By Jeff Crawley, Fort Sill CannoneerOctober 2, 2014
FORT SILL, Okla. (Oct. 2, 2014) -- Soldiers in tactical units must continually train to maintain their fighting edge, so too must the Soldiers of the Fort Sill Field Artillery Half Section, who are always under pressure to perform their best at highly visible ceremonial events.
The Half Section participated in the U.S. Cavalry Association's Annual Bivouac and National Cavalry Competition at Fort Reno, Okla., Sept. 16 through 21, to keep their horsemanship skills sharp. It was the third straight year the unit participated in the invitational that showcased ceremonial equine units.
The event provided invaluable training with dozens of other Army units and civilian agencies in mounted saber, mounted pistol, military horsemanship and military field jumping, said Gerald Stuck, Half Section chief.
"We train all the time here, but when you're in competition going as fast as you can go serpentining through cones, through poles ... I would say that's the best training," Stuck said. "Another thing is that they get to work with the other active-duty mounted units -- and everybody helps everybody."
The Army units were from Fort Irwin, Calif.; Fort Huachuca, Ariz.; Fort Hood, Texas; and Fort Riley, Kan.
By the end of the competition, the Half Section had taken the General Casimer Pulaski Award for Outstanding Military Unit, 1st place in military authenticity for the World War I era, 2nd place in wheeled vehicle, 4th place in individual military field jumping and 12th place in individual military horsemanship.
"I'm very proud of each and everyone of the Soldiers. I think they did outstanding," Stuck said.
Nine volunteer special duty Soldiers and a civilian chief make up the Half Section, which originated as a ceremonial unit here in 1969. Half section refers to the gun section of horse-drawn field artillery. A full section would consist of the gun section, as well as another six-horse hitch pulling the ammunition caisson.
The six-horse team has a lead driver, who rides on the front horse and steers; a swing driver is the middle rider who helps maneuver; and the wheel driver controls the pulling and stopping of the gun and limber.
A single mount chief, and guidon bearer lead the Half Section, and the Soldiers perform wearing 1936 Army khakis.
Stuck did not participate in the competition leaving that to his Soldiers, but instead he helped judge and administer events, he said. He also designed the obstacle course the wagons would have to navigate, purposely making it difficult for the large Half Section.
"I want them to be better than everybody else so the course is tighter," he said.
Spc. Min Yu, Half Section swing driver, said the obstacle course was a challenge.
"I had to swing in and out more drastically than when we do regular ceremonies," he said. "I had to learn different stops and movements."
Sgt. Bobbi Bassler, Half Section noncommissioned officer in charge, missed receiving a ribbon by just four-tenths of a second in field jumping. She said she and her Soldiers learned much during the competition.
"They learned a lot by competing and watching how other people handle their horses, how their horses are different from ours because we were the only field artillery unit, and they definitely got some good riding skills having to ride the (obstacle) course," Bassler said. "We also got a lot of camaraderie out of it."
The training was also beneficial to the newer horses of the Half Section -- getting them used to the distractions of a big, busy event, as well as sabers passing inches from their eyes, she said.
The Half Section Soldiers also gave demonstrations of their hitch, gun and limber, Bassler said.
"We explained how our horses are harnessed and what it takes to move a wheel-team," she said. "The other participants realized it's a lot different riding one horse than controlling a team of two horses."
Like all Army units, its mission is first so at the end of Thursday's competition the Half Section Soldiers trailered back their wagon and horses to make the 80-mile drive to Fort Sill to perform at the post's 8 a.m. retirement ceremony Friday, Sept. 19. Then it was back to the competition.
The national event drew interest from El Reno and Oklahoma City media, local schools, the Boy Scouts as well as the Discovery Channel, which was doing a documentary on it, Stuck said.
The competition culminated with a pass-and-review, which began with the Half Section firing its 75mm Model 1897 French field gun. It then hooked up its gun and brought up the procession, as they did laps at a walk, trot then canter.
"It's probably the largest cavalry pass-and-review since the 1930s or 40s," Stuck said.