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Legacy for Soldiers: work, history, skill of celebrating Army heritage

By Sgt. Michael C. Roach | 19TH PUBLIC AFFAIRS DETACHMENT | October 13, 2017

     Red T-shirts, blue jeans and cowboy boots are a far cry from the Army Combat Uniform, just like peppermints, six-shooters and flatbed trucks don’t match views of military equipment.

    “Peppermints are kind of just to build a bond or relationship with him,” said Staff Sgt. Gregory Stalker, a new member of the Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard, 1st Infantry Division, speaking about Lexington, the horse he was paired with about a week prior.

     Lexington is a quarter horse, an American breed known for great speed over short distances. Stalker worked with him previously during a trip that took the CGMCG from Fort Riley to Colorado, Oregon and Wyoming in September.

    “People would use him for an event and then they would put him back in the pasture,” Stalker said. “So just to build a bond, every time I see him I give him a little peppermint. Even in the week and a half, he’s already perking up his ears when he sees me and (starts) walking over. The (need for a) bond is huge, it really is.”

     The CGMCG serves as a public face for the 1st Inf. Div. For decades, the unit’s presence has been visible during military ceremonies and public events at Fort Riley and the surrounding area. Clad in Civil-War-era cavalry uniforms, the group was designed to celebrate the history of the Army with special regard to the installation. Open to any Soldier regardless of Military Occupational Specialty or experience, the unit offers what could be considered a once-in-a-career chance to help steward the image of the “Big Red One.”

    Stalker, a combat engineer with a ranching background, spent a year trying to transfer over to the CGMCG from 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div., before finally doing so over the summer with the help of his leadership.

     “Working down here is pretty amazing because it’s not just riding a horse, it is all aspects of a working ranch,” Stalker said. “We have (more than) 200 acres of property and you know with that, there is mowing, there’s fence work, there is all the stuff behind the scenes that people don’t see. Even just to come here we had to grease the axles of the trailers and do this and that. There is so much different stuff that we do in-house just to get where we’re going.”

 

KEEPING TRADITION AND SKILLS ALIVE

     From Sept. 25 to Oct. 1, the CGMCG spent time on Fort Reno, Oklahoma, at the U.S. Cavalry Association’s 2017 Annual Bivouac and National Cavalry Competition. The event celebrates the history of the cavalry and boasts competitions designed to test novice and veteran horseback riders alike.

     “It’s something we bring together every year for the mounted color guard units so that they can improve their riding skills,” said Bill Tempero, U.S. Cavalry Association president. “But, also in the cavalry tradition, everything we do is the way the Fort Riley Cavalry School did it when the school was at Fort Riley. So we have gone by the book and we try to improve the rider and also improve the horse.”

     The CGMCG competed against and worked alongside color guards from Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Carson, Colorado; Fort Irwin, California; and Fort Sill, Oklahoma, as well as civilian equestrians and retired military. While competitions included jumping, military and combat horsemanship, mounted pistol marksmanship and a timed cross-country event, the schedule also had riding clinics and classes designed to celebrate and educate attendees on the various aspects of mounted cavalry life.

    “The history of the cavalry is really something that we need to preserve,” Tempero said. “It’s part of our U.S. history. George Washington started with a cavalry unit and it’s improved itself and improved itself all the way up until 1948 when they disbanded the (mounted) cavalry.”

    Soldiers in the CGMCG are tasked with portraying mounted cavalry in an effort to celebrate and bind current members of the Big Red One with those who came before them. This job requires them to have exceptional attention to detail and a working understanding of the era they portray.

    “For the Soldiers, I think the majority of them love learning the history of where the military came from,” said Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Snider, CGMCG platoon sergeant. “They love learning about how the horse Soldiers might have done stuff, how the cavalry might have done stuff back then. In this unit we have so many different MOSs that aren’t actually cavalry. We’ve got infantry, we’ve got aviation, we’ve got (nuclear, biological and chemical), we’ve got mechanics, we’ve got (communications); and at the end of the day, we’re all in this unit that represents cavalry and the majority of them like learning about that cavalry history because, like I’ve said before, who doesn’t like horses?”

 

WINNERS WIN

     The CGMCG used the National Cavalry Competition as a stage to show the breadth of their horseback skills and talents. While the unit is well known for operating at parades and ceremonies, the timed events offered a chance for them to push themselves and their horses to the limit.

     “What (the) cavalry competition is, is an exhibition of our rider’s skills,” said 1st Lt. Alexandra Shade, CGMCG commander. “It is not really what our horses are designed for, it’s not what we train the most for and it’s icing on the cake to be able to come out here and do well.”

     The CGMCG troopers placed in almost every event of the National Cavalry Competition. Blue, red and yellow ribbons sometimes came in stacks at the dining in and award ceremony, which closed out the competition on the evening of Sept. 30.

