White House Sentries

White House NCO Program

A White House sentry pictured in 2009.
Active 1970-1973, 1981-Present
Allegiance  United States of America
Branch United States Marine Corps
Role public duties
Size 4
Garrison/HQ Marine Barracks Washington
Nickname(s) White House Sentries

The White House Sentries, officially known as the White House Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) Program,[1] is a unit of the United States Marine Corps responsible for posting a ceremonial guard outside the West Wing of the White House when it is occupied by the President of the United States. The practice of using Marine sentries at the West Wing began in 1970.


Harry Truman inspects the U.S. Marine guard assigned to his vacation house in Key West, Florida.

Marines had previously been used to secure the premises of a presidential residence during the presidency of Harry Truman when a detachment was used to guard the president's winter house in Key West, Florida, the "Little White House." The first use of Marines as guards outside the West Wing, however, was instituted at the direct order of President Richard Nixon in August 1970 to "add dignity to the White House." The first three personnel to man the post were Sergeant George Daniel Cutting, Sergeant Arnold Alvin Laramie, and Sergeant Terry August Strassburg, the latter of whom had previously served as Color Sergeant of the Marine Corps, a special duty assignment responsible for carrying and ordering the flag of the President of the United States. The program was abolished by Gerald Ford, but subsequently reinstated during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.[2][3][4]

In 2013, President Barack Obama ordered Corporal Nathan Previti and another White House sentry to hold umbrellas over his head and that of visiting Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a press conference in the Rose Garden. This prompted criticism from Sarah Palin and other conservative commentators, some of whom observed that Marine Corps regulations prohibit male Marines from operating umbrellas. However, a Marine spokesman noted that Title 10 of the United States Code provides that members of the Marine Corps shall "perform such other duties as the President may direct".[5][6][7][8]

Marine sentries hold umbrellas for President Barack Obama and Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2013.



As of 2009, the White House NCO Program consisted of four sentries working alternating, two-man, 30-minute shifts during periods in which the president was in occupancy in the West Wing of the White House. Their responsibility is to post outside the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance to the West Wing, to open the door for arriving and departing visitors, and to render honors to the President when he arrives and departs. Because sentries are posted at the exterior of the building, they are unable to see when someone is preparing to exit and so are alerted to a departing visitor by a buzzer system operated by the presidential protection detail of the United States Secret Service; a single-buzzer indicates the door should be opened for a departing visitor while three buzzers sounded in rapid succession warns the sentry of the approach of the president.[9]

A White House sentry posted outside the West Wing in December 2010.


The White House NCO Program is one of three units of the Headquarters and Service Company of Marine Barracks Washington, however, is under the operational command of the White House Military Office. Marines assigned to the program are non-commissioned officers selected following a competitive application process. Because they work in close proximity to the President of the United States, White House Sentries must undergo a Yankee White (category II) background investigation, which requires demonstration of "unquestionable loyalty to the United States".[1][2][10]

See also


  1. 1 2 Welcome to Marine Barracks Washington (PDF). Washington, D.C.: United States Marine Corps. 1995. p. 6.
  2. 1 2 "White House wants you, NCOs". Pass in Review. April 2001.
  3. "Marine Stationed at White House Door". Lansing State Journal. Associated Press. 23 August 1970. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  4. Watson, Robert (2005). The National Security Legacy of Harry S. Truman. Truman State University Press. pp. 38–41. ISBN 1931112460.
  5. Weiner, Rachel (17 May 2013). "Obama puts Marines on umbrella duty, irking conservatives". Washington Post. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  6. Sanchez, Raf (17 May 2013). "When it rains it pours: Barack Obama suffers umbrella gaffe". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  7. Ingersoll, Geoffrey (16 May 2013). "Marine Presidential Guard Holds An Umbrella Perfectly Still Over Obama". Business Insider. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  8. Kassab, Bob (20 May 2013). "Marine holding umbrella for Obama is from Apopka". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  9. "White House Sentries". whitehouse.gov. United States Government. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  10. "DOD Instruction NUMBER 5210.87" (PDF). dtic.mil. United States Department of Defense. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
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