Last Marine unit on horseback celebrates its 50th anniversaryFrom left, Marine Corps Sgts. Fernando Blancas, Jedidiah Birnie, Terry Barker, Jacob Cummins, Cpls. Nicholas Davis, Alicia Frost and Javier Castellon post with Staff Sgt. Nicholas Beberniss for a mounted color guard portrait with Elephant Mountain in the background at the stables at Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif., Aug. 10, 2017. The unit is celebrating its 50th year of service in 2017. (Marine Corps photo by Laurie Pearson)
The United States Marine Corps’ last remaining mounted color guard celebrates its 50th year in service this year – attending rodeos, parades and other events across the country, but it’s the day-to-day life that keeps these horse-borne Marines grounded.
Members of the mounted color guard proudly represent the Marine Corps and serve their community and country with honor. They travel extensively to participate in as many events as possible, and the invitations keep rolling in with event organizers requesting their presence. As the only remaining mounted color guard, they are spread thin, their schedules packed with events from shore to shore, to include retirement ceremonies and high-profile events such as the Tournament of Roses Parade.
“I feel a great sense of pride every time I put on that uniform and get on a horse,” said Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Nicholas Beberniss, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the mounted color guard.
For events on the other side of the country, such as the Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C., it can take up to five days to get to the site, explained Marine Corps Cpl. Alicia Frost, a stableman. The horses are transported via truck and trailer along with the stablemen.
“For me, the best aspect is all the traveling we get to do, and being in the rodeos and parades,” Frost said. “I love meeting all the new people everywhere we go. It’s awesome! The crowds are always cheering for us and thanking us for our service.”
Representing All Marines
Children and adults alike see the mounted color guard riders, in their perfectly pressed and polished uniforms sitting tall in their saddles and request to have photos taken with them. As a recruiting tool, the goal is to inspire others to join the Corps.
“It’s a very serious responsibility,” said Marine Corps Sgt. Jedidiah Birnie, a stableman. “People don’t look at you as just a person; they see you as representing the whole Marine Corps. So, you have to be on your toes at all times and make sure you’re presenting a good face for the people.”
As the only woman on the team of riders, Frost embraces the heavy responsibility of being a role model for young women.
“I’m the face for all female Marines,” Frost said. “So, when other girls and women see me doing it, I hope it gives them the courage to think that they can do it, as well. They can be a Marine and make it onto a competitive team full of male[s].”
When the A-Team — the first line of riders — is on the road, some of the other stablemen attend the events to assist with transportation and care of the horses. At least one stableman remains at the stables to care for the remaining horses, the facilities and the administrative work.
While at home, the Marines all participate in the daily maintenance of the facilities, horses, administrative duties and self-care. As a team, they muck out and clean the stalls. They groom and clean the horses and engage in ground-work training. They share the administrative load and help one another with tasks such as fence maintenance or stall repairs.
The horses are fed by the stablemen twice a day, morning and night, with each person taking flakes of hay and ensuring each horse has adequate food. They clean out the water devices and refill them often because desert conditions can cause the water to evaporate quickly.
At the end of each day at the stables, the team is often covered in dust and dirt as they take pride in a job well done.
“It’s great getting to see the reward of your hard work with the horses,” Birnie said, “and having a sense of pride knowing that the work you do here will be seen by thousands of people all across the country.”
Beberniss, who was seriously injured in combat, takes pride in representing wounded warriors as part of the mounted color guard. He leads by example, ensuring that the team represents the Marine Corps with honor and integrity.
“I like being with the Marines and mentoring them,” Beberniss said. “It’s great watching those who don’t have horse experience grow and progress with the horses. It’s really beneficial to everyone. Working with the mustangs is rewarding and the riders learn to control them in rodeos, parades, as well as noisy and busy city environments.”
The horses, which come from the Bureau of Land Management, are “green broke” before coming to the mounted color guard. Green broke means that the horses are not yet fully trained and only recently learned to be under a saddle.
“Once we get them, we start ground working them and putting a saddle on them and getting them show-ready,” Beberniss explained.
The training routine includes bonding with the horses, so that the riders earn their trust and cooperation. They work in arenas as well as open areas, with unexpected noises and movements around them, so that the horses learn to relax and trust their riders to have their best interests in mind at all times.
“It can be a very tedious job at times,” Frost said. “We work very long hours, most weekends and we usually don’t get holidays off. It’s a big responsibility and we devote our lives to the Marine Corps and the horses.”
“We always want the public to have a good impression of us, the horses, the facilities we use and the Marine Corps as a whole,” Beberniss said.
“We currently have nine riders: Lance Cpl. Jeremy Gauna, from Monroe, Louisiana; Cpl. Javier Castellon, from Norwalk, California; Cpl. Alicia Frost, of Warner Robins, Georgia; Sgt. Jedidiah Birnie, from Minden, Nebraska; Cpl. Nicholas Davis, from Lynchburg, Virginia; Sgt. Fernando Blancas, of Apple Valley, California; Sgt. Jacob Cummins, from Phoenix, Arizona; Sgt. Terry Barker, from Sunbury, Ohio; and me, Staff Sgt. Nicholas Beberniss of Westminster, Colorado. Things constantly change, though. People get stationed at other locations, or get out of the Marine Corps, or what have you. So we are always looking for good Marines to fill more slots,” he said.