May 26, 2000
By Elaine Tarello
For Myer, VA. Thousands
of people line the streets, munching on hot dogs and giant pretzels
as they strain to catch a glimpse of the colorful floats passing
by in the parade. Small children, perched on shoulders, wave miniature
U.S. flags at the soldiers marching smartly by. It's Memorial
Day, a day set aside to not only enjoy picnics and parades, but
to remember our war veterans.
Jesse R. Tellez, an Army private first class and son of Williams and Debbye Tellez, is a member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry, commonly known as the Old Guard. Although its mission is to act as the U.S. Army's official ceremonial unit, there's a lot more to the Old Guard than just flashy uniforms.
Soldiers like Tellez serve as sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknowns, provide casket teams, honor guards and firing parties for countless funerals at the Arlington National Cemetery, and take part in parades and festivals throughout the country. Other Old Guard units include the Commander-in-Chief's Guard, the U.S. Army Drill Team and the Fife and Drum Corps.
Due to its high profile mission, Old Guard soldiers are selectively chosen, with stringent height, weight and testing requirements. Tellez, a combat medic, has been a member for six months.
"I volunteered for the Old Guard because I though it would be an honor to serve in the Army's official ceremonial unit, and I really like living in Washington, D.C.," said Tellez, a 1997 graduate of Helix High School, La Mesa.
As a member of the Old Guard's medical unit, an integral part of Tellez' job takes place at military ceremonies, during which he provide medical care for his fellow soldiers.
"I provide medical coverage for retirement ceremonies, funerals, official arrivals and wreath layings at the Tomb of the Unknowns," Tellez said. "Next year, I'll be providing medical care for the presidential inauguration.
"We also take part in all tactical training events, such as at the Joint Readiness Training Center exercises at Fort Polk, LA.," he added.
Old Guard soldiers participate in ceremonies and events ranging from performances for the president at the White House to attendance at NATO summits. Although all events are significant, for Tellez, some are more poignant than others.
"On my first day here, I had to help with a medical procedure and got queasy and passed out," Tellez said. "That was an interesting way to make a first impression at a new job."
Most people will celebrate Memorial Day this year with picnics, parades and a day off from work. But for Tellez, this holiday will be just another day on the job.
"On Memorial Day, we place a flag on every headstone in the Arlington National Cemetery," Tellez said. "That is a great honor for me because so many of these service members gave their lives for freedom. Their sacrifices are why I joined the Army and the Old Guard."