When the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (the Old Guard) began to gear up for its role in the 58th Presidential Inauguration, all Soldiers knew the meticulous preparation necessary called for all hands on deck. So, the Soldiers of the Presidential Salute Battery and the Caisson Platoon trotted out their big guns and elegant horses and set about getting them ready to take their traditional spots in one of the nation’s most celebrated parades.
The PSB, which was founded in 1953 and is the only unit of its kind in the Army, fires cannon salutes in honor of the president, visiting foreign dignitaries and official guests of the United States.
Ceremonies require a five-man staff and a two-man team for each gun. The staff consists of the battery commander, who initiates fire commands and ensures the proper number of rounds is fired; the sergeant of the watch, who marches the battery into position, controls the firing of the backup gun, and monitors the watchman and his assistant; the watchman controls the timing between rounds and gives the command to fire; the assistant watchman ensures the watchman stays in time; and the counter counts the rounds and signals the last round to the battery.
The cannons have been fired at presidential inaugurations and state funerals since President Ronald Reagan’s administration, said Sgt. Cody L. Grunwald, an assistant watchman.
“Our number one task is to give the president his first 21-round gun salute,” said Sgt. Jordan Goodman, escort officer. “It is the highest honor that we can render to the president.”
The battery will use four vintage, 75mm, anti-tank cannons from World War II mounted on the M6 howitzer carriage.
“It’s an honor to lead the Soldiers onto the battery for the Inauguration,” said Staff Sgt. Eric Wintzell, the noncommissioned officer in charge. “This is one of the reasons I came to the Old Guard, so that I could render honors to our president.”
Caisson Soldiers also take great preparation for their moment in the inauguration spotlight. Preparing the horses for the festivities often begins in the early morning hours, when Soldiers shine brass and perform horse grooming duties.
“We want to show the public that units like ours are still in existence,” said Staff Sgt. Jonathan English, operations sergeant of the Caisson Platoon. “We are the last full-time equestrian unit. So, it’s important to represent not only ourselves, but the Army as a whole.”
Seeing the Soldiers on their elegant and disciplined horses take their place among the military pageantry often wins the Caisson Platoon many adoring parade fans.
“Proud to have the Caisson Platoon, home of the army’s oldest and most famous horse, Black Jack, take part in Inauguration Day 2017!” tweeted then President-Elect Donald J. Trump on Jan. 2.
Caisson Platoon Soldiers are thankful for the opportunity to render military honors to the new president in the national spotlight.
“All of our Soldiers are excited to be serving in the parade,” said Cpt. Austin Hatch, Caisson Platoon leader. “Whether we are on the side walker detail, helping prepare the horses and tack, or riding in the parade, we are all honored to serve.”
Word on the street is that Black Jack Inn Dining Facility at Fort Hood, Texas, is the place to be at meal time, and the leadership skills of the DFAC’s manager, Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Myles with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 115th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, have a lot to do with that.
The dining facility serves about 2,400 diners per day, more than any other DFAC on post.
An average DFAC serves 400 Soldiers for lunch, Myles said, but Black Jack, which supports a brigade as well as the Basic Leader Course, often feeds 250 within the first 30 minutes.
Myles said he strives every day to create a positive environment for the 91 NCOs and Soldiers employed at the facility. By being generous with public praise and rewarding individuals who display stellar performance with an extra day off, he has enabled the DFAC personnel to be creative in a stressful and often thankless line of work.
Why did you join the Army?
I joined because my brother joined. He was food service. He came home, looked like he had himself together, and I thought I should give it a shot. If he can do it, I can do it. Now, I’ve been in the Army longer than any of my brothers. I’ve continued to serve because it really is rewarding. I enjoy helping people and serving people. When I first came in, I thought I was going to do about three years. I moved up a lot faster than I thought I would and started seeing it from a different light. I was no longer a worker bee. I became an NCO who could actually help people. I love the Army, and I love working with Soldiers.
How does your role help the Army as a whole?
We keep everybody fed, but it’s bigger than that. It’s keeping everybody safe, maintaining proper temps. Two thousand four hundred people may come through here. If we mishandle something, it could be 2,400 who can’t do their jobs the next day. We could kill 2,400. So it is an important job, and one I tell my Soldiers they should be proud of. Food service is probably one of the biggest morale boosters for those Soldiers who come through that door. You can either see it as a thousand critics coming through, or you can see it as being showcased every day. People go to the motor pool on Mondays. They go to S1 when they need something. We service about 2,400 people a day every single day. So you should take pride in it and put the best out there for them. Show that you are creative and have fun with it.
How do you encourage NCOs to keep Soldiers motivated?
Because it is a thankless job, you can’t come down hard on them. You honestly can’t. It’s a stressful environment. It’s high tempo; it’s nonstop. You have to lighten the air. You have got to find the good stuff. Find something that is correct. Look for the positive. Give them public praise. If I see somebody really squared away, I will give them the rest of the day off. We allow them to play music in the kitchen. Sometimes we play music throughout the serving period and put it on the PA system. You can hear them singing right now.
And, if you do really well here, we can send you down to the actual culinary arts building – maybe you will get a week to go work on a different side of your craft. If we have special events, we might just have them stop working in here and work that particular event. Recently, General Martin Dempsey came in. So we took a team of people and said, “Get creative. Bounce ideas off of each other. This is your sole mission.” They really love stuff like that, because they get recognized for it.
What about your NCOs makes you proud?
Normally when you work this closely with people, not everybody gets along – especially the senior NCOs. As a sergeant first class, you could just make sure your people are in the building and then go on your way. But it’s really not like that here. I’m not the highest ranking sergeant first class here, but the others actually have no problem working for me. One of them was actually my Advanced Individual Training instructor. He taught me when I was a private, 13 years ago.
I think we all work well together because we share the same vision: For those 90 minutes [of service time,] we are going to be the best on the installation. Honestly, it is a competition. Nobody says it, but we want business from across post. We want everybody’s business. We want to be the best. The NCOs here, we truly share that vision. They’ll call me in the middle of the night, saying, “Hey man, what about this meal?” or, “How about we do this tomorrow?” They just bounce crazy ideas, and we run with it. Normally, in an environment this stressful, it is hard to be creative, much less find joy in your work, and they actually do that.
How have other NCOs helped you in your career?
I had good NCOs who actually care. Regardless of PCS moves, they were still just a phone call away. They expected a lot of me but were also approachable at the same time. They taught me more than just the food service side of the house. They taught me more than just how to cook. If you can help people and motivate them to want to do whatever it is that they do, I think that is kind of special. And that is what I had. I had only joined because my brother had joined. I was only a cook because my brother was a cook. Somewhere in there, a select few NCOs stood out and inspired me. They enjoyed their work. They taught me how to be a better person, how to be a better father, how to handle my finances. They were counselors to me, and I just try to mirror that and give that back.
What advice do you have for junior NCOs?
Be the example. Just remember somebody is watching, and wants to be you. You might not even know who it is, but a subordinate is watching you. You are creating another you. Somebody is going to emulate what it is that you do, be it right or wrong. You really are part of something bigger than yourself, especially when you become an NCO. It’s no longer just about you. You are responsible for more than yourself. People come from all different walks of life. You have to be approachable. You have to know your audience. What makes one person tick won’t make another person tick. You just have to find what works.
The official magazine of noncommissioned officer professional development