The 3rd U.S. Infantry Salute Guns Platoon is responsible for rendering honors to visiting foreign dignitaries and heads of state at the White House, the Pentagon and elsewhere in the Washington D.C., area. The platoon also fires the final salutes during many funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. The guns platoon 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 eight 3-inch anti-tank guns of World War II vintage, mounted on 105mm Howitzer chassis. Each gun weighs 5,775 pounds and fires 75mm blank shells with 1.5 pounds of powder.
Although their primary duty is to render honors at military ceremonies, the Guns Platoon also serves as the battalion’s mortar platoon, providing firepower support during tactical training exercises at Fort A.P. Hill, Va.
Most ceremonies require a five-man staff and a two-man team for each gun. The staff consists of an officer-in-charge, who intimates the firing commands; the non-commissioned officer-in-charge, who marches the battery into position and controls the firing of the backup gun; the watchman, who acts as backup; and the counter, who counts rounds and signals “Last Round!” to the gunners.
The two-man team at each gun consists of the loader and the gunner. 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 gunner fires the cannon. Timing is critical in the performance of this task, as he must fire the gun immediately.