Col. Jason T. Garkey, the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) commander, accepted the Distinguished Service Medal from American Legion at the organization's 98th National Convention in Cincinnati on on August 30, 2016.
The American Legion is nation's largest wartime veteran's service organization. American Legion Commander Dale Barnett, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, said The Old Guard was deserving of the honor.
The award was first presented in 1921. The Distinguished Service Medal is the official badge of The American Legion.
"The Old Guard and The American Legion share the common goal of supporting to veterans," said Garkey. "Both The Old guard and The Legion stand for the issues most important to the nation's veteran's community."
Originating just two years after the American Legion was formed, the Distinguished Service Medals were first awarded to Marshal Ferdinand Foch (of France), Admiral Sir David Beatty (of Great Britain), Lieutenant General Baron Jacques (of Belgium), General Armando Diaz (of Italy) and M. Charles Bertrand (of France, president of the Inter-Allied Veterans Association) to acknowledge the victorious Allied forces in battles of World War I.
Since then, the Distinguished Service Medal has been bestowed upon Presidents, organizations and individuals who have made great contributions to veterans.
Past winners include Presidents John F. Kennedy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan. Organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America have also been selected.
The Old Guard is the first unit to receive the Distinguished Service Medal.
"To receive the same award as 11 Presidents is incredibly humbling," said Garkey. "This award has a great historical significance."
"I am indescribably delighted to accept this award on behalf of The Old Guard, said Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Beeson. "We will continue to elevate our Service members."
Recent winners also include Dr. Donald H. Jenkins, a former U.S. Air Force trauma surgeon who pioneered innovative ways to stop battlefield bleeding and former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
"The very history of The Old Guard and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall is tied to this prestigious honor," said Garkey. "Two influential leaders, Gen. Charles P. Summerall and Gen. John J. Pershing are also awardees."
Summerall was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal at the 1951 national convention; a parade field in Fort Myer is named in his honor. Pershing, the second ever winner of the award Founded the U.S. Army Band, now located at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
The award has also been awarded to the service members at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This fact makes the award a deeper historical significance to Beeson.
"To share this distinction with the unknown servicemen of World War I, World War II and the Korean War, is a profound and humbling accomplishment," said Beeson. "The Unknowns gave their country absolutely everything, even their very identities."
"I'm incredibly excited to receive this award on behalf of The Old Guard and the U.S Army," said Garkey. "The American Legion devotes itself to our fellow service members and veterans and is committed to mentoring our youth, while supporting wholesome programs in our communities, that advocates patriotism and honor."
For Garkey, being the first unit awarded this accouterment underscores the importance of The Old Guard's mission.
"Whereas other units in the Army have to interact with the local population of other nations, Soldiers in The Old Guard meet the American people and tell our story, the Army story," said Garkey. "The military and the American people come together in The Old Guard like no other unit in the Army."
Beeson echoes this sentiment.
"Honoring the service members and the fallen is an ongoing mission that will always be our highest priority," said Beeson. "A memorial service may be the lone interaction a family has with The Old Guard and the U.S. Army. We will never fail in that opportunity to leave a positive lasting impression."