Guest Column: No Horse Sense at the Pentagon

A number of listeners to the latest episode of the 3WHH podcast have written in or commented that they wanted to hear more about the item “Lucretia” mentioned about the derelict treatment of the horses of the Caisson Platoon detailed for honor burials at Arlington National Cemetery. This was the first I and many listeners had heard of this story. “Lucretia” obliges as follows:

The Caisson Platoon is a unit within the Old Guard, the nickname for the 3rd Infantry Regiment, the Army’s official ceremonial unit and escort to the president.  The Old Guard is also tasked with providing security for Washington, D.C., in time of national emergency or civil disturbance.  The 3rd Infantry, the oldest and most prestigious regiment in the Army, will be familiar to readers as those soldiers who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

The horses of the Caisson Platoon have pulled the caissons carrying the caskets of Herbert Hoover, Franklyn D. Roosevelt, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and thousands of others.  The horses are beautiful, with groups of six matched either gray or black, that pull the caissons.  Care and training for the horses is assigned to the soldiers of the Caisson Platoon.

In February of 2022, two horses had to be euthanized due to colon impaction.  An internal investigation was ordered, which revealed poor quality hay and feed; too many horses grazing on undersized, grazed lots leading to consumption of sediment and increased parasites; poor training; insufficient resources; and inadequate living conditions. Despite the attention these first two deaths garnered, horses kept dying. The Army temporarily suspended caisson support for military funerals in Arlington National Cemetery while efforts were made to improve the living conditions and care of the caisson horses, but it was recently announced that after more than a year these efforts have not yet resulted in the 60+ healthy horses needed to resume the horse-drawn caisson funerals.

I have never owned a horse, although I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles known as “horse country” where the population ratio of horses-to-humans was three-to-one. My horse-owning neighbors certainly did not have the resources of the U.S. Army, but never once did I hear of a horse dying of mistreatment, malnourishment, or neglect.

I know this news item brings a sense of revulsion to any animal lover who, like me, would like to see those leaders responsible severely punished. But as awful as this situation is, there is a deeper issue at stake. The U.S. military can find the resources to fund DEI initiatives and pay for surgeries and hormone therapy for transgender troops. It can waste over $300 million dollars to build an ill-considered and ultimately inoperable humanitarian Gaza Pier, mostly for the sake of a photo op for the Biden Administration. To argue, as Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth did to Congress, that there was a lack of resources available to maintain and care for the 64 horses that perform one of our nation’s most treasured ceremonies for our fallen heroes is to admit that we have a military led by those whose priorities are too distorted and twisted to be entrusted with our nation’s security.

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