The 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) Presidential Salute Battery, founded in 1953, fires cannon salutes in honor of the President of the United States, visiting foreign dignitaries, and official guests of the Unites States. The battery also fires in support of memorial affairs for all military services in Arlington National Cemetery. In addition the battery fires for ceremonies and special events throughout the National Capital Region. The Presidential Salute Battery is the only unit of its kind in the Army, and its busy schedule includes more than 300 ceremonies each year.
The platoon is equipped with ten M5, 75mm antitank cannons mounted on the M6 howitzer carriage. Each gun weighs 5,775 pounds. The M5 cannon saw service in North Africa, Italy, and Northwest Europe from 1943 until the end of World War II. Today, the Presidential Salute Battery fires the 75mm blank ceremonial shell with 1.5 pounds of powder.
The primary mission on the Salute Battery is to render honors at military ceremonies. In addition the platoon also serves as 1st Battalion’s mortar platoon. Forty Soldiers fire the 81mm M252 mortar, expertly providing indirect fire support during tactical training exercises at Fort A.P. Hill, VA.
Ceremonies require a five-man staff and a two-man team for each gun. The staff consists of the Battery Commander, who initiates fire commands and ensures the proper number of rounds is fired; the Sergeant of the Watch, who marches the battery into position, controls the firing of the backup gun, and monitors the watchman and his assistant; the Watchman controls the timing between rounds and gives the command to fire; the more experienced Assistant Watchman ensures the Watchman stays in time; and the Counter, counts the rounds and signals the last round to the battery.
Each two-man team consists of a gunner who fires the cannon and a loader. The loader has the most difficult job. He must fit a 75mm shell into the block at a particular angle and he does not have time to place the shell by sight. He must learn to do it by feel and do it quickly. This skill can take up to six weeks to master before the soldier is proficient enough to participate in an actual ceremony.
The Presidential Salute Battery trains constantly to perfect their craft, at times up to six hours a day. The platoon takes great pride in their appearance and performance of their duties and although they are rarely seen but always heard, they execute their duties with the same precision and dignity as any unit in The Old Guard.