Old Guard commander: 'We are the face of the Army'

Col. Johnny K. Davis, commander of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), the U.S. Army's official ceremonial unit and escort to the president.


By JOE HEIM | The Washington Post | Published: September 11, 2015

WASHINGTON — Col. Johnny K. Davis, 47, is commander of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), the U.S. Army's official ceremonial unit and escort to the president. A veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, he is the recipient of three Bronze Star Medals and a Purple Heart.

Q: How do you best describe what the Old Guard does?

A: The Old Guard, or the Third U.S. Infantry Regiment, is the oldest active infantry regiment in the United States Army. In 1948 it was given the mission to serve as the official escort to the president of the United States and as our nation's premier memorial affairs and ceremonial unit. So, bottom line, we are the face of the Army.

Q: What sort of pressure do you feel being in charge of that?

A: You want to do your best, and you never want to let anyone down. That includes our leaders and our citizens. That's why we take our responsibility very seriously. We rehearse.We spend a lot of time to do the things to honor our nation's fallen.

Q: How many funerals have you attended at Arlington Cemetery?

A: In the hundreds.

Q: What's your goal now that you're running those?

A: The funeral is choreographed so that the family is exposed to our nation's best soldiers. I want this to be the best for each family. Because for some of those family members, that could be their very first time at Arlington National Cemetery. When I see the formation of our soldiers, our men and women — and we do between 20 and 30 funerals a day — I'm simply amazed.

Q: The regiment serves as the escort to the president. Is there ever any unscripted interaction between the soldiers and the president?

A: Yes, there are many opportunities where the soldiers have had the opportunity to speak with the president of the United States or the vice president. What I love is that these young soldiers can be part of a flag detail, carrying the presidential colors, and they're standing in the background and in front of them is the president of the United States. The soldiers never forget that. They're thinking in the back of their mind, "This is pretty cool."

Q: You command a force of 1,600 soldiers, and you're also a father of six daughters. Which job is more difficult?

A: Well, definitely six daughters (laughs). My wife and I have been blessed. Our oldest is 23. She graduated from the United States Military Academy and has already deployed to Afghanistan and come home. Our second daughter is an active-duty Marine sergeant. We had a long break and then started again. So, the next one is 11, then 9, 7 and 4. Our youngest is Penny (laughs). I believe we named her Penny because we don't have a penny to our name.