Thornapple Kellogg School District

Skip to main content

TK Grad Guards Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Aspinall, a 2002 graduate of TKHS enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2017. After his TKHS graduation he went on to college at Ferris State University earning a degree in Computer Networks and Systems and worked in the public sector in IT for 10 years; first as a Help Desk technician and later as a manager.

 "In 2016 I started to recognize that I wasn’t feeling fulfilled through my work and I wanted to do something more. The military had always piqued my interest so I decided to enlist and serve my country."

 After basic training, Aspinall decided to apply to be a member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment known as  "The Old Guard."  Members of this prestigious group are tasked with the sacred honor of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 24 hours per day, 365 days per year in all kinds of weather.

He started training to be a Tomb Guard in July of this year, a process that will take 6 to 12 months to complete. While in training, Aspinall has to earn his turns ‘walking the mat’ by passing rigorous testing of his uniform readiness and appearance, knowledge of the Tomb and cemetery history, and performance as a guard.

 While guarding the Tomb, soldiers are not allowed to speak or break their march, unless someone enters the restricted area around the Tomb. Guards cannot wave, smile or speak with visitors. Their full and undivided attention must be focused on honoring and protecting the Tomb and the Unknowns.

"I'm honored to be able to do this. Losing your life for the protection of your country and fellow countrymen is the highest sacrifice possible. For me, being able to honor that sacrifice, our veterans and the Unknowns is a privilege.  That’s what I think about when I'm out there. I concentrate on counting to 21 and that is an important part of the job but; making certain that I serve the post well by understanding why we’ve guarded the Tomb non-stop, 24 hours a day since 1937 is more important.”

Aspinall said of all the visitors to the Tomb the ones who get to him the most are the Honor Flight visitors. The Honor Flights are made up of veterans from all US conflicts. 

 "They come here to Washington D.C. and they are saluting me, as a Guard at the Tomb, but, and all I can think is that it should be the other way around. I should be the one saluting them," he said.

 To some, it may seem like a monotonous job. Guards take 30-minute walks before the Changing of the Guard ceremony. Aspinall said he may do as many as 11 walks per shift. "I don't get bored, but it can get tiring -  physically and mentally."

 Aspinall's enlistment ends in 2020 and while he said he's not sure what will come next for him, he knows he will always be grateful and honored for being able to be part of the Old Guard.

 Advice to high school students:  "Be persistent about what you want. Things aren't given to you all the time but don't give up trying. There will be difficult times in your life but those times help build character and make you realize what's important."

What he liked best about Middleville:  "It was small but not too small. My Dad still lives in Middleville and I was able to walk to school. I was walking all the time - and I guess I still am today."

What he liked best about TK:  "For me, it was the sports I played and what that did for me. It was the camaraderie with my team and the ability to be able to participate in something where I could see my accomplishments."