The Marine Corps Last Standing Cavalry Unit!

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Marines are the smallest and scrappiest branch of the armed forces, as any veteran of the Corps will proudly (and loudly) tell you. But even among the Marines, there are still the few, the proud, the saddle-bound.

The Mounted Color Guard, a small cadre operating out of Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow in California’s Mojave Desert, is the service’s last remaining true cavalry unit. And it’s celebrating 50 years of service in 2017.

“I feel a great sense of pride every time I put on that uniform and get on a horse,” Staff Sgt. Nicholas Beberniss, the staff noncommissioned officer of the color guard, said in an Aug. 29 story released by the Corps.

The Mounted Color Guard participates in parades, ceremonies, and rodeos across the country. But given its size — just nine riders, or “stablemen” — the unit is often spread thin, traveling from coast to coast by truck and trailer.

“For me, the best aspect is all the traveling we get to do, and being in the rodeos and parades,” said Cpl. Alicia Frost, a stableman with the color guard and currently the only female Marine on the team.

“I’m the face for all female Marines,” she added. “So, when other girls and women see me doing it, I hope it gives them the courage to think that they can do it, as well.”

Related: Marine War Horse Honored For Battlefield Bravery In Korean War »

Marines can volunteer for the special duty, which lasts two to three years, regardless of their occupational specialty; the current team is a mix of infantry and non-infantry Marines. As long as they “have a bit of horsemanship and are pretty good in all disciplines of their MOS, chances of getting selected are pretty good,” Robert Jackson, a spokesman at Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, told Task & Purpose.

The horses, provided to the color guard from the Bureau of Land Management, are partially trained ahead of time by prison inmates at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center Wild Horse Training Facility in Carson City, Nevada.

“From there, they go through an inmate rehabilitation program, where the inmates get the horses to where they are green-broke, which means you can approach them, touch them, and touch their feet and so forth,” Sgt. Terry Barker, a Marine stableman explained in a Jan. 26, 2017, statement.

Yet the animals still need a lot of work before they’re show-ready, which is where the Marines come in.

The training involves bonding the Marines with their mounts, working in arenas and open spaces — while occasionally being interrupted by unexpected noises and distractions, so the mustangs can become accustomed to the sights and sounds they’ll encounter on the road and at events.

As with any job — in the Marine Corps, at least — there’s a lot of busy work. Think field-daying the barracks or picking up brass on the range is a pain? How about tending a stable hours a day, every day?

“It can be a very tedious job at times,” Frost said. “We work very long hours, most weekends and we usually don’t get holidays off. It’s a big responsibility and we devote our lives to the Marine Corps and the horses.”

Being the only Marines in the Corps able to spend the day galloping around on horses they helped train probably makes up for the hours spent cleaning a stable. Plus, being part of a small crew with a unique role is its own reward.


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Riding four abreast atop their palomino mustangs, the Marines of the Mounted Color Guard proudly bear the colors of their country and Corps.

Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif., is home to the only remaining Mounted Color Guard in the Marine Corps. This small and unique entity has the honor of representing the Corps in parades, rodeos and other events nationwide. With determination and enthusiasm, these Marines on horseback carry on a time-honored tradition that originated more than a century ago.

The “Horse Marines” was the nickname given to the mounted U.S. legation detachment in Peking, China, a guard unit established in 1900. While their purpose was to conduct patrols on horseback, they also participated in weekly parades during their 33-year presence in Peking.

Horses in the Corps haven’t solely been used for ceremonial purposes; with their strength and high endurance, they have assisted Marines in battle as well. Sergeant Reckless, perhaps the most beloved horse in Marine Corps history, accomplished a remarkable feat during the Korean War as she supported ammunition carriers—resupplying and transporting heavy rounds across long distances. After the war, she was retired with full military honors and is buried at Stepp Stables at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.

The days of relying on horses for conveyance may be long gone, but the legacy is continued by the modern-day “Horse Marines” at Barstow—a legacy that stems from pride in the Corps, a love for tradition, and an unquenchable esprit.

The Mounted Color Guard at MCLB Barstow was not the first of its kind. The first official Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard was established aboard Camp Pendleton in 1955.

