineffective training in ballroom dancing. After I spent several days at the home of the parents of an Ivy League girl I dated while at West Point, and sent her mom flowers in appreciation, she asked me if West Point was a finishing school. “Uh, somewhat.”)

Nowadays, the military is fond of calling themselves “selfless servant warriors.” In the Old Guard, the emphasis is apparently on “servant.”

Why do they use real soldiers and marines for this instead of a dance troupe or some such. My only guess is that they want them to wear photogenic medals while performing these theatrical/social duties and it is against the law to wear medals unless you actually won them. Perhaps they could avoid bothering the real combat vets by awarding impressive-looking medals for best flower arrangement, fewest specks of lint during a one-year period, or refraining from setting off a motion-detector-controlled outdoor light for more than 80 minutes while standing outside a White House door in January.

Mr. Obama, tear down this wall of human objets d’art.

Soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen of the Old Guard and White House social aide staff. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the al Qaeda war machine, the elimination of Taliban tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Afghanistan, and security for ourselves in a free world. Or at least you may do that if you will get your very-pretty-but-can-they-fight asses out of Washington, DC!

Now, there's one thing that you men will be able to say when you get into the real military units those uniforms you wear represent, and you may thank God for it. Thirty years from now when you're sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee, and he asks you, "What did you do in the great War on Terror?" -- you won't have to say, "Well, I shoveled chickenshit in the District of Columbia." (click on these links to hear the corresponding speeches by President Reagan and Generals Eisenhower and Patton)


John T. Reed

Here is an email I got from God knows who, along with my response. He implies he is, or was, a member of the Old Guard.

Your obvious anger towards the Old Guard stems from the fact that you could obtain neither the required PT score or Intelligence score to get in. Your West Point version of what the Old Guard does is a joke. There is at least one company of the Old Guard deployed at all times, who are currently deployed in Afghanistan. Apart from the 14 hours a day that the Old Guard trains during the off-duty cycle, they also spend at least two weeks a month doing regular infantry training. Speaking as somebody who did said training, at both the Old Guard and other combat units, I can tell you the training is just as difficult and taken just as seriously. Almost all of the NCO core of the Old Guard are combat veterans. The training you had at West Point for both ceremonies and combat is a complete and utter joke. You would be laughed off at a ranger base, so I am assuming that you were an officer at the DFAC of whatever post you dodged the Vietnam War. I can tell you that the vast majority of the soldiers at the Old Guard are there to give families a respectful last memory of their loved ones that died after serving in the Army. Also, the unit which handles presidential funerals (at least the Army part) is trained at Fort Myer spend no more than the required three years (as per the volunteer contract) at the Old Guard. As for going to the bars I would not know, as I took my job seriously, as well as the rest of my company. Furthermore, if you have not been to Fort Myer and done the training, how is it you pretend to know what goes on there? We practiced all of most weekends or days that we were supposed to have off so that the families would have the best funeral possible.

Every soldier who is in the 3rd Infantry Regiment is just that, an Infantry Soldier primarily. Why don't you ask Bravo Company, who is currently in Afghanistan? Your jealousy, obviously stemming from a harsh rejection letter from the Old Guard (most likely due to the fact that you were not Infantry) is shameful. The battles that you fight on the internet do not make you a good soldier, they only serve to show your ignorance on the subjects, of which you pretend to be an expert. I am going to hazard a guess that you are in fact an internet soldier and never did anything worth talking about in the Army, if you were ever in the Army.

Simon Colby

And by the way, going around bragging "in" any sort of infantry unit is disgusting. You were never infantry. You were attached to an infantry unit, but you were never infantry. You are a joke, and a liar. There is nothing worse than a POG pretending that he was ever actually part of infantry unit. Every PL that I had in any of my units that was from West Point never earned our respect, and the fact you were never even infantry, makes you an even lower life form. Stop pretending that you ever did anything other than install equipment and give courses on communication in a nice cozy air conditioned building. Fucking POG.

Having an argument with a POG whose biggest achievement was going to school is beneath me. Boasting about such achievements as "shooting expert" shows what a joke you are. Trying to make yourself look like you were infantry or ever did anything worth while for the Army shows you are a fraud. Speaking of Vietnam, you may want to refer yourself to the list of medal of honor recipiants. As far as the Old Guard being deployed now, why don't you go to the Old Guard website? I am finished waisting time with a "support" soldier (and I use the term "soldier" loosely).

The deployed unit is apparently 2/3 Battalion of the Old guard. Here is their web page. I have never made a comment about this unit, mainly because I did know it is existed. Colby would have you believe I know nothing about anything because I did not know about that unit.

Now that I do know about it, my only thought is why does it exist as a part of the Old Guard. 2/3 looks like a regular Army unit. The rest of the Old Guard is a ceremonial unit like a band. Indeed, part of it is a band. Makes about as much sense as having a Finance Corps battalion in an armored (tank) regiment. For whatever reason, Colby sees to draw immense self-esteem from the 2/3 although I do not recall saying he was in the 2/3.

