On May 2, 2016, Staff Sgt John S. Ford took his final ride with the 1st Battalion, 3d U.S Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) Caisson Platoon.
“Its not really sinking in yet, that this is it, this is the last time I’m doing this,” said Ford. “This job, this position, this platoon has been the single most honorable thing I’ve ever been involved in in my life.”
Ford worked as the Caisson operations non-commissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) and rode on 319 memorial affairs missions.
“This has been the greatest privilege in my entire career,” said Ford. “To be able to serve here with these Soldiers, in this capacity. It has been an adventure most days.”
Ford was inspired to come to the Caisson when he visited a fallen Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery (ANC).
In February 2006, while on Ford’s second deployment in Iraq, his friend Spc. Marlon Bustamante was killed by an IED (improvised explosive device) just southwest of Baghdad and was buried in section 60 of ANC.
“Delta Company 1st and the 502nd, that was the first combat casualties that company had taken since Vietnam,” said Ford. “He was survived by his wife, twin sons and a daughter.”
“I came to visit Arlington Cemetery when we came back from that tour in 2006,” said Ford. “You can hear the numbers at the time, it was 365,000 I think were buried here. You can hear that, and you can know in your head how many people that is and how many headstones that would be. But until you are standing at the bottom of section 60 looking up the hill, and all you can see as far as you can see is headstones.”
While in ANC Ford saw a Caisson team waiting on the side of the road, and he knew then this is where he wanted to be, he said.
He arrived at The Old Guard in August of 2011.
Ford relished his role in The Old Guard, learning as much about its history as he possibly could.
“Being not just a bridge between the families and the military service, but the history of both The Old Guard, the first American Regiment in 1784, but even going back to the horses, how long they have been in service ” said Ford. “Our modern horseback service is tied to those men that were mustered to fight in the Revolutionary War,”
Ford likes to learn a little bit of the history of a regiment when he’s assigned to it. Previously he was a member of a much younger unit, so there was less to read about. The Old Guard required him to do more research.
“To be apart of that long line of horseman, has been one of the big highlights here in Caisson,” said Ford.
“His historical knowledge of the units he serves with, he really digs into the books and understands the why,” said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Hayman.
Hayman previously worked as the Caisson Platoon sergeant and says Ford was an invaluable member of the team.
“He was an asset all the way,” said Hayman. “His greatest attribute as a leader is he’s always leading from the front. “
So while Spc Bustamante was initially his reason to come to ANC, the people he’s worked with at the Caisson Platoon are why he doesn’t want to leave, said Ford.
Ford says his greatest legacy is people will not notice when he is gone.
“Its gratifying to know that Soldiers that are going back into the cemetery tomorrow, the families won’t know the difference,” said Ford. “They won’t know I’m not there anymore. To me, that means a lot.”
Ford said it takes a constant attention to detail and a devotion to the families of the fallen service members to be successful.
Ford’s advice to the horseman that will be continuing to work at the stables is to keep putting the families first.
The dedication to the families is inspiring and humbling to watch on a daily basis, said Ford.
“It may be your first, might be your 50th, might be your 500th,” said Ford. “This was my 319th , but for that Airman, buried in section 55 this afternoon, that was his only funeral. The family only gets that one.”
For now, Ford will be embarking on a new chapter of his career as a Drill Sergeant.
Ford attended Drill Sergeant School in Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Despite this new direction, training civilians to become Soldiers at Fort Jackson, SC, Ford has no doubt this will not be his last assignment at The Old Guard.
“I’m definitely coming back,” Ford said. “If we’re not fighting anybody, if the infantry is not actively deployed somewhere overseas in defense of America’s interest, I’m coming right back to The Old Guard, wherever the Regimental Sergeant Major needs me, whether its Alpha Company, Wigs and Tights, Rifle Company Marching again, or if I’m lucky right back here.”
“I’m going to carry the smell of the stables everywhere I go,” said Ford.