Colonel A. C. “Ace” Bowen was brought back from retirement to institute a new water-use policy for Camp Pendleton. He not only accomplished this, but also instituted the Camp Pendleton rodeo and the Mounted Color Guard. Col Bowen was a horse lover who wanted to revive the equestrian traditions of Camp Pendleton, which dated back to the base’s establishment in 1942. In those early days, as World War II progressed, mounted Marines were charged with patrolling the beaches, out of concern that the Japanese might attack the base by way of the Pacific. After the Allied victory, those mounted patrols were discontinued.

Col Bowen’s color guard brought mounted Marines back to Camp Pendleton, with the primary goal of representing the Corps in a unique way. The tradition of Marines on horseback was reinvented with the establishment of the Mounted Color Guard; Col Bowen was so influential in the revival of the base’s Western heritage that the Camp Pendleton rodeo grounds were dedicated to his name in June 1982.

The members of the Camp Pendleton Mounted Color Guard, all of whom were noncommissioned officers (NCOs), “were always greeted with exuberance and great joy when they came riding down the street, or [when] the horses kicked up dust during the many rodeos and festivals to which they were asked,” said Autumn Day Tufts, whose husband, Marine veteran George Tufts, served as a member of the Mounted Color Guard from 1965 to 1969.

By 1968, they had been seen by about 7 million people at more than 600 public events. Adorned with scarlet and gold saddle blankets and silver-painted hooves, the horses—Tinker Tom, Muffit, Dale and El Noche—were just as lauded by the audience as the Marines astride them.

For the members of the Camp Pendleton Mounted Color Guard, involvement was strictly volunteer-based. Each member was given one afternoon each week from his regular duties to ride and rehearse, but otherwise his evenings, weekends and holidays were spent riding in ceremonies and functions across Southern California and beyond. They participated in the color guard for no additional pay and sacrificed their liberty time to represent the Corps. During the weekdays, Marines and their dependents rode the horses for leisure, which made it a little more difficult for the members of the Mounted Color Guard to prepare for weekend events.

A competitive application process was involved: NCOs vying for a position were required to be experienced horsemen with recommendations from their commanding officer. Although there was a good deal of pomp and circumstance involved in their appearances, they were required to put forth a great deal of work and preparation—polishing saddles, cleaning and painting hooves were just a few of the tasks involved prior to each event. Each member was required to provide and maintain his own dress blue uniform.

The Camp Pendleton Mounted Color Guard “had a sterling reputation, six horses, a huge horse trailer, and were bonded to their horses and to each other,” said Tufts. They traveled throughout the southwestern United States and made an effort to appear at every event to which they were invited.

The senior Marine in the color guard would present the Stars and Stripes while the next in rank would bear the Marine Corps standard. The flanking guards carried NCO swords.

In 1962, Gunnery Sergeant Lawrence S. Petri, then-noncommissioned officer in charge of the Camp Pendleton Mounted Color Guard, told Leatherneck, “If the time should come when the uniformed Marine rides in the last parade and dismounts for the final time, I hope I’m not around, because part of my Marine Corps and I will go with him.”

Although the Mounted Color Guard at Camp Pendleton disbanded in the 1990s, another such unit is still operational. The MCLB Barstow Mounted Color Guard was founded in 1967 by Lieutenant Colonel Robert A. Lindsley and designated by Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps as an official Mounted Color Guard in 1968.

After returning to Barstow from Vietnam in 1966, LtCol Lindsley envisioned a mounted color guard that would bring back the history of the Horse Marines. He gathered a group of Marines who volunteered their time, effort and even money to get the color guard up and running. With virtually zero funds or support, they built the stables by hand and purchased hay from the city of Barstow at a discounted price. Their first horses were a gift from Preston Hafen, a sheriff from Utah. They even acquired a 5-ton truck and cattle car and secretly altered it into a six-horse carrier, keeping it hidden from the base commanding officer by storing it off base in the city of Barstow.

Despite the initial challenges he and his Marines faced, LtCol Lindsley’s efforts proved successful; nearly 50 years later, the history is still alive at the stables where it began.

