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Riley Warren, a private in the Third U.S. Infantry Regiment, stands behind and to the right of President Barack Obama on Jan. 20. (Contributed photo)

An East Meredith man had the opportunity to meet President Barack Obama and former-President George W. Bush through a prestigious position in the Army's Old Guard.

Pvt. Riley Warren, 19, said he is a member of the Continental Color Guard with members of the Coast Guard, Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. He joined the Army as an infantry soldier.

Warren was with the color guard that was on stage during the inauguration celebration concert Jan. 18.

"We were at the opening ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial, and we were right behind Obama when he gave his speech. It was a lot of fun," Warren said Wednesday. "When we were backstage, we were with performers who were all talking and fooling around.

"We had our picture taken with everyone including Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Hanks, Beyonce and U2," Warren said. "Then, when Obama was leaving he came down, had his photo taken with us, shook our hands and thanked us for our service."

Warren was also on duty during the inauguration, positioned near the Capitol, and he was in the color guard at the first inaugural ball, standing behind Barack and Michelle Obama as they danced the first dance.

"It was amazing to be that close," Warren said of the inauguration day events. "We got a view that was one in a million."

Warren said he has been part of the color guard since July and has been to the White House four times.

"I was at the White House three times under President Bush," Warren said. "We met him and got to shake his hand several times."

Warren said the first criteria to qualify for the Old Guard is height.

He said a soldier has to be at least 6-foot-1 to be in the Third U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as the Old Guard, that is stationed in Fort Myer in Virginia. The height requirement is more stringent for the color guard, where the soldiers have to be at least 6-foot-3.

"You have to be tall, presentable and have no criminal background," Warren said, who is 6-foot-4. "I am one of the shorter ones in the color guard."

After being chosen for the Old Guard, he went through a two-month training cycle of standing and intense running.

To qualify for the 25-member color guard, he had to make it through the first day, which began with an eight-mile run before breakfast, a half-hour break for breakfast, three hours standing motionless in a room heated to more than 90 degrees, a half-hour break for lunch and then five hours of standing in the hot room for 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off.

"The test is just to weed out those who can't take it," Warren said. "I did it with six guys, and only three of us made it." The color guard members then undergo training in marching, how to carry the colors and different formations.

Warren said his next mission is Monday at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

"President Obama will have a lot of dignitaries visiting, so we will have a lot of missions in the next few months," he said.

Tom Warren, Riley's father, said he and his wife, Denise, did not realize initially the importance of their son's position.

"We grew up in the Vietnam era and really didn't know anything about the Army," Tom Warren said. "It was only when we mentioned that Riley was in the Old Guard to people who know about the Army that we found out what an honor it is."

Riley Warren said he has a four-year contract with the Army and will be stationed at Fort Myer for three years. He said he then intends to re-enlist and be part of an infantry unit.

"I am enjoying my time here," he said. "But eventually I want to go and do what I signed up to do."

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Patricia Breakey can be reached at 746-2894 or at stardelhi@stny.rr.com.

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