JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. (Jan. 22, 2013) -- Retirement is a time when, after all those long years of hard work, a Soldier can finally put his or her feet up and relax. This also applies to the horses of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) Caisson platoon, who have served their country honorably as well.
Caisson horses transport the remains of fallen service members to their final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery, Va.
"Retirement isn't just for people. These horses deserve it just like you or I because of all the hard work and honor they bring to our fallen brothers and sisters in [Arlington National Cemetery]. They make so many people satisfied, and they close so many chapters in so many peoples' books of life," said Staff Sgt. Travis Wisely, infantryman, U.S. Army Caisson Platoon, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard).
The Old Guard retires Caisson horses through an adoption program that allows civilians as well as military personnel to provide homes for these animals after their service.
Clyde, a 17-year-old horse with 12 years of service, and Omar, a 21-year-old horse with 10 years of service, are two Caisson horses who have recently been adopted.
"It is great that these horses will spend the rest of their lives roaming freely and getting fat all day," Wisely said jokingly. "They will be missed not just because of all the missions that they have done, but they will be missed because of all people that have worked with them, know them and have been touched personally by them."
Wisley explained that these horses aren't just seen as animals, but as Soldiers and members of the team.
"We can't do our job of honoring the fallen without them," said Wisely. "These horses are treated with the same respect as any Soldier in this barn because they work just as long and just as hard as we do. Their standards of professionalism are just as high as the Soldiers that ride them."
Wisely added the relationships which have developed over the years between the horses and the Soldiers make it difficult to see the horses leave.
"I have seen horses come and I have seen them go in this barn. When they are adopted, it's like having a good friend move away," said Wisely. "We love and care for these horses every day. Sometimes it is hard to say goodbye, but we know it is for the best."
For a Caisson horse to qualify for adoption they need to be at least 17 years of age or have 10 years of service. At that point, the unit's veterinarian will suggest if the horse should be considered for adoption.
Sgt. Erik Wies, the USACP's veterinary assistant who follows the health status of Caisson horses, said older horses are more prone to career ending injuries.
"These large animals work hard every day. The more time you're on these horses in the saddle, the more time you are going to deal with some injuries," said Wies. "Some of these horses have done thousands of funerals over more than a decade. We take great care of them every day, but nothing can cure father time."
Information for the horses that are up for adoption is published to The Old Guard's website.
Those interested in adoption have 60 days to submit an application. A board is assembled by The Old Guard to match the horses with proper owners to ensure they go to the best homes.
"I feel so strongly about these horses finding the right owners," said Wisely. "I wish I could adopt the entire barn, but I know I can't afford that."
However, Wisely mentioned he has already filled out the adoption papers for three horses that are there.
"I have a special relationship bond with all of these horses, but I am certainly hoping for one horse in particular, Elvira," said Wisely. "She gave other Soldiers some issues at first, but after I started working with her she really started to perform. Now I have more than 400 rides on her."
The horses who have served in The Old Guard will always be a part of the rich history of the unit and the nation.
"Even after they are gone from these stable, their legacies will live on," said Wisely. "Their careers here with the regiment will never be forgotten."