A few things have changed throughout the years. The members of today’s Mounted Color Guard are sent to MCLB Barstow on orders specifically to be stablemen. Most are infantrymen by trade, and generally speaking, their equestrian experience upon reporting to Barstow is little to none. GySgt Daniel A. Garcia, staff NCOIC of the Barstow Mounted Color Guard, is an 0369, infantry unit leader, who had no idea the Mounted Color Guard existed before he received his orders.

Presently, there are only three Marines who are full-time members—GySgt Garcia, Sgt Edgar A. Torrealba and Sgt Moises Machuca—all infantrymen. The fourth rider for parade ceremonies and other events is typically one of a few Marines stationed at Barstow who train with the Mounted Color Guard as needed.

Unlike the color guard Marines of earlier days, GySgt Garcia, Sgt Torrealba and Sgt Machuca handle the horses as their primary job. For now, these infantrymen have traded their rifles for reins. Rather than guiding a platoon, they now guide horses through drills and ceremonial rehearsals. While it may be a significant change for them, it is evident that they thoroughly enjoy their new roles.

Whether the mission is working with a platoon in combat or training a horse for a ceremony, the Marines of the Mounted Color Guard give 100 percent and, in return, receive a great deal of personal satisfaction and pride in the Corps.

“I can’t put it into words, the feeling; it’s electric, honestly it is,” said GySgt Garcia. “It’s a great honor and a privilege to get out and intermingle with the local populace, who say, ‘We never knew that Marines ride horses.’ Everywhere we go we get great responses—they want to see more of us.

“It feels great to be a face of the Marine Corps,” he added.

They certainly are a prominent face of the Corps, riding in the Rose Parade each year in Pasadena, Calif.; the New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade; as well as numerous other parades, rodeos, livestock shows, stampedes and festivals. Additionally, they make a large number of appearances at public schools when they are “on the road,” sharing a unique side of the Marine Corps with countless young people.

An extremely demanding schedule of appearances means that when the Marines of the Mounted Color Guard are at home in Barstow, they are working long hours and pushing themselves and their horses to be performance-ready. According to GySgt Garcia, a typical day begins around 0500 with group physical training. They return to the stables around 0700 to feed the horses and muck their stalls. They inspect the horses before the training day begins at 0900—a training day which includes time both in the classroom and astride their mounts.

Between ceremonial rehearsals, obstacle courses and other drills—and then the unsaddling, feeding, grooming and debriefing—the days are long, but they are fulfilling and go by quickly.

While the horses may be alike in breed—wild mustangs of palomino color—they are vastly different in personality. When GySgt Garcia arrived at MCLB Barstow, he says the mentality was “one rider, one horse, and that’s it.” He quickly realized that the same horses were getting burned out over and over again, so he decided to swap out horses and insisted that each rider get to know each horse—its mannerisms, quirks, strengths and weaknesses. The results of this new system have been nothing but positive.

“It’s a bond; you can see it when you walk into their stalls in the barn and they come up to you and sniff you, nibble at you and rub up on you,” Garcia said. “You can tell if they [the horses] need a day off, and we just say, ‘We’ll come back to you tomorrow.’ ”

The intelligent palominos, with their beautiful golden coats, are “honestly just like one of us,” said Garcia. “They have good days and they have bad days.” Adopted from the Bureau of Land Management’s Adopt-a-Horse and burro program, the equines serve as ambassadors of the Corps across the nation, alongside the Marines who gentle them, train them and care for them.

Despite recent threats due to sequestration and budget cuts, the Barstow Mounted Color Guard is still riding proudly—and will be for years to come if its members have anything to do with it.

“We hopefully will solidify the tradition,” said GySgt Garcia. “Everyone who comes here—they want to pass the tradition on, they don’t want it to die. We want to see the Mounted Color Guard going on for years and years. This is a part of history that is honestly slowing down.”

As the nature of war changes, and as technology evolves to assuage those changes, Marines seem to always find a way to preserve tradition while adapting to the demands of the modern-day battlefield. The legacy of the Horse Marines, kept alive today by merely three infantrymen, is a sure testament to that.NOVEMBER BUCKET FUND HORSES:  BONNIE AND CLYDE – Perfectly trained, sweet, polite – AND STARVED.  Click  here to read their story!

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