JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. (Dec. 28, 2012) -- There are crucial moments in life that define the person we are, and who we are going to be. For Pfc. Jacob Davenport, it was when his great-uncle, retired Col. Talmadge N. Gilley Jr., died.
Gilley Jr. passed away July 18, 2009. On the day of his funeral, Davenport decided he wanted nothing more than the opportunity to walk in his great-uncle's footsteps and become a Tomb guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, or ANC, in Virginia.
"His ceremony was beautiful. He had a full-honors burial at ANC. I was very sad to have lost him, but I was glad that he was in my life," said Davenport, an infantryman with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). "I visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where my great-uncle guarded all those years ago, and I knew that I wanted to join The Old Guard and become a Sentinel one day."
Davenport's chance came in March of 2012 when he enlisted into the U.S. Army. After arriving to The Old Guard in July, Davenport immediately volunteered to go to the Tomb. Now, six months into training, Davenport is already proving to his trainers that he has what it takes.
"It is very tough and challenging for Soldiers down here. We are the standards of perfection, but I see that Davenport quickly understands the training and the Sentinel philosophy," said Sgt. Erik McGuire, Tomb Sentinel team leader.
Davenport attributes his aptitude to the lessons he learned from his great-uncle who served as a Sentinel from July 1957 until August 1958.
"My uncle wanted to serve those men who died in combat, whose names and identities no one knows," said Davenport. "He wanted to keep these men guarded, and so do I."
McGuire said it was clear that something more was pushing Davenport.
"I didn't even know that he was related to a Tomb Sentinel when he first got here," said McGuire. "I joked with him later about it when I told him it must be in your blood because he is pretty squared away."
Davenport's dedication was apparent even before he started the Sentinel training.
"I noticed before he was assigned to us that Davenport spent many hours outside just watching the Sentinels and the Changing of the Guard on his own time," said McGuire.
The Changing of the Guard is a ceremony in which a new Tomb guard is inspected by a relief commander before replacing the Tomb guard on duty. Davenport said watching this ceremony brought back childhood memories.
"I used to sit down and listen to my uncle's stories about serving as a Sentinel and I remember just being amazed by it all," said Davenport. "I love watching the changing of the guard because it reminded me of my great-uncle and what he did. It is great how they have kept this high standard for all these years."
During Davenport's first walk on the plaza, he said he reflected on many things, but one thing in particular stood out.
"Besides being a little nervous and excited, I thought about my uncle when I was out there. I was proud that I was actually walking in his same footsteps," said Davenport. "He paved the way so that I could have this opportunity."
Davenport also said he will remember to always uphold the principles his great-uncle taught him, to remain humble and patriotic.
"It was who my uncle was on the inside that made him a great Tomb Sentinel," said Davenport. "He loved what he did so much, and that is why I admire him for who he was and what he did for this country."
Davenport hopes to one day earn the right to be called a Sentinel, but more importantly, the opportunity to make his great-uncle proud.
"I know if he was alive today that he would be very happy that I was serving my country and doing something that I love," said Davenport. "I still have a way to go, but I am just glad I get the chance to do this."