EUREKA — Sandi and Jerry Garkey had some friends over for rolls and coffee at their home in The Villages, Fla., last month to watch a special live event on television — the morning visit to the White House of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
“We knew they were going to be on C-SPAN,” Jerry Garkey said recently. Jerry and Sandi Garkey are longtime locals who retired from careers at Caterpillar Inc. and the Eureka school district, respectively, and moved to Florida in 2009. They were back in the area recently visiting friends.
“I didn’t know there was more than one C-SPAN — you got your 1, your 2 and your 3 — and I was all worried we’d be set up for the wrong C-SPAN,” Sandi Garkey said. “But we got the right one.”
“Fortunately,” he said.
“After a couple of tries,” she said, finishing the thought.
It wasn’t the dignitary from Singapore the crowd had gathered to watch. Or President Obama. No, they came to see the man in the fancy Army uniform with the chestful of ribbons, firmly-knotted tie, and severely creased dress trousers who walked at the prime minister’s side. Col. Jason Garkey, son of Jerry and Sandi Garkey, is the newly appointed commander of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, traditionally known as “The Old Guard,” the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army. The Old Guard, the Army’s official ceremonial unit and escort to the president, has served the country continually since 1784.
“To be placed in the position to represent the United States Army in the nation’s capital is an awesome responsibility and one that is truly humbling,” Garkey said by phone from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, the joint Army and Marine base next to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Va.
A change of command ceremony was held On June 16, with 26 neighbors and friends joining the Garkeys at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall for the occasion.
Here’s how the program for that ceremony describes The Old Guard and the work it does:
“Since World War II has served as the official Army Honor Guard and escort to the president. In that capacity, 3d U.S. Infantry soldiers are responsible for conducting military ceremonies at the White House, the Pentagon, national memorials and elsewhere in the national capital region. In addition, soldiers of ‘The Old Guard’ maintain a 24-hour vigil at the Tomb of the Unknowns, provide military funeral escorts at Arlington National Cemetery and participate in ceremonies at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.”
Garkey knew at a young age that he wanted to serve in the military.
“When he was in fourth grade his teacher, Mrs. King, Pam King, gave an assignment to the class that they were to write a letter to get information about something,” Sandi Garkey said. “Jason wrote his letter to West Point, that he wanted to some day attend West Point. And he wanted information on what he should do to prepare for West Point. That was in fourth grade."
Jerry Garkey served in Vietnam in the Army in the late 1960s, returning home in 1970. He, too, remembered his son’s early interest in the military. When Jason Garkey was in sixth grade, his father learned of a meeting at a Caterpillar conference room with a West Point recruiter. He and Jason decided to attend.
“So we went to the meeting and the guy looks out in the audience and here’s this little kid out there, you know, in sixth grade with his dad,” Jerry Garkey said. “He sort of cracked up and said he was glad to see the interest, but that they were really not going to worry about him until between his junior and senior year in high school. Later he applied to two academies (West Point and the Air Force Academy) and was accepted at both.”
Jason Garkey graduated from Eureka High School in 1989. He graduated from West Point in 1993. His Army accomplishments are too numerous to list here. His operational deployments include Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. His awards and decorations include two Bronze Stars, nine Meritorious Service Medals, three Army Commendation Medals, an Army Achievement Medal and many more. He will serve as commander of The Old Guard for two years. Beyond that he does not know his next stop. A next promotion would make him a general.
Col. Garkey hasn’t been to Eureka since his parents retired to Florida and since he attended his 20th high school reunion in 2009.
“I’ve got to get back there,” he said.
Garkey was in Cincinnati this summer accepting the Distinguished Service Medal on behalf of the Old Guard. The medal normally is given to individuals. Eleven U.S. presidents and five Allied generals are among the long list of recipients. The Old Guard was the first Army regiment to be honored with the medal.
“The day took me back to my childhood in Eureka, being around so many former military and members of the American Legion,” Garkey said. ”What I was reminded of was what I took away from my hometown — family values and an understanding of community and citizenship. That’s the value of a small town, Midwestern upbringing. It served me well.”
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at email@example.com. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.