From nationally televised sporting events that include the Cowboys, Rangers and Mavericks, to the war memorials on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to the humble, local small town parade, the 1st Cavalry Division Honor Guard is the face of the Army, Fort Hood and the First Team throughout Texas and the nation.
That’s their mission, to reach out to the people in communities near and far, as Soldiers, to share the Soldier story with people who may have never met one. And the reactions they get instill a strong sense of pride for the team, according to Sgt. 1st Class Jackson Wester, 1st Cav. Div. Honor Guard noncommissioned officer in charge.
“When we’re able to interact with the veterans and other people, it’s an amazing sense of pride felt,” Wester said. “It really shows that we’re living up to the name honor guard. We are carrying the honor and traditions of a unit with a proud history everywhere we go.”
A lot of time during training is spent learning the storied history of the 1st Cav. Div. It’s not all drill and ceremony practice, Wester said. As a matter of fact, learning the First Team history is part of the selection process to be on the honor guard.
“They have to learn who has earned Medals of Honor,” he said. “And we have to really be able to talk about the history of the 1st Cav. Div. During that process, I think they start to realize that this isn’t for every Soldier. This is only for those who really care.”
Why is the history so important? Because when dressed in the historic uniform of the U.S. Cavalry, veterans from every recent era will want to come and talk with these Soldiers at the events they attend. And the First Team has an especially close connection with Vietnam-era vets. Wester said he has witnessed this at almost all events, but the team’s trips for the last two years on Veterans Day to the monuments at the National Mall in Washington have really made a lasting impression on him.
“It is an amazing honor,” he said. “We ended up on top of the Vietnam Memorial behind the speakers, and to just be around all the veterans and all the people there. It’s pretty impressive.”
These events are equally, if not more meaningful for the vets who attend, too.
“We end up getting an almost nonstop stream of people thanking us for being there,” Wester said. “We run into veterans, the majority of the ones we run into are from the Vietnam War, and they are super proud to have the 1st Cav. represented, because they’re 1st Cav. veterans and, they all just want to shake our hand and take photos. It’s an honor to be there with them.”
It’s the moments like these that make the training and selection of the team members so important, Wester said.
Interested Soldiers attend three weeks of drill and ceremony and history training. Once completed, the trainees must demonstrate what they have learned to the division command sergeant major, Wester and the current members of the team. All have a vote on who makes the team, with the division CSM having the final say. Most only serve on the team for a year, and then return to their normal units.
It’s to be expected that things have slowed down for the team, as events are postponed or cancelled this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Wester expects some of the more high-profile events to begin again soon.
“We’ve already been in contact with the Mavericks to try and find a way forward for this next year,” he said, “and I’m sure the Dallas Cowboys will reach out to us as well, depending on how and if they decide to begin their season.