Soldiers who become members of the Caisson Platoon must meet rigorous requirements and work long days, but they’re honored to do it.
These are the soldiers who help lay to rest the nation’s fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery.
Last week, 10 of the 31 platoon members were recognized for their dedication with the Army’s new Military Horseman Identification Badge.
The badge was approved in July and identifies Caisson Platoon soldiers, part of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), who have completed the Basic Horsemanship Course, ridden in at least 100 full-honors funerals at the cemetery, and honorably served at least nine months in the platoon. It’s retroactive to 2013, which means former Caisson Platoon members are eligible for the badge, too.
The last badge approved by the Army was the Instructor Badge back in 2014. And this is the first time a non-instructor badge has been approved in 12 years, when the service authorized the Combat Action Badge in 2005.
“It’s such an honor to be able to lay the fallen to their last resting site in the most prestigious cemetery in the country,” said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Taffoya, the platoon sergeant and the first to receive the Military Horseman badge.
Taffoya, who has 879 rides over two tours with the platoon, said it’s important to maintain the honor that comes with the history of the platoon, the horses and the caissons themselves.
“To [transport the casket] on horseback is such a long heritage that we’ve had throughout our military,” he said. “You want the lasting image for the family to be that their family was part of something bigger than themselves.”
The caissons, or wagons, the platoon uses are from 1918.
“To use the exact same equipment that people before us went to war in in World War I, you can’t really describe it,” Taffoya said.
The badge ceremony coincided with a reunion of The Old Guard Association, with six former members of the Caisson Platoon in attendance.
They pinned the badges on six of the current members of the platoon, including Cpl. Christopher Poe.
“I’m very honored to be part of that group,” said Poe, a team leader. “For one of [the former members] to pin it on me was an honor.”
Staff Sgt. Darren Snyder, a squad leader, said it meant a lot to him that past and present soldiers of the Caisson Platoon were at the ceremony.
“I hope that we honor them by wearing this proudly while we conduct missions in Arlington National Cemetery,” he said.
Taffoya said the badge recognizes the daily commitment from the soldiers in the platoon.
“It’s awesome for [them] to be recognized for their hard work and attention to detail,” he said. “In the end, they’re on a horse who has a mind of its own. It’s not a Humvee, not a tank. If it wants to do something, you gotta know how to respond to that.”
The new Military Horseman badge will also help bring awareness to those who might not know exactly what the Caisson Platoon does.
“For a badge to have a horse on it, there’s a lot of questions,” Taffoya said, adding that some might not realize there are still horses in the Army. “The Caisson Platoon will be 70 in April. It’s been doing the same missions and operations for 70 years. You can’t shake a stick at that.”