Members of the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall community and visitors from around the National Capital Region got acquainted with the Soldiers and steeds of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard)’s Caisson Platoon during the annual spring open house at JBM-HH’s Caisson Stables Saturday.
Hundreds of attendees enjoyed horse-drawn hayrides, tours of the Caisson Stables, Easter egg hunts, arts and crafts, and performances by The U.S. Army Drill Team and The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own.”
Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Taffoya, the Caisson Platoon’s platoon sergeant, said the event was an opportunity to showcase the historic home and unique mission of one of the most distinctive units in the American military.
“We’re the last fully active mounted equestrian unit in the Department of Defense, so this gives people a chance to see a different side of the military,” Taffoya said. “It’s outreach to bring not only the military community, but also the outside civilian community and kind of intermix them, and give back to the public.”
Taffoya said his Soldiers took pride in putting on the event, and particularly enjoyed hosting their youngest guests.
“My Soldiers work really hard prepping and really put a lot of their heart and soul into it,” he said. “Kids just absolutely love it, and we enjoy them enjoying it.”
Coming to the Caisson open house held special meaning for Julius Alzona, 8, a third-grader attending Annunciation Catholic School in Washington, D.C.
His father, Sgt. Louis Fastuca, was a member of the Old Guard who served in Company B and Company H before being reassigned and deployed to Iraq during Operation Enduring Freedom. Fastuca was killed in action by an improvised explosive device on July 5, 2010, when Julius was 15 months old.
Julius said he has visited JBM-HH frequently since he was 4 years old to attend the annual Caisson open house, as well as “Good Grief Camps” organized by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a nonprofit organization that assists Families of fallen service members.
“It really helps,” Julius said of his pilgrimages to the installation where his father was once stationed. “It’s just been hard for me all these seven years without my dad.”
“His father is actually buried in Pennsylvania, quite far away, so this is the only tie and link that he has to visit his father,” Julius’ grandmother, Cezarina Alzona, explained.
Julius said his favorite part of the open house was feeding apples and carrots to the horses in their stalls. He expressed a particular affinity for Klinger, a Caisson horse who, in addition to his everyday service in full-honor military funerals, frequently participates in TAPS events.
“He’s a nice horse,” Julius remarked. “He eats hay, usually, so apples and carrots are a treat to him.”
Taffoya noted that Klinger’s gentle, friendly demeanor makes him ideally suited to serve as an unofficial mascot for the TAPS program.
“Klinger is such a unique horse,” Taffoya said. “Kids really take to him, and he takes to the kids, so that’s why we chose him to be the ambassador for TAPS.”
In addition to spending time with Klinger, Julius said he enjoyed learning about his father by meeting Soldiers who served alongside him.
“I like seeing the people my dad worked with,” he said. “They tell me a little bit more about my dad every time.”
For Taffoya, being able to give Julius that experience exemplifies the many ways in which the Spring open house allows the Caisson Platoon to “give back” to the community.
“It’s trying to bring joy and bring a better understanding of why his father did what he did,” Taffoya said. “Maybe when he meets other Soldiers, he can see what passion his father had and really understand.”