BY LAUREL BUSBY
About a year ago, the California State Guard 26th Mounted Unit expanded their duties from parades and events to search and rescue and security.
The all-volunteer force, which should feature more than a dozen horses and riders at the Pacific Palisades Fourth of July Parade, trains one weekend a month, for eight hours each day, to learn these new skills, according to Command Sergeant Major Daniel DeGeorge.
“The training is very intense because they want to make sure they’re doing it the right way, following the regulations, doing what the mission requirements would ask for, so that not only them as riders but their animals are prepared for different scenarios,” DeGeorge said.
As the California State Guard’s senior enlisted non-commissioned officer, DeGeorge has observed the group at both parades and during their training exercises, which sometimes include trial search and rescue missions. For example, at one such exercise, two people were intentionally “lost,” and the riders devised a plan to find them and then succeeded in achieving that goal.
The southern members of the contingent generally train at Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base, but they combine with their northern counterparts for training in central California at either Camp Roberts or Camp San Luis Obispo, which “is a great training area for search and rescue because it has varied terrains,” DeGeorge, 59, said.
About six months ago, security training was added to their regimen. The volunteers, who transport their own horses to training and events, have been learning crowd control and how to provide other security tasks, because horses can outrun people on foot.
This expansion is a change for the mounted force, which used to specialize solely in parades and other festive events. The Color Guard, which includes members from the Army, air, and maritime divisions of the California State Guard, also often joined them on marches.
“Parades are an opportunity to share with the community what we have within our organization,” DeGeorge said. Like the Color Guard, the 26th Mounted “have a lot of pride in what they do and what they represent. Their uniforms are impeccable, and the horses are well maintained. It’s a great representation of what we do.”
The increase in their duties stemmed from some changes within both the California State Guard and the military overall, which required some units to become more operational due to overseas deployments that left voids, he said.
“It helps the military to have more assets,” noted DeGeorge, who added that the California State Guard is strictly a state military organization, so its all-volunteer force always remains in the state and is under the jurisdiction of the governor.
The guard also is always looking for new members, including personnel on horseback, although, thus far, they have yet to be called into service for one of a search-and-rescue or security mission. DeGeorge said that he anticipates the Mounted’s eventual use in varied capacities, including at checkpoints during catastrophic fires. He noted that the guard is called to search and rescue missions every few days, so eventually the horses and their dedicated riders will join some of these searches.
“These individuals are true servants,” DeGeorge said. “They give up their personal time away from their families. They are such great advocates for the California State Guard and the entire military.”
Caption: Once again horses will be in the Palisades Parade, as the Mounted Unit takes the route.
Photo: Joy Daunis