Platoon honors Veterans and Servicemembers at Arlington

Spc. Kevin Morthorst (right), infantryman, Caisson Platoon, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), and members of his squad, return to the Caisson horse stables after performing various funerals in Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Nov. 9. On this day, Morthorst preformed his 1,000th memorial ceremony with the Caisson platoon. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Luisito Brooks)

Spc. Kevin Morthorst (right), infantryman, Caisson Platoon, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), and members of his squad, return to the Caisson horse stables after performing various funerals in Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Nov. 9. On this day, Morthorst preformed his 1,000th memorial ceremony with the Caisson platoon. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Luisito Brooks)

Most people know about The Old Guard and its role as caretaker of Arlington National Cemetery. Images of soldiers guarding the Tomb of the Unknown, despite rain or snow, are famous throughout the world. However, the regiment’s mission is more involved than what meets the eye.

The Old Guard’s primary mission is to render honors and conduct the funeral ceremonies of departed Veterans and Servicemembers. They also assist grieving families in coping with the loss of a loved one.

Staff Sgt. John Ford (r) rides in formation during a ceremony at Arlington.

Staff Sgt. John Ford (right) rides in formation during a ceremony at Arlington.

This last aspect of the mission is one of the reasons that U.S. Army Staff Sgt. John Ford decided to change his career path from an infantryman in Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, under the 101st Airborne Division, to a distinguished soldier of the Old Guard.

“The United States Army grieves with [the families]. We share the burden of their loss and pain,” Ford said.

Ford is part of Caisson Platoon, comprised of 56 soldiers and two Army civilians. They follow a four-week cycle that runs Wednesday through Tuesday, to ensure continuity over the weekend, and to allow the horses a two-day break in the middle of their riding week. Each four-week cycle consists of two weeks in the cemetery, one week of main barn maintenance, and one week in the Shire barn conducting horsemanship training.

With two teams, or four soldiers and six horses at the cemetery every day, the platoon is an active contributor to the regiment’s mission of honoring Veterans and Servicemembers, which makes it an essential piece of the official ceremonial unit of the Army.

Soldiers train horses to pull the Caisson wagon

SPC Huggins (Front) and SGT Weis (back) train black horse (Lucky) to pull the Caisson wagon.

Ford has been part of the distinguished platoon for the past two years, and has participated in countless ceremonies and special events at the cemetery. But one episode in particular stands out for him, reminding him of the importance of his profession.

“The weather was atrocious and the horses were antsy because of it,” Ford said as he recalled the difficult conditions brought on by a passing storm. That he was riding for a different squad, and not on his usual mount, made things worse for him.

Ford returned to the barn—soaked to the skin and itchy from horsehair—to take the riding equipment off his horse and put her away. He then saw a family peering through the screen door of the barn. Since it was still visiting hours, the platoon invited them in to meet the horses. The young mother, accompanied by her parents and her four-year-old son, seemed honored to be able to meet the platoon and the horses.

“I found out from [the mother] that we had conducted her husband’s funeral. He was killed in action when the boy was six months old,” Ford said.

What Ford did next took only a moment, but carried great meaning. With the family, the platoon staff looked back into their records to find out which horses participated in the father’s funeral, and then introduced the boy to the horses that had carried his father on his final ride.

Personal experiences like this one serve to remind Ford that his is a proud and priceless profession, and that the Old Guard—especially the Caisson Platoon—is  important in supporting our country’s dreams for freedom.

In reflecting on the impromptu visit, Ford said “It reminded me that what we are doing here matters; that our mission here directly affects the families of the fallen.”

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14 Comments to “Platoon honors Veterans and Servicemembers at Arlington”

  1. Steve Webb says:

    Many thanks to you, members of the Old Guard. I’m sure your work becomes somewhat tenuous at times, but the families (and all service members) deeply appreciate it.

    - Navy Veteran

  2. Rob Harris says:

    Great job to all that you do. Our vets deserve a farewell like what you all do daily.

  3. Derek Johnson says:

    I cannot say any better than what Mr. Steve Webb (Navy Veteran) wrote. To the members of the Old Guard: Thank you.

    -Air Force Veteran

  4. butch lemmon says:

    I have been to Arlington back in 1968 while I was stationed at Fort Lee, VA and visited the Tomb of Unknown Soldier and I was impressed by the Old Guard performing their duties.

  5. Sharon says:

    I have been to Arlington With My Family When My Son Josh and Daughter Amanda and Vietnam Veteran Husband Keith were younger.

  6. Being a decorated Viet Nam combat Marine, I was very proud and struck with awe one snowy day when I had the honor to watch the “Changing of the Guard” at the toumb. The guard walking his post had approxinately 1/2″ of snow on his cover and he never dropped one snow flake off his cover during the changing of his post. His poise and pride never lost a beat! SUCH discipline is awe inspiring!

  7. Alice Lynch says:

    Every morning as I waited for my shuttle bus on Fort Myer to my Naval Security Group job, I would watch the caisson get ready at the back gate of Arlington. Rain, snow, heat of summer, no difference. This honor guard truly gives its all to the remembrance of fallen troops. My thanks to Staff Sgt. Ford and the others for outstanding service in the Old Guard.

  8. Charlie P. says:

    Every time I visit DC, I always had to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to pay my respect to all the service members that served our great nation. As an OIF/OEF veteran, it makes me proud to be a member of America’s military veterans. With that said, me and a couple of fellow veteran dedicated a website for MWR purposes.

    Charlie P.

  9. Diane Edwards says:

    Thank you for honoring our fallen heroes. This story brought tears to my eyes and a lump in my throat.

  10. Lisa says:

    Many thanks to all who serve in this very special unit. We as Americans should all be so proud of what they do.

  11. Megan Larson says:

    I was a member of the church at Fort Meyer for years. My husband was a member of the Old Guard,but I had attended funerals and watched them in action and a sad but beautiful sight. God Bless these folks!

  12. Tammy says:

    Thank u for all that u do. Words cannot express how important your work and dedication are to us.

  13. What an honorable and important job you men do. You carried my uncle, Maj. William Stensland USMC to his place of honor and I thank you for that

  14. Johanna Roberts says:

    Thank you true,
    honorable, patriots for service and good deeds!