KILLEEN, Texas — Juneteenth festivities got off to a hot and humid start June 17 as several civic groups, organizations and residents gathered in downtown Killeen for the annual Juneteenth Celebration Parade hosted by the Killeen Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Onlookers waved and cheered as the mobile procession made its way down Avenue D.
The 1st Cavalry Division Horse Cavalry Detachment regaled onlookers as they brought up the rear of the procession on horseback.
The troop of 12 Soldiers, dressed in traditional uniforms and carrying the detachment guidon, traveled on 10 horses, followed by a wagon pulled by two mules.
Cpt. Michael Gates, 1st Cav. Div. Horse Cav. Detachment commander, walked alongside his Soldiers as they waved to spectators and displayed number ones to signify their unit.
Gates said he and his Soldiers were proud to be a part of the celebration.
“Being a presence in not just Fort Cavazos but Killeen and our extended community is really important for us as the Horse Cavalry Detachment,” he said. “It’s an honor to come out and be able to support the U.S. military within our immediate community and really give back to everybody who helps support us. Being out there in our community is one of the most important things we can do. And being out and supporting Killeen, it’s an honor for us.”
Juneteenth is a holiday celebrated on June 19 to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S. The holiday was first celebrated in Texas, where on that date in 1865, in the aftermath of the Civil War, enslaved people were declared free under the terms of the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation.
Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021 and has been recognized by some states — including Texas — as a holiday for all state government workers.
Gates expressed that the holiday signifies progress.
“Juneteenth to me is another step forward towards recognizing all people, making sure that we stay in touch with our roots, and we don’t wash history out, rather we support progress for our country,” he expressed.
The Soldiers were just as excited to participate as onlookers were to see them in the parade.
“I definitely think it gives a lasting impression because you don’t see a horse going down the middle of the street every day,” said Spc. Donavin Allen, 1st Cav. Div. Horse Cav. Detachment.
“It’s always a really great time to be able to support the community and them support us. So, it’s always a really great time to come out.”
Spc. Isaac Hernandez, 1st Cav. Div. Horse Cav. Detachment, helped prepare the horses and mules to return to base after the parade ended.
He reiterated the importance of being a presence in the community.
“I think it’s really important, especially for military folk who are on Fort Cavazos or veterans, to show the community that this is an opportunity that they can be a part of. I think it’s really good for them to see a different part of the Army. We get out here and show our town what we do.”
Staff Sgt. Brokk Nyswonger, 1st Cav. Div. Horse Cav. Detachment, said that he enjoyed interacting with the community and showing the human side of the Army.
“It gave me the opportunity to kind of break formation and go interact with some kids,” he expressed. “Let them pet the horse. They seem to really enjoy that, and I enjoy being able to do that with them. There’s a lot of people who think once you’re in the Army you’re just a robot locked down, but it shows we’re people … we’re people too and we do fun things.
“It’s an honor to get to do this,” Nyswonger continued, “to get to ride the horses. Really, it’s all about them. It’s not about us on top.”