When we see celebrities in the news, it’s usually for television and movies, politics, or simply the “famous for being famous” lot. Often there are notable celebrities that don’t receive the limelight they’re due, despite their place or contribution to society. This is one such case, where a handsome celebrity is overlooked, forgotten almost, but still very much noteworthy in his own respect. Using popular social media to reach out, I was able to have an email chat with “Klinger,” a key member of the Caisson team serving at Arlington National Cemetary. His responses with the aid of CPT Austin N. Hatch, who serves as the Caisson Platoon Leader.
I began by asking for Klinger’s particulars; age, rank, and length of service:
“I’m a 16 year old, black, Percheron cross. I’ve been serving with the Caisson Platoon for 13 years now and feel honored to serve our nation’s fallen service members. I’m always on my best behavior for the funeral services to make it special for the family members. I have the opportunity to honor the children of the fallen as well, as I’m the primary horse used for all TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) events. There is even a children’s book and beanie baby made about me to help make the children happy.”
The book and plush Klinger may be purchased here: https://secure2.convio.net/tapfs/site/Ecommerce/?VIEW_PRODUCT=true&product_id=1623&store_id=1101
Was military service a sort of calling, or more a matter of happenstance?
“I’ve always felt like there was a special calling for me to fulfill. There is no greater honor for a horse than to serve in the Arlington National Cemetery. I may even be ridden during the inaugural parade ceremony.”
Describe a typical, day-in-the-life?
“We wake up very early around 4am. The soldiers help wash and clean us for the funeral services. The leather and brass must be cleaned prior to being put on us. We leave the barn around 8am and serve in the cemetery all day until 3pm. We are given hay and grain throughout the day to keep our spirits high, as the wagon can be heavy up the hills at times. The soldiers clean our stalls every day so when we get back there is nice bedding, hay, and water for us when we return.”
Who all is a part of your team when performing a funeral service, what does each member bring to the table?
“There are always 7 horses minimum as part of our team. There are two wheel horses which are closest to the wagon and do most of the pulling and stopping. These are typically the biggest horses, of which I have the pleasure to serve occasionally. There are two swing horses. These are the two middle horses, which help with turning and keeping the trace chains tight. There are two lead horses. These are the two front horses, which help guide us and keep us at the correct speed for the service. Then there is the section horse. He/she is not attached to the wagon, but off to the side close to the lead horses. This horse is ridden by the most experienced soldiers and leads our team. I often serve as the section horse as well.
Sometimes there is an eighth horse used which we call the Caparisoned Horse or riderless horse. This is used for the high ranking soldiers who have passed away.”
You have a pretty serious job, with high expectations, how do you unwind?
“I get a full week of R&R at our 10 acre ranch at Fort Belvoir every month. I enjoy playing with the other horses and eating as much hay as I like. When I’m at Fort Myer I like to stick my head out the stall window and breathe the fresh air occasionally. There are a lot of people who like to visit me in my stall and give me apples and carrots.”
What do you enjoy most about your work?
“Honoring our fallen service members.”
What is something the general public might not know about you/your team, something they might be surprised by?
“I am part of the Washington International Horse Show every year. I am always there to present the Klinger Perpetual Award.”
What a distinguished gentleman! His years of dedicated service obviously make a tremendous impact on the lives of those he honors, as well as the lives of those left behind. Klinger, it’s been an honor to speak with you, though your “interpreter,” CPT Hatch, and I look forward to an in person meeting soon!
For more information about the Platoon, click here: http://www.oldguard.mdw.army.mil/specialty-platoons/caisson