Lawyer recalls serving in a historic army infantry unit

Tristan Gruspier, front row, fifth man from left, in the 2nd Platoon of the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard, at an indoor retreat ceremony. (American press)

LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana – Prior to recently taking the state bar exam and joining a local law firm, Tristan Gruspier had a very different career in which he served as the United States Goodwill Ambassador in a selective unit that prides itself on excellence and being the face of the military to the world.

Service to his country is something that has been instilled in Gruspier since his childhood.

“My grandfather was drafted into the army, my father was drafted into the military and I came to an age where I realized I had to do it or not to do it,” he said. he declares. “By that time I was already graduating from LSU and working both in the state capital to do political work and jumping to and from Washington, DC, and I realized it was was something I had to do. “

Gruspier said he was glad he did because he has friends who are now in their 30s who wish they had the experience of serving in the military.

“Trying to do something like this is definitely a lot harder when you’re older. “

He speaks from experience, admitting that the basic training was a rude awakening.

“I don’t mean to say I was the ‘old man’ in my basic training, but I started when I was 22 or 23 so I was already around the power curve because the majority of guys were 18 and straight out of high school and ready to go. Plus, I wasn’t in my best shape to enter, “he said with a laugh.” But I emptied it and I did what I had to do. “

Gruspier said he chose to enlist in the infantry and after graduating from basic training he was posted to a unit at Fort Carson, Colo. Unbeknownst to him, as he continued to serve he also ticked the boxes required for Old Guard placement – he received a secret clearance, scored high on his aptitude test, had no strike over his military record and was a member of the infantry.

“I was at Fort Carson for about two and a half years and a day and got the order to go to the museum in the mail and couldn’t find out who I had checked off to be reassigned to this little museum. through the front door. I was puzzled.

When he questioned his commanding officer about the orders, he was sent to the non-commissioned officer.

“He just started laughing at me when I asked and said, ‘You were marked to go to the old guard for about a year after you joined the military. You’ve been on their radar. “

The Old Guard is the army’s oldest active-service infantry unit, serving the nation since 1764. It is the army’s official ceremonial unit and the president’s escort.

Gruspier said that in an election year, the Old Guard strengthens to around 120% to have enough members to meet the needs of the multiple inaugural ceremonies.

“Because of that, because of my qualifications and because my platoon sergeant put my name on the list and never told me about it, I got my orders,” he said.

Gruspier said that while he ultimately enjoyed the experience, he was initially upset with the transfer.

“My unit was preparing for deployment, so I asked if I could get out so I could go serve with them, but I was told no because I had been selected. “

Gruspier said his father was an army combat engineer and his grandfather, who served in Korea, was a supply sergeant. Their experiences were very different from what Gruspier would experience in The Old Guard, which he described as “a completely different area of ​​responsibility”.

“If the face of a soldier is to be represented to a foreign dignitary or even to the general public, nine times out of 10 it is a member of the Old Guard,” he explained. “The soldiers who present the flag at NFL games or at the Super Bowl are the honor guard of the old guard. There are so many missions assigned to us.

He said the Old Guard is made up of two battalions – one assigned to Arlington Cemetery whose missions include guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and attending the military funeral; the other is ceremonial and covers the Pentagon and White House arrivals and the Twilight Tattoo military contests.

“It’s never something I would have ever imagined,” he said. “I was assigned to the Commander and Chief’s Guard, which is a special unit within the Old Guard and our main uniform was the uniform of the American Revolutionary Soldier.”

When prime ministers or other foreign dignitaries arrived in Washington, DC, Gruspier’s unit stood guard as representatives of the military’s vast history.

“It’s a lot to stand and not move for hours,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s the exact opposite of what one might think of a military infantry, frankly. “

Before a soldier goes on a mission, a “leveler” inspects his uniform and the formation of the platoon. The old guard is no different.

“There are 110 individual items on the spreadsheet that the grader is checking and they’re going to sit there and go through each one,” he said. “The medals we wear have to be an eighth of an inch higher than the pocket. Each item is scored and you must have a score of 90 or higher to pass. If you didn’t pass, your platoon loses its certification and you have to go through the whole recertification process again, which is no fun.

Gruspier jokes that his training for The Old Guard was essentially “arts and crafts time for the military.” While other soldiers were given canteens and weapons, he was given ribbons.

“When you see the ceremonial medals worn by soldiers, especially those assigned to the Tomb, we have to make them,” he said. “We’re going to get the blanks and then you have to go in and make a special splint on the inside that allows the cap to sit perfectly flat and then you learn how to make all the medals that go on our uniforms. They are all handmade. We also have horseshoes on the bottom of our dress shoes and you have to sand them down, and you have to paint them and you have to clean them. You spend the first month of your time in the Old Guard not only making your uniform, but also learning about the Old Guard.

Once assigned to his platoon, he spent weeks learning how to use and walk with a musket, as well as taking care of his American Revolution-style wig.

“Here I’m in the military and I’m actually learning how to roll a wig and put it away, things you never imagined,” he said. “We also had to use a press to remake the uniform after each ceremony. If your sleeve pleats weren’t right, you were written for it. The level of detail given to training, uniforms and perfection is a level that I am not familiar with in any other part of the military. There is such a level of detail involved.

Because each mission he served was very different, Gruspier said he couldn’t choose a preferred experience.

“A mission, we had to meet the Defense Secretary because he wanted the visiting Prime Minister to speak with an ordinary soldier,” he said. “Another time I was attending a ceremony and when it was over I was talking to this older gentleman with an Australian accent and in short he turned out to be the Ambassador from Australia. things like that you wouldn’t think you would do as a soldier.

He said his most memorable experiences were the Memorial Day celebrations at Arlington Cemetery.

“The previous Thursday, the whole regiment goes out after dusk and places individual flags on each grave,” he said. “What a lot of people don’t know is that the cemetery is divided into different sections and in the Civil War section you would be amazed at the number of unknown soldiers. It’s not just the Tomb, there are thousands more. There is so much respect there. The minute you knock on the door, no one is speaking. There is so much respect for the past and the soldiers who came before. It really hits you when you get there.

Gruspier eventually served nearly six years in the military, including three in the Old Guard, under Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

His unit served in the Pentagon.

“It’s really easy to turn around on the inside,” he said. “Once you get to the middle, there are so many upper levels that it’s become a no salvation zone. Normally lower officers always greet higher officers, but in this situation there are so many generals that you will never walk down the hall. You would find yourself waving all the time.

Gruspier said the attention to detail he needed in the military continued in his second career as a lawyer for Robichaux, Mize, Wadsack, Richardson & Watson.

“It’s like a 10 times OCD,” he said with a laugh. “In the legal field, it’s the same thing. If you miss one thing, you can dismiss an entire case.

Gruspier said his interest in law began when he was 16. With a one-month driver’s license in hand, he was hired as a racer for Robichaux and was able to get a close look at the legal system.

“Just looking at the judges in their cabinets and seeing them solve problems and try to come up with the right answer like a giant puzzle, I liked that aspect,” he said. “I was a little late for the party, but I came back after the army.”

In addition to the added attention to detail, the Army’s regulated approach also helped in the courtroom.

“We have a deadline and a timetable, and we will meet that deadline and this timetable,” he said.

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