From small town Washington to bright lights - big city Washington
January 18, 2013
WASHINGTON -- For a Washington, Mo. - native, the world can be a very big place. His hometown, settled by friends and family of Daniel Boone, boasts a growing population of 15,000 people with one high school, one hospital, the Missouri River to its north and is surrounded by farmland on the remaining three sides.
At 21 years old, the six-foot three-inch tall, thinly-built boy left Washington. He had a job and was taking classes at a community college, but wasn't finding anything that drove him; he just knew he wanted more. The answer came easily to him and with the support of his family and friends he enlisted in the United States Army.
For the now 22-year-old Pfc. Jon Irwin there were many reasons behind his decision to enlist in the armed forces.
"I looked forward to the camaraderie and the different things the Army instills in you -- like discipline," he said sitting in an immaculately pressed blue dress uniform, his blond hair in a sharp crew cut, "the unique experiences that come with being in the Army and to serve my country."
During basic training, Irwin was selected to attend a lecture on the 3rd Army Infantry Regiment -- The Old Guard -- which started a chain of events that would have unimaginable consequences. He met height and build standards, scored well on the military entrance exam and enlisted as an infantryman -- all requirements to be considered as a member on the elite team.
"I didn't know what the Old Guard was when I went to basic training. So they told us about it and asked if we were interested," he said. "It sounded like an amazing opportunity."
After nearly nine months of paperwork, testing and training, Irwin now holds a coveted spot in the Continental Color Guard, Honor Guard Company, 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, and guards or carries the colors in ceremonies for national and world leaders at events around the country.
Growing up the youngest of four children, Irwin only left the United States once for a week-long church mission trip to Colombia. The trip impacted his life and made him want to see more of the world. Now, he is amazed to see world leaders stand before him on a daily basis.
"I never expected to be here in D.C., doing things and going places that normal civilians just don't get to do," he said.
During Irwin's most recent mission, he served on an eight-man Joint Service Color Guard for the ceremony where Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta welcomed Afghan President Hamid Karzai to the Pentagon in front of more than one hundred Honor Guard service members from the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. Due to the steady wind, Irwin spent the majority of the event with the U.S. Army colors -- of which he was the bearer -- wrapped around his face. Irwin says having to perform blind comes with the territory.
"That's totally normal. After training all day, every day, you find out real quick you're going to be functioning blind for good portion of your missions," Irwin said with a small smile. "Even after your first week training outside, you learn that there is going to be a flag in your face. It's a part of the precision of the team. You learn to base your movements off the feel of the guy next to you."
Irwin is scheduled to perform at the Commander in Chief ball in front of the president, first lady and hundreds of distinguished guests, in addition to other events supporting the 57th Presidential Inauguration.
"There's always a bit of nervousness before a mission, but you try not to think about it," he said. "It's not about being in front of important people, it's about not wanting to make a mistake. You never want to be the guy on the team to make a mistake."
Despite the stress of the job, Irwin finds himself right at home with his fellow soldiers.
"I'm right where I want to be for the remainder of my time with the Old Guard," Irwin said. "I want to progress in the platoon itself, and continue training, because there's always room for improvement. One of the things I really like about this job is the schedule is incredible and there is a level of independence, since such high standards are expected. It's completely unique from any other infantry unit elsewhere in the Army. It was an opportunity that arose, and I had to take it."
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