Less than three years after completing high school, a local high school graduate has found his way to Washington D.C. and has been part of some of the nation’s biggest events.
Lee Tague, a 2013 graduate of Knox County High School, enlisted in the United States Navy shortly after high school. Just months later his service has transplanted the young man in our nation’s capital, with regular service at Arlington National Cemetery.
Lee is the son of Larry and Tamara Tague. He attended Scotland County schools before transferring in high school to Knox County.
The Gorin native never imagined his career choice would send him so far away from home, so quickly.
His journey started in Great Lakes, IL, for basic training. He spent the eight-week process at the center, some 30 minutes outside of Chicago.
It was during basic training that Tague took part in an interview process for the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard. As a Naval Religious Program Specialist, he was eligible for the program, and after being approved for consideration, then volunteered for the prestigious posting.
Following boot camp, Tague spent two months in additional training for the guard, with emphasis on the special uniform as well as the M1 Garand rifle, the weapon used by the U.S. armed forces dating back to World War II.
“We definitely spend a lot of time making sure our uniforms are presentable and that our appearance is the best it can be,” he said. “Our motto is perfection is expected, excellence is accepted, meaning that while we know no one is ever perfect, we will work to achieve perfection every day.”
The attention to detail begins with the white gloves.
“We always wear gloves when touching our rifles or when handling a flag, out of respect to those instruments, which may have seen battle.”
Respect is the basis for all of the guards’ actions.
“Most people do not understand why we take these ‘little things’ so seriously,” said Tague. “Like standing at attention, working to show no emotion, regardless of whether it is raining, snowing or frigid cold. It is out of respect. That is our mission.”
While the gloves are important, the brass belt of the uniform is the pride of the Navy.
“It is the center piece of the uniform,” said Tague. “Depending on what the weather was like when you wore it, you can spend anywhere from 30 minutes to three or four hours every day or every other day, polishing that brass. It is a point of proud among us when some of the belts details begin to fade because it has been polished so much.”
Established in 1931, the United States Navy Ceremonial Guard is the official ceremonial unit of the Navy. Located at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, DC, the Navy Ceremonial Guard’s primary mission is to represent the service in Presidential, Joint Armed Forces, Navy, and public ceremonies in and around the nation’s capital.
“We’re the face of the Navy at such things as parades, arrivals of foreign dignitaries and even at major sporting events,” said Tague. “For instance, we were there for the arrival in America of the Japanese Foreign Minister.”
Tague said this service was very prestigious, as it marked a key meeting with one of our nation’s greatest naval allies and was held on the south lawn of the Whitehouse.
He also served at the retirement ceremony for former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
Most recently, Tague served as an escort during the ceremony for Navy Seal Edward Byers, the latest recipient of the Medal of Honor, and receiving the honor to escort him to the Hall of Heroes where the names of the medal winners are enshrined.
“Two years ago I never would have imaged being in the presence of such great people,” said Tague.
During the week however, the primary duty of the guard is to serve as the funeral escort and to conduct services for Navy personnel buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Tasking for ceremonies comes from the President of the United States, the Secretaries of Defense and the Navy, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Chief of Naval Operations, and the Commandant, Naval District Washington. Navy Ceremonial Guard Sailors participate in numerous other military ceremonies at local commands. Some elements of the command, such as the Drill Team and Color Guard, have represented the Navy in public events across the nation and around the world.
Tague gives much of the credit for his choice to pursue a military career to a former coach at Knox County High School, Keith Gudehus.
“He was a big inspiration for me,” said Tague. “Obviously his level of success is motivating, but for me his attention to detail and how much he cared about other people are truly what inspired me.”
Gudehus returned to coach the Knox County girls basketball program after retiring from the U.S. Army after 21 years of service.
“He set an excellent example for me, his selflessness and his ability to motivate others are part of why I enlisted,” said Tague.
Tague recently returned home for the funeral of his grandfather, Rodney Day. Day served in the U.S. Army, so Tague got to witness his military rites at the funeral.
“It definitely created a new perspective for me about what we do in the Ceremonial Guard,” he said. “I really appreciated the respect that was offered to my grandfather and our family. I’m honored to be able to do that for other military families.”
While still attached to the ceremonial guard unit, Tague’s career has taken a new path in public relations. Now an E-4 status, Tague currently is working with visitors at the Pentagon.
“I’m a liaison for visitors to the Department of Defense headquarters,” he said. “It is a public affairs posting, where we provide outreach services and work with the public. It’s quite a transition from standing silently at attention for hours at a time. Now much of what I do is talking and communicating.”
He believes his next posting may take him to North Carolina or California to work with the U.S. Marines. Ultimately the Scotland County native hopes one day to return to the diplomacy arena, possibly working at the State Department.