Forty years ago America was a different place. The Vietnam War had just ended. The Watergate investigations were underway. Gasoline was 36 cents per gallon. Men wore long sideburns, woman wore mini-skirts, and Tony Orlando was singing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Ole Oak Tree.”
Nineteen seventy-three was also the year that Col. Arthur Corley, the Fort Huachuca garrison commander, decided to create a special unit to promote the heritage and traditions of the U.S. Army in the Southwest during the period of the Indian Wars and support recruiting, community relations and ceremonial functions. This July 4th, in addition to celebrating American independence, B Troop, 4th U.S. Cavalry Regiment (Memorial) will celebrate its 40th anniversary.
Corley realized that Fort Huachuca had a unique cavalry history and intended to make use of it to improve community relations at a time when the public’s perception of the Army had been strained by the unpopular Vietnam War. With the Independence Day celebrations coming up, Corley decided to use the 4th of July to kick off a recruiting campaign for his new, special historic unit.
The colonel corralled 2nd Lt. Roger Keats to put his vision together. Keats was tasked with coming up with a mounted color guard for the 4th of July parade. Lacking authentic uniforms and tack, Keats did the best he could with some creative license and help from the post museum. Since he had to borrow uniforms from the display dummies in the museum, he had to find riders based on their ability to fit the uniforms. Lacking cavalry gauntlets and campaign hats, he used pole lineman gloves and kepis instead. It wasn’t authentic, but the crowd at the parade loved it.
The next day, Corley chaired a recruiting meeting and came up with about 30 volunteers for his new outfit. Although the memorial unit was not officially established by the Army until June 26, 1974, Corley and his staff designated July 4, 1973, as the official birthday of B Troop since that was the first day they appeared in public. The next month, on Aug. 13, 1973, spouses of the founding troopers formed the Ladies Auxiliary to B Troop, and it became an integral part of the unit.
It took creativity and hard work to piece together uniforms and equipment for the new memorial unit. The ladies fashioned uniforms from old wool marine uniforms that someone had acquired. The post museum director’s wife, with a brother in Korea who owned a shoe factory, obtained the boots. The Army provided carbines and sabers but, if they had them, troopers initially supplied their own pistols. Much of the tack and equipment was obtained or made by the troopers, often at their own expense.
B Troop didn’t originally have an office, but the troop acquired the use of one of the old Indian Scout adobe huts on Apache Flats. They refurbished it and turned it into a location for troop social events. The huts, unfortunately, were demolished years ago.
Corley also established a period-authentic office space in the headquarters building which was manned daily by a trooper in 1880s uniform to help highlight the existence of the memorial unit and help provide a historic accent to the post.
Originally, B Troop did not have its own horses and relied on privately owned horses or those borrowed from the Buffalo Corral. The troopers had no formal training program and received “on-the-job” training as cavalrymen. They had no regularly scheduled training sessions, but would gather to practice for specific events. They soon acquired a stock trailer, which they painted themselves, and were able to participate in off-post events.
During its first year, the troop participated in many events away from post, traveling to Tombstone, Fort Verde, Prescott and other places. They also hosted a cavalry re-enactor’s encampment on Fort Huachuca attended by 18 different units.
The units camped out and held massive cavalry maneuvers on the ranges. The Ladies Auxiliary came up with the idea of a Frontier Military Ball held at the old Lakeside Officer’s Club. The troopers and ladies wore period-authentic uniforms and dresses. The ball became an annual event and was attended by the senior leaders on post.
Although Corley passed away in 2008, his vision for a special, mounted historic unit lives on. Over the years, the demographics of the post have changed and there aren’t as many people available to participate. Yet, B Troop enjoys better logistics support than it did in the 70s. The unit has its own horses, authentic uniforms and equipment, dedicated horse trailers and vehicles, and even has its own office. The troopers no longer have to manufacture their own uniforms and equipment. They also now have a formal cavalry riding school and train their riders before putting them in the public’s eye.
The mission of the unit, however, has not changed since its initial establishment, and it continues to promote the heritage and traditions of the U.S. Army, as it has for 40 years. B Troop may still frequently be seen at off-post events or conducting their famous pistol charge on Brown Parade Field during ceremonies on Fort Huachuca.
Those interested in learning more about the unit and how to join can visit the B Troop website, http://www.huachuca.army.mil/pages/btroop/ or call 538.2178. The next riding school begins on July 9, and applications will be accepted through June 28.