Tom Cotton is the United States Senator from Arkansas. He served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division and in Afghanistan with a Provincial Reconstruction Team. His military decorations include the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Ranger Tab.
Between combat tours, for sixteen months over 2007 and 2008, he served with the United States Army's Third Infantry Regiment at Arlington National Cemetery. The elite unit is known as "The Old Guard," these soldiers have embodied the ideals of honor and sacrifice across our nation's history.
Senator Cotton's new book, Sacred Duty: A Soldier's Tour at Arlington National Cemetery (William Morrow; hardcover, $28.99; E-book, $22.99), is an inspiring portrait of this prestigious unit, and a personal chronicle of his time as a platoon leader in the unit.
|Senator Tom Cotton.|
In writing and researching the book, Senator Cotton returned to Arlington and shadowed the regiment's soldiers, from daily funerals to the state funeral of President George H.W. Bush. He relived the honor, as well as the challenges, of duty at the nation's "most sacred shrine," whose hallowed grounds contain some of the most famous names in military and political history, including presidents, Supreme Court justices, five-star generals, and Medal of Honor recipients, as well as liberated slaves, and, at the fabled Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the bodies of soldiers known only to God.
Selection into The Old Guard's ranks is extremely rigorous, and its soldiers serve to remind Americans that tradition, honor, and devotion still matter. Senator Cotton's tour coincided with the height of the Surge in Iraq in 2007, and consequently, he carried the flag-draped remains of his fallen comrades off airplanes at Dover Air Force Base and laid to rest the fallen from the war on terror, who were soldiers his own age, in Section 60, "the saddest acre in America." He also performed hundreds of funerals for veterans of the Greatest Generation, as well as the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
Senator Cotton Delivered This Address at The Old Guard 4th Battalion Ball on February 8, 2019:
Good evening. Thank you for the kind introduction and for that warm welcome. It's an honor to be with you tonight, and always a pleasure to be back in the company of soldiers. I want to acknowledge Colonel Jim Tuite, Sergeant Ed Brooks, Lieutenant Colonel Todd Burroughs, and Sergeant Major Lee Ward. Thank you for your service to our country and your leadership of these fine troops. And most of all, I want to acknowledge and thank the soldiers of the Warrior Battalion of America's Regiment, the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment, The Old Guard.
And not just on my behalf. I also pass on the thanks of a grateful nation. Our fellow Americans esteem your service more than you could ever know. When Arkansans visit me in the Senate, I ask them what the highlight of their trip was. They consistently say, "Arlington and The Old Guard." Whether watching the Sentinels conduct the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, strolling the avenues of the cemetery, or attending a ceremony on the parade fields of Fort Myer, they marvel at your skill, discipline, and appearance.
I suspect that at times you don't appreciate the full impact of what you do at Arlington and around the nation's capital every day. Some of you marched last year at the arrival ceremony at the Pentagon for the Ministers of Defense of Sweden and Finland. Though close partners, these nations aren't NATO allies and therefore have more exposure to Russian mischief and aggression. That ceremony is a good example of what Lt. Col. Burroughs calls The Old Guard's 'strategic messaging.' Footage of the ceremony played across major media outlets in both Sweden and Finland. And I suspect that Moscow took note as well.
There's a reason the Army hand-selects the most promising new recruits from basic training for assignment to The Old Guard. There's a reason why officers and NCOs must apply to come here. And there's a reason we all went through such rigorous training and testing before we stepped on the marks. It's because when you get on the marks, you represent every soldier in the Army. The Old Guard is the last image of the Army for the family at a funeral,and it's the lasting image to the world at a ceremony. That's truly a no-fail, zero-defect mission, as we hear so often int he regiment, and that's why The Old Guard accepts only the best of our nation's best.
And it's always been so. After the Battle of Yorktown ended the Revolutionary War in 1781, the Continental Congress essentially disbanded the Army, going from sixty infantry battalions down to just a couple platoons. But by 1784, the Congress realized the error of its ways and created the First American Regiment, as we were then known. The professional soldiers of our regiment and others were called the regulars, as a contrast to volunteer militiamen. The regulars remained the backbone of the Army for more than one hundred fifty years.
Our regiment set the standard for professionalism, discipline, and excellence from the beginning, just as you do today. That legacy lives around you every day. The Continental Color Guard presented the colors tonight in the 1784 Continental Infantry uniform approved by George Washington. The Fife and Drum Corps wears the 1779 Continental Musician uniform to commemorate their role as a battlefield signal corps. Those black-and-tan buff straps on your left shoulders recall the regiment's decisive victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, the first campaign on our regimental colors. You march with bayonets fixed to your rifles because of our forerunners' bravery at the Battle of Cerro Gordo, where they followed a path blazed around Mexican lines by a Captain of Engineers named Robert E. Lee. Because of their bravery in the Mexican War - and perhaps because he had served with them thirty years earlier in the War of 1812 - General Winfield Scott put the regiment at the head of the victory parade into Mexico City, where he directed his staff to salute "The Old Guard of the Army."
A few years later, on the eve of a terrible Civil War, that engineer took command of rebel forces, and the U.S. Army seized his family's farm across the river - ground it has held ever since. The Old Guard camped at Arlington just before the First Battle of Bull Run, where they saved the Union army from destruction. A few days later, the Union Commander told President Lincoln at a review of troops, "there are the men who saved your army at Bull Run."
Your ancestors fought in every major battle in the East for the next two years. The Seven Days Battles, Bull Run again, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville. And finally, Gettysburg, where they held the Union line at the Bloody Wheatfield. Watching from Little Round Top, a volunteer militiaman later said, "for two years, the regulars taught us how to fight like soldiers. At the Wheatfield at Gettysburg, they taught us how to die like soldiers."
That's quite a legacy to uphold, and one reason why the Army designated The Old Guard in 1948 as its official ceremonial unit and escort to the president. We've welcomed presidents to Washington, and we've carried them to their eternal homes. On 9/11 at the Pentagon, we were the first soldiers deployed to a battlefield in the war on terror, and every since we've brought home our fallen heroes from that war at Dover Air Force Base, while watching mournfully as the rows of headstones grow in Section 60.
And all along, The Old Guard answered the nation's call and did its duty. I know that many of you never imagined you'd perform this mission when you signed that enlistment contract. I didn't either. But you're exactly where the Army needs you. For two hundred and thirty-five years - since before our Constitution was ratified - the soldiers, NCOs, and officers of The Old Guard have kept America safe, free, and proud. Just as you do today.
Thank you, God bless you, God bless the 3rd United States Infantry, and God bless America.