Spring in our Nation’s Capital is everything you’re told it should be, unless there are gale force winds, torrential downpours and the odd tornado. I got my first visit last weekend, and even the weather couldn’t ruin it for me. We drove in to Arlington, VA leaving early Thursday morning, arriving after lunch at Joint Base Ft. Myer-Henderson Hall, to a rain-soaked Caisson stable. The spirit of the men inside however, still at full staff.
Shortly before our arrival, the funeral service for John Glenn, United States Marine Corps aviator, engineer, astronaut, and United States Senator from Ohio, had just concluded. I assumed this must explain the buzz of activity we encountered, but quickly learned, it’s just another day for the Caisson Platoon. Due to the inclimate weather and lightening strikes, their “missions” (funerals) of the day were in a hurry up and wait pattern. Captain Hatch was detained, but provided a few Sergeants to assist us on our meet and greet with the famed Klinger. I apologize for not getting their names, but am deeply appreciative of the time they took to make us feel welcome.
While Klinger was pulled from his stall to be tidied up in their three horse wash bay, a young Sergeant walked us through the stable and explained some of the history and tradition. The stalls are made from dark polished boards and black steel or wrought iron, creating a very elegant and stately looking stable aisle. Each side of the stable is dedicated to two teams of black horses, or two teams of grey, making up the four squads who run up to 30 missions daily, Monday through Saturday (excluding holidays). The horses aren’t all work and no play though, on a regular rotation they get turn out time at the nearby farm dedicated to their care.
I asked during our tour, who knows the missions best, horse or handler? Our guide laughed and said the horses for sure. They may play around and be animals, but when it’s go time, they’re all business. The weight of their responsibility is one they bear with great seriousness and dignity. We were shown a spotless tackroom, lined with gleaming McClelland saddles and bridles. All in order, ready for their next mission.
We were escorted into a larger storage area where the 3,000 pound caissons are kept. Each caisson is meticulously maintained by it’s squad (usually the low man has the honor!) for each mission. It’s kept cleaned, polished, and re-painted as needed to maintain the integrity of the vehicle. On the walls surrounding are photos and memorabilia for the Platoon dating back to the days of Blackjack, the last of the Quartermaster or military-issued horses from the days when horses were just equipment.
As we stepped back into the stable aisle, more squads were preparing for their next missions (still in the rain).
Meeting Klinger was the highlight of my trip. He’s every bit as handsome and charasmatic as I expected. I offered the back of my hand for a sniff, and we were old friends. It’s always nice to see working animals who are still permitted and encouraged to be themselves. I chatted away to him while he sniffed and snuffled me, he’s a bit of a ladies man I think. We conducted the autograph session of his book, “Klinger, a Story of Honor and Hope,” and shared an apple. I say shared as I bit off a few chunks for him, then offered the rest for him to chew up, and turn into applesauce that he very thoughtfully slobbered all over my arms. His book and plush Klinger I plan to donate to a group that supports families of lost military (currently looking for one, please comment with website/pages). Admittedly, I have a bit of a crush on the big guy now.
Our tour came to a close when the Sargeant announced he needed to suit up for his next mission. We thanked him and made our way to the car in time to see one of the grey squads trotting off to work. We also got to see one or possibly both black squads during our tour of Arlington National Cemetary later in the day.
More information about the Platoon can be found on their website, http://www.oldguard.mdw.army.mil/specialty-platoons/caisson and their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CaissonPlatoon/. If you’re in the area next weekend, April 15th, they’re hosting an open house from 11a to 4p. There will be hayrides, games, food, prizes, and a surprise guest appearance for two! Fun for all ages!
This event is a rain or shine event and is open to the NCR community. First come, first served on the treats and prizes!