     Sgt. Cecil Sanderson, CGMCG, took home the coveted Bolté Cup after a successful run through an array of obstacles designed to test the best riders from every event over the three days of competition. Sanderson was able to clear multiple jumps, a simulated water crossing, excel at mounted saber and pistol marksmanship and dismount to fire a rifle without spooking his horse during the timed event.

     Additionally, the CGMCG took the streamer for best overall unit back to Fort Riley. Their dedication and professionalism both in and out of the arena were attributed to their success.

     “We had won this competition before we ever showed up,” Shade said. “My Soldiers made the decision as a team that we were going to win this year. We made that decision 364 days ago. Everything that we’ve done in terms of preparation of the horses, preparation of the Soldiers, preparation of what and how we pack in terms of equipment extras et cetera, that all went into it.

     “We talked really early on after I took my command and talked about how an old brigade commander of mine used to say that winners win. We made the decision that we were going to be winners and we came out here, the guys jumped great, they shot well, they’re attacking saber targets very aggressively; all of those things put together is what we need. The thing about which I am most proud of them is the professionalism that they had out here, their willingness to help anybody out and the drive to help steward the profession as much as they can.“

 

ROAD WARRIORS AND RANCH HANDS

     The U.S. Cavalry Association’s 2017 Annual Bivouac and National Cavalry Competition was the culmination of months of hard work and long hours on the road for the troopers in the CGMCG.

     “It’s been a non-stop rollercoaster back to Riley for a couple weeks here and there, and then out again on a (temporary duty assignment) trip,” Snider said. “We’ve gone from the inauguration in D.C. — East Coast — all the way to Pendleton roundup in Oregon — West Coast — so we’ve been all over the United States this year representing the 1st Inf. Div.”

      Brief respites taken at Fort Riley between trips do not necessarily mean time off or a slowdown in the color guard’s work schedule. The unit’s horses, land and equipment require consistent upkeep and near-constant attention.

     “At home we have a tremendous amount of work; we run a small ranch on Fort Riley essentially,” Shade said. “We’ve got 250 acres that we maintain, we’re training new riders all the time trying to improve our own skills. Every year the cavalry competition gets more difficult and we spend a lot of time doing that. We also do a lot of work desensitizing our horses, I am incredibly proud of when we come out to an event like this and something big is going to go ‘boom’ our horses just stand there, they are totally fine with it.”

      The pace and tempo of the color guard’s work schedule may not easily lend itself to modern-day warrior tasks and training. However, it does impart other valuable skills onto the Soldiers in the unit.

     “The younger Soldiers learn a pretty decent work ethic as far as that goes because we have to go maintain our fences and go fix them if something breaks down,” Snider said. “Taking care of the horses (for example). You know a Soldier on the line, whenever they’re coming up through specialist, you give them tasks purposefully to help them learn responsibility. To help them learn some skills as far as teaching them, trying to get them something to do. Well here, a Soldier gets a horse and they have to maintain that horse. They get that horse and they have to start learning that responsibility of ‘OK, I’ve got to get my horse I’ve got to bring him up, I’ve got to check his hooves make sure his hooves are all good then I check his respiratory.’ So we do (preventive maintenance checks and services) on horses just like we do on trucks.”

      Another important part of the work that goes into being a member of the CGMCG is the ambassadorship that each Soldier takes on, not just for the unit, but for the entire division.

     “Right now we have 16 people that wear red shirts in the entire Army and everybody knows that when they see a red shirt, that’s the CGMCG from 1st Inf. Div.,” Snider said. “We try to stress that to them so they know ‘hey, you represent us.’ That also carries over (when) a Soldier goes back to the line and they get told to do something or they get asked to accomplish a task, they are still representing us. Because if they don’t accomplish the task then those NCOs are like ‘yeah this guy came from some easy cake job and didn’t do anything Soldier-like.’ But if he does have that mindset that good work ethic … he’s going to bust his butt to get whatever it is done.”

 

RIDING FORWARD

     Following their success at the National Cavalry Competition, the CGMCG is readying for a change of command Oct. 13 and is focused on what the coming year will bring. What they’ll do better at next year’s cavalry competition was already a topic of conversation as they were pulling out of Fort Reno.

     “I’m honored and humbled to get the opportunity to take such a fine unit,” said Capt. Jennifer Houle, incoming CGMCG commander, before departing Fort Reno. “I look forward to all of the exciting events that we’ll be hopefully attending next year.”

    The troopers of the CGMCG take great pride in their work, but also in the heritage that work celebrates. Their job in many ways is a celebration of the profession of arms and a reminder that goes beyond current conflicts by highlighting the history of the Big Red One and the Army, according to Shade.

     “There’s an immense amount of pride that comes with this work; there is a sense of how the Army used to be when people were proud of their super-shined boots and things like that,” Shade said. “People are talking all the time about how we’ve moved away from that. This unit really hasn’t. We’re a ceremonial unit. We’re proud to be that way. We’re absolutely thrilled to represent the 1st Inf. Div. everywhere that we go. I think my Soldiers get a lot out of that (and) that translates well on down the line.”

 

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