Photo: U.S. Army
In the run up to last night’s debate, the Army Old Guard used its caisson horses in the burial of six veterans at Arlington, and certainly since twitter was ablaze with Obama’s “horses and bayonets” line, a few more have been buried.This is not about a fact check (yes, the military still uses bayonets, and even does bayonet charges, just not as frequently), rather it’s about remembering why the military still uses horses and bayonets, and how they both still play a valuable role for ceremonial purposes and in actual combat.
Caisson platoons typically staff only former infantry troops, who practically live, eat and sleep with their horses until both are ready for ceremony. The Army built caissons originally in 1917 to help tow artillery guns, but now the artillery is removed, leaving a flat space for the caskets.
The caisson horses also perform in the funerals of former presidents, and will do so one day for Barack Obama, and maybe Mitt Romney depending on the results of the election Nov. 6.
Army Special Forces use horses in order to train their operators how to care for livestock and pack animals. Also caissons have recently been used to treat soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) and traumatic injuries.
Most notably horses saw use in the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, when Special Operations soldiers rode them into combat with the Northern Alliance, against the Taliban. It was the first time since 1942 that horses had been used in combat.
There’s a 16-foot tall statue commemorating the “horse soldiers” of Afghanistan at the 9/11 Memorial site.
Several British soldiers have used bayonets on the enemy, and have even been awarded for valor in combat because of ordering bayonet charges. “Cold Steel,” as the use of bayonets is called, has been in use since the 1700s, and has a particularly unnerving effect on the receiving party.
The most famous bayonet charge of modern combat was the Battle of Danny Boy, involving the Brits and about 100 Iraqi insurgents of the Mahdi Army. Sgt. Brian Wood, a lance corporal at the time, described the battle as “short, sharp, and fast,” to a BBC reporter. He recalled hearing the order to fix bayonets, and imagining that things were about to get a bit nasty.
Wood was later awarded the Military Cross for heroism related to the battle, which ended with only a few British injured and several Iraqi dead.
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