Raising the Bar: Training our Disciples

On a recent flight from Orlando to Portland, I decided to take a break from my e-mails and find something to watch on Delta’s In Flight Entertainment. A new movie I’d never heard of, The Unknowns, piqued my interest. It’s a film created by Army Veterans Ethan Morse and Neal Schrodetzki. Both were stationed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, and bring a unique perspective to the rigorous and intricate training process that soldiers must endure to be stationed there.

The film covers select portions of the Sentinel training program and answers questions and dispels myths that have circulated regarding the elite site since its establishment.

I love military movies (highly recommend Hacksaw Ridge), filled with courage and strategy, so investing 90 minutes of a long flight on The Unknowns was an easy choice. I had no idea what a significant movie this would be for understanding disciple-making!

Sgt. Erik McGuire (right), Tomb Sentinel, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), inspects the weapon of a Tomb Guard during a guard change, Aug. 30, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, Va. Prior to this guard change, McGuire was awarded The Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Identification Badge. Tomb Guards must pass a series of tests and training before they earn the right to be called a Tomb Sentinel. (U.S. Army photo by Megan Garcia)Over 400,000 soldiers have been honorably laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery since 1964. The most prominent place in the Cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Tomb is guarded twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year. Whether in thundering rain, blizzarding snow, or blistering heat, the Tomb Guards never leave their post.

Tomb Guards are members of the 3rd US Infantry Division of the US Army. They serve in twenty six hour shifts, being on every other day for five days, and then going off rotation for four days. In other words, Tomb Guards serve seventy eight hours every nine days.

Sentinels receive the Honor Guard badge, which is the least awarded medal in the entire military. In fact, it’s the only medal that can be taken away even after leaving service if a Sentinel dishonorably disgraces his service.

honor guard

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier actually contains the remains of three soldiers from three different wars, and they are honored because they gave everything. They gave their life, their name, their identity. They sacrificed all! The Tomb Guards, while walking the mat, wear a uniform that displays no rank. This is intentional because they willingly place themselves at a rank beneath the unknowns. No one outranks the unknowns. These Sentinels hold themselves to a higher standard than the rest of the Army, though this is a self-imposed standard. They do this to honor those they serve.

Soldiers that serve as Tomb Guards do so out of a sense of calling. The training regimen this elite group of men and women go through is rigorous. They go through nine months of training and will only have the opportunity to walk the mat and guard the Tomb if an existing Sentinel signs off on their training and gives approval.

As a part of their training, Tomb Guards have to memorize the entire 17 page training manual and be prepared to recite it verbatim, including every comma, parentheses and quotation mark. They learn the upkeep of their uniform and equipment. If, when stepping onto the mat for the Changing of the Guard, their uniform or weapon fail the white glove test, the Sentinel must return to their quarters and cannot serve their rotation. A replacement is sent. They must learn to polish and shine their badge. The placement of every bar and medal on their uniform must be placed within 1/64th of an inch of the proper location or they fail inspection. Their uniform must be ironed, creased perfectly, with a sheen to its appearance. Because of this, Tomb Guards learn a technique involving a torch where they burn any possible fuzz off their uniform so it has maximum sheen and smoothness.

And then there is their shoes. Every member of the military is expected to polish their dress shoes, but the Tomb Guard soldiers take this expectation to an unreal level. In between rotations, a Tomb Guard might spend as much as six to eight hours shining their shoes! You read that right. A full eight hour day of work, just shining a pair of shoes. I can’t even fathom that. The dedication. The meticulous commitment to detail, to perfection.

Why do they do this? Because they know… it’s not about them. It’s about the unknowns. It’s about honor.

So what does all of this have to do with disciple-making?

As I watched The Unknowns, I couldn’t help but think of the level of preparation and training that goes into how they are called to serve. How about us? What level of commitment do we expect from our disciples? How much of a sense of calling do our disciples have for the commission they have received? What standard of character do we hold our disciples to? How much training and accountability goes into the preparation of our disciples?

As I watch The Unknowns, these words come to mind. Commitment to Calling. Intentional Training. Honorable Service.

An Honor Guard is never thrust into duty haphazardly. Their responsibility is taken seriously.

It’s time for us to get serious about training. It’s time for us to raise the bar. If we we want to see a disciple-making movement from here to everywhere, it will require “fully trained disciples.” (Luke 6:40)


For Further Consideration…

1- How would you define a “fully trained disciple”?

2- When you think about the meticulous nature of preparation that Tomb Guards go through, even down to the detail of their uniform and the shining of their shoes, what parallels would you make to ministry preparation?

3- The Unknowns powerfully portrays the honor for those who sacrifice their all… their life, their name, their identity… for the sake of their country and freedom. In many ways, if a disciple is to become like their teacher, it also requires the sacrifice of their own identity as they take on the identity of the one they serve. Is this a level of commitment that we call others to? Is this a level of commitment that we model for our disciples?