JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
On a cool and wet February morning at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, the newest member of the Fort Sam Houston Caisson team prepared to make his first appearance with the Military Funeral Honors Platoon.
The brass and leather of his ceremonial equipment received a final brush and polishing, and then Chandler set off with his escort to take his part in the funeral for retired Brig. Gen. Joseph D. Schott.
Chandler is the Fort Sam Houston Caisson’s caparisoned horse, nicknamed “the cap horse” or more widely known as “the riderless horse.” A well-trained six-year-old horse from Montana, Chandler joined the team in December and made his first appearance with the Caisson Feb. 5, 2019.
San Antonio holds the title “Military City USA” because of the city’s strong support of our military and for having one of the largest populations of military retirees in the country.
Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, one of most spacious military cemeteries in the country, conducts a large number of military funerals every year. Commanders at Joint Base San Antonio recognize the importance of maintaining strong relationships with the surrounding community, and the Fort Sam Houston Caisson, part of U.S. Army North, performs a role as one of the most visible community relations assets.
Chandler and his Caisson team are one of only two active duty caisson units in the U.S. Army – the other being The Old Guard at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia. In service of the surrounding community and region, the Military Funeral Honors Platoon performed 54 Caisson missions and more than 700 funerals across south Texas in 2018.
The Caisson not only performs many funerals each year but also owes its existence to one. Army officer and San Antonio native Lt. Col. Karen Wagner died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon. The Army conducted her internment ceremony at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery with the help of the Fort Sill Half Section.
Since then, community members ranging from JBSA and local residents, to service members and the late Sgt. Maj. of the Army Leon Van Autreve, have all contributed to establish the Fort Sam Houston Caisson, and in 2019, the U.S. Army formally established a full-time U.S. Army Caisson at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston.
Chandler, along with Baker and Fox, who joined the herd in February 2019, were gifted to the Army by the Uniformed Veterinarian Medicine Association, or UVMA. The UVMA is a retired military veterinarian association that includes several members who once worked in the former Fort Sam Houston Veterinary Hospital and School. The former veterinary hospital and school now houses the Fort Sam Houston Caisson Platoon.
JBSA-Fort Sam Houston Caisson horses have traditionally been named in honor of former Sergeants Major of the Army. The two newest horses usher in an addition to the current naming convention, which now includes the last names of U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) Medal of Honor recipients. The new horses will be formally re-named in March 2019 event in honor of two members of the 92nd Infantry (Buffalo Division) which was part of Fifth Army in World War II.
As part of the Caisson team, Chandler represents the beginning of a plan to replace most of the current Caisson horses over the next two years.
Most of the current Caisson horses are Percherons, large draft horses also known as “War Horses.” Chandler, however, is a tall Quarter horse, lean and muscular in build and solid black – a requirement for Cap Horses.
The Cap Horse is traditionally the most photographed and memorable horse in military funerals that include a riderless horse – an honor normally reserved for the funerals of sergeants major, colonels and general officers. Having a good looking, well-mannered Cap Horse remains essential for the Fort Sam Houston Caisson, and Chandler accomplishes that role remarkably well.
Chandler and the rest of the Fort Sam Houston Caisson team will participate in Fiesta in April and continue performing funerals at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery several times a week.