29 August 2011

Arlington's New "Ghosts"

The Old Guard are on a mission to photograph every grave in Arlington.

The Old Guard troops typically escort remains and fire three-volley salutes at military funerals. When taking photos, they have middle-of-the-night run-ins with rabbits, foxes and deer in the cemetery, which is situated on the estate where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee once lived. Using head lamps to light their way, they've tripped in shallow holes and brushed aside countless spider webs. They've paused at seeing freshly dug graves prepared for the next day's funerals.
One soldier, Spc. Raymond Piron, 22, of Detroit, says he was working one night in an old section of the cemetery when he felt something tap him on the shoulder. He turned around, but he was alone.
Before this summer, Spc. Craig Green, 21, of Dover, Del., a broad-shouldered, tough-looking Iraq war veteran, says that when it came to walking cemeteries at night, "you couldn't pay me to do it."
At least one of the soldiers, Sgt. Yvens Saintil, 26, of Philadelphia, who has done two tours in Iraq, says he has friends buried in the cemetery. He has taken time to find their graves and pay respects, even though his duties didn't include photographing their graves.
"At first I was kind of sad a little bit, but it's just part of the mission to continue your mission," Saintil says while standing in the columbarium shortly after sunrise on a recent morning.
The mission is called Task Force Christman, in honor of Pvt. William Henry Christman, an Easton, Pa., native and Civil War soldier who was the first soldier buried at Arlington. The troops executing it are from Delta Company of the 1st Battalion of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as the Old Guard — the Army's official ceremonial unit, which provides escorts to the president and helps put on military funerals.

By: Brant

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