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Indiana Guard’s Caisson Platoon prepares for Indianapolis 500

Members of the Indiana National Guard Caisson Platoon volunteer to serve in the guard’s ceremonial unit, saddling up their horses to mark the death of an Indiana National Guard member, and give a final tribute to their service.

“My first actual interaction with the unit was my own grandfather’s funeral when he was pulled by caisson,” First Lieutenant Wesley Fluke said as the platoon trained for its upcoming appearance at the Indianapolis 500. “That’s something that obviously stuck with me for a very long time. I’m really excited and glad that I can give back and help those families and soldiers as well.”

Fluke volunteered for the Ceremonial Unit at least in part because he always romanticized the idea of being in the saddle. Fluke, though, is a mountain of a man who missed out on horseback riding because of his sheer size.

In addition to performing funeral services, the Caisson Platoon is called upon to make appearances in parades and at big events such as the Indy 500. That event, though, poses unique challenges to the platoon as it is loud, crowded and includes screaming combustion engines. The Caisson Platoon steeds, while big, calm, and confident, remain prey animals that can be startled by any sudden sound or sudden movement.

“They listen to their riders very well. They listen to us. The more time we get to spend out here with them, the more they get to know us, and they trust us.” Fluke said calmly.

There was a paternal tone to the Lieutenant’s voice when talking about the horses. The Caisson Platoon members all share that sentiment. They love serving with the giant beasts of burden. Staff Sergeant Hannah Smith grew up riding at the Woods Equestrian Center in Columbus, Indiana. Now that the Caisson Platoon has moved its tack to the Woods, her equestrian life has come full circle. Smith was looking forward to Memorial Day and the somber role she and her comrades play in acknowledging those who served and died.

“It’s a good time to just kind of step back and be grateful for the opportunity we have to serve, and the people who have come before us to serve. Just kind of recognize everything that they’ve done and paved the way for us and obviously, it’s very humbling to see all the gratitude from civilians as well,” Smith said as she stood in the outdoor arena at the Woods against a backdrop of working horses.

Sergeant Smith is among a group of soldiers seemingly finding themselves by losing themselves in service to others.