First female chief of Half Section scores another first

By Monica WoodMarch 20, 2024

Trimming Hooves
1 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Jeffrey Porter, farrier or horse shoer for the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section unit, ensures the horses’ hooves are trimmed and their horseshoes are properly fitted. Taking care of the horses is part of the facility management certification. (Photo Credit: Monica Wood) VIEW ORIGINAL
Horse Whisperer
2 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Lara Armstrong, chief, Fort Sill Artillery Half Section, walks Military Working Equine Jack after he received stitches for a cut to his mouth. Armstrong walked him to ensure the medication to numb his mouth wore off before returning him to the stables. (Photo Credit: Monica Wood) VIEW ORIGINAL
Currying favor
3 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Sgt. Maritsa Zamora curries the tail of MWE McKiernan before a ceremony. Care and grooming are a large part of becoming certified in facility management through the Certified Horsemanship Association. (Photo Credit: Monica Wood) VIEW ORIGINAL
Ride-by salute
4 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – – Chief of the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section Lara Armstrong and the Soldiers of the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section, who are special duty for a year with the unit, walk with the caisson and cannon behind them as they prepare to salute Maj. Gen. Phil Brooks, commanding general, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill, at his assumption of command ceremony in July 2023. The Half Section is part of most ceremonies and events occurring on Fort Sill. (Photo Credit: Monica Wood) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT SILL, Okla. (March 20, 2024) -- In addition to being the first female chief of the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section, Lara Armstrong, recently garnered another distinction.

Armstrong is now the first and only Certified Horsemanship Association certified Master Instructor and Facility Certifier within the Department of Defense.

Her unique training and certifications allow her to not only instruct in various riding disciplines, but also certify others in facility management and instruction. Speaking on the significance of CHA accreditation, Armstrong emphasized its international recognition and role in setting standards for horse riding instruction and equine care.

“The CHA covers everything from facility management to riding instruction and horse nutrition,” she said. “It’s about ensuring safety, proper care, and effective teaching methods, especially for beginners.”

With her extensive qualifications, Armstrong stands out as an asset to the Army, capable of certifying equine facilities and instructors across military installations. There are currently seven military equine units including the Fort Sill Artillery Half Section.

The Half Section was formed in 1969 to carry on the proud heritage of horses and the Field Artillery. The Half Section horses and Soldiers in the unit are responsible for carrying on the traditions of horse-drawn artillery from the World War I era.

“When I went to the training, I already had a degree, so I was highly qualified and tested out of the box. It literally said that my knowledge, skills, and abilities exceeded the standards of CHA and that I would be an asset,” said Armstrong. “I'm accredited to go and certify facilities. I'm the only one in the Army to be able to do that and I'm the only one in the Army that is accredited to go in and teach riding instruction from the beginning up, through this international certification program.”

Armstrong's dedication extends beyond her own expertise, as she oversees training programs for Soldiers entering the unit. Six Soldiers under her leadership have achieved certification in equine facility management, providing them with valuable skills for both their military roles and possible future careers.

Furthermore, Armstrong's efforts have led to the certification of two Soldiers as Level One and Level Two riding instructors, ensuring the continuity of training in her absence.

“It's a testing environment and it is very, very rigorous. I can't certify my own people here because it’s a conflict of interest, but I can certify any military working equine units in the Department of Army,” said Armstrong.

Despite her expertise, Armstrong acknowledges the importance of ongoing training and certification, stressing the need for continual improvement within equine units. Reflecting on the significance of these certifications, Armstrong expressed hope for broader implementation, aiming to elevate equine units' standards and capabilities across the Army.

“We have a training program when Soldiers first come to the Half Section unit -- a 21-day trial period --and it can be intense, but I know that I now have that backup if something happens. Even if I’m not onsite for the probationary training program, it will still be done right,” she said. “This is obviously something we’re going to have to keep up on. Hopefully it's something that we can adapt Army-wide and incorporate into the program to make all the equine units better.”

Deputy Commanding General Joe Gallagher, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill, said Armstrong has done an outstanding job since taking over as chief of the Half Section.

“Her expertise has been instrumental in training our Soldiers, horses and mules. The additional certifications she has earned will continue to increase the professionalism of our team,” said Gallagher. “As most people would expect, training horses and mules is not a function which the Army has a great deal of expertise anymore. Therefore, we really count on Lara’s extensive experience and knowledge to ensure we are doing our very best taking care of our Half Section while providing a professional ceremonial unit that makes events on Fort Sill and in the surrounding communities so special.

“Lara takes great pride in the Half Section and it shows,” he said. “We could not do this without her.”