I do not recall ever “pretending to be part of an infantry unit” other than to say I was the communications platoon leader of an infantry battalion in the 82nd Airborne Divsion. 3/504 I believe was the name of it. I would have thought most people would say the commo platoon leader was part of the battalion. I do not recall anyone ever describing me or any other commo platoon leaer as “attached” to our battalion. “Attached” generally refers to a temporary ad hoc assignment to a different type of unit for a single specific mission—like an Air Force forward observe who works with aircraft firing at the ground in support of Army troops or an interpretter or scout dog handler attached temporarily for a temporary mission. I actually spent most of my 82nd tour commanding a heavy mortar squad, which is an infantry, not commo, squad. The occasion was a VIP fire power demonstration we rehearsed for months in the summer of 1969. It was show biz, not unlike the Old Guard stationed in the DC area.

I was especially interested in the line “Every PL that I had in any of my units that was from West Point never earned our respect.” In 2011, I had supper with a West Pointer on his way from Afghanistan to the Old Guard. If I have occasion to talk to him again, I’ll be sure to tell him neither he nor any other member of the Long Gray line has not earned the respect of any of the men in the unit—according to Colby. Has Colby informed General Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, of this evaluation of West Pointers? He is also a West Point graduate.

I never wanted to be in the Old Guard, or heard of any who did back in the 60s and 70s. I only had one West Point classmate who was. Back then it was not a place where West Pointers were assigned, I guess because they thought it would hurt your career being in a show-biz unit. They also would not let us in the Green Berets which was popular with the public but disliked by regular Army units and therefore harmful to your career in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

I was not aware the Old Guard had a PT test. What do they test? How long you can stand motionless at attention?

Don't know who you think you're kidding with the IQ test comment. I scored in the 99th percentile (top 1%) on all standardized tests. My WP classmate who was in the Old Guard ranked below me in our class in the “general order of merit” which is primarily based on grades.

I never installed any equipment; my men did. I never taught a course on communication. Don’t know what a POG is. I’m guessing it is a bad name that infantry guys call the other branches to retaliate for the other branches calling the infantry “grunts.” One of the biggest ongoing wastes of time and money in the U.S. military is almost every damned unit screaming insults at their fellow U.S. units in a never-ending “we’re better than you” yelling contest. Grow up, children.

14 hours a day at what? Catching thrown rifles that are tipped with chromed bayonets? File a minimum-wage complaint.

I am an airborne ranger Vietnam vet and was recommended to be a ranger instructor by the ranger cadre. So you are "sure" about a lot of stuff that is the opposite of the truth.

I am aware there are combat vets in the Old Guard. Already said that, too. I just don't know why they would want such an assignment. I know why the Army wants them there. To show off their medals. Conspicuous by its absence is any mention of your own combat tour.

Don't know what the DFAC is so I guess I was never involved in it. A lot of my West Point classmates dodged the Vietnam war, by choosing Germany or another overseas job as their first assignment, and/or by going to long schools like to be a pilot. They could not know for sure they would miss Vietnam when they chose those assignments. Many in my class were worried about missing Vietnam. My sense was those who dodged Vietnam were married guys who felt they owed their new wives a non-Vietnam tour before they went off to war. I volunteered for Vietnam and did a tour there.

Thanks for telling me Old Guard guys give respectful funerals. I already said that in my article. Been there done that. I also said ordinary soldiers from Camp Swampy can do the same.

I never got a rejection letter, harsh or otherwise, from the Old Guard. I never heard of anyone seeking it in 1964-72. It was a shit job. We felt sorry for our classmate who got stuck there. Sounds like it's different now, but it should not be. There is too much show business in the U.S. military today and not enough victories. The military has taken their eyes off the ball and the increased emphasis on units like the Old Guard is further evidence of that.

If the Old Guard is infantry, and I had wanted to go there, I would not have applied because I was not infantry. In my West Point class, the bottom 70 guys (as determined by grades and other evaluations) were forced into the infantry because too few of my other classmates wanted infantry. Several of them were killed in Vietnam. Hell of a penalty for not studying harder.

We got to pick our branch. How high you were in the class determined how much choice you had. In addition to the 70 guys who were forced into the infantry, the rest of my classmates who chose infantry were disproportionately in the bottom of the class. I have heard that infantry is more fashionable at West Point now. We can’t figure that out. The enlisted men in the infantry are probably still the ones with the lowest IQ scores on the test they take in basic training. Digging foxholes and shooting rifles is not rocket science. My branch, communications, probably had some of the smartest enlisted men because we operated complex electrical equipment. The radio officer course I took was, I believe, the longest one in the various officer branches. When I was a company commander, my men were communciations students at the Army Signal School. They were, as a group, about twice as smart as the infantry guys I was with in an infantry battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division.

Speaking of intelligence, I could have had the last Military Intelligence slot in my class. Did not want anything to do with it. The guy behind me in class rank almost kissed me when I let him have it. He probably had to serve two years in the infantry before switching to MI. I hope he did not get killed during that two years in the infantry.

Simon, for all I know you are a 12-year-old, Lithuanian girl practicing her English on the Internet for fun. If you are an Old Guard, don't quit your day job of shining shoes to become a journalist. They have to get their facts straight.

By this point, I am guessing that my readers are wondering what the hell IQ test you imply you did so well on.

John T. Reed

And here’s another view from another Old Guard

On Mar 8, 2012, at 4:43 PM, Sam Clements wrote:

You are spot on about the old guard ( bullshit duty ) I was old guard with a dd214 to prove it and can honestly say its a waste of a good infantryman



Link to information about John T. Reed’s Succeeding book which, in part, relates lessons learned about succeeding in life from being in the military

John T. Reed military home page