The Corps of Cadets’ special unit looks back on its humble beginnings, celebrates what the unit stands for today and looks forward towards its ride into the future.
A Tradition Revived
When Texas A&M was first established in 1876 as an all male, military campus, training provided to its future military officers included mounted drill. This instruction would continue until 1943, when the U.S. Army disbanded its horse operations, rendering the training no longer useful.
This training would remain dormant until three rising senior cadets, Michael Collins, Darrell Williams and Douglas Latimer, approached then Commandant, Colonel Thomas R. Parsons ‘49, in the spring of 1973 with an idea to revive mounted drill training.
“During our junior year, there were three cadets who rode into a football game with the color guard. The more the three of us talked about expanding on that, the more we realized that we had a really great idea on our hands,” Michael Collins ‘74 said.
With Colonel Parsons’ approval and assistance, Parsons Mounted Cavalry (PMC) was formed, named in his honor.
“Naming the unit after Colonel Parsons was brilliant and I don't remember if it was a group decision or just luck, but it was the most important decision we made,” Collins said.
“Without Colonel Parsons, we would not have been able to put the unit together. We brought a lot of ‘want to’ and ‘how do we do’ questions to him and he helped us identify solutions. Parsons was a ‘can do’ person. He helped us in every area from hauling hay to getting permission to march into Kyle Field. If I had a problem, I went to him and he helped get it done.”
Parsons Mounted Cavalry would make its first appearance in the Corps’ march-in ahead of the A&M-Wichita State game on September 15, 1973. This debut featured cadet Michael Collins as the unit’s first Commanding Officer, Darrell Williams as the first Executive Officer and Douglas Latimer as one of the two First Platoon Leaders, alongside cadet Ernest Wilson.
“The first march-in was not the best for us but we got through. I brought a horse from home that was a cutting horse and he did not like the band. I changed horses after the first march in. The unit was very well received by fans and former students,” Collins said.
Throughout the unit’s early days, cadets involved in PMC had to bring their own horses and provide their own transportation in order to participate in the unit. Cadets housed their horses at the Texas A&M Research Annex at the Riverside campus, where PMC also conducted its training exercises.
As interest and membership in the special unit began to rise, it became apparent that PMC would eventually need to migrate to larger facilities to accommodate future growth.
With Friends at Fiddler’s Green
In 1979, just five years after its inception, Parsons Mounted Cavalry transitioned from the Research Annex to a new facility off of F&B Road, near Texas A&M’s Vet School. This move granted PMC 26 new acres to house its horses and conduct training exercises.
In 1981, this new facility was named after a poem dedicated to paradise adopted by the U.S. Army cavalry formations in the late 1800s, “Fiddler’s Green”. This location continues to serve as the home and headquarters to PMC.
Renovations have been made to Fiddler’s Green throughout the years. In 2014, an expansion of the original 26 acres nearly doubled the space available to cadets, with Fiddler’s Green facility now sitting on 50 acres.
“Fiddler’s Green provides land and facilities for all our training and housing of horses and gear, but it is much more than that. Fiddler’s Green becomes a home to our PMC cadets. Their interactions through work, feeding and riding unites them in a way that nothing else does. When a cadet has a bad day, the Green provides a place of solace where they can come and recharge,” Lt Col Jeff Gardner ‘82, current military advisor to Parsons Mounted Cavalry, said.
As PMC continued to grow, cadets were no longer required to provide their own horses and transportation in order to participate in the unit. This change came as a result of the unit’s acquisition of its own animals, who are all permanent residents of the facility. All animals utilized within Parsons Mounted Cavalry are either donated to or purchased by Texas A&M from various outside entities.
Today, Fiddler’s Green presently houses PMC’s 70 horses and mules, many of whom previously belonged to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice or other private owners.
Keeping Pace With The Corps
With the first female cadets in the Corps joining in 1974, it was only natural that Parsons Mounted Cavalry’s membership would follow suit in subsequent years. By the 1981-1982 academic year, Parsons Mounted Cavalry, or simply the “Cav” as it is known by cadets, welcomed its first female member, Leaugeay C. “Beebe” (Buck) Barnes ‘82.
“I decided I wanted to be in the Cav since I had been riding most my life. I joined PMC to ride horses and represent our university. I did not have the vision at the time to understand the magnitude of my participation for future women. Each barrier taken down is a brick for those coming behind to step upon to reach further than you can imagine,” Barnes said.
As years have passed by, female membership in both the Corps and the Cav have continued to grow. For the 2018-2019 academic year, cadet Rose Marshall ‘19 was selected as the unit’s first female Commanding Officer.
“When I found out that I was the first female Commanding Officer, it felt like such an honor. I thought that being the first female CO would come with a lot of scrutiny, but I had a lot of really great fellow Cav Jocks by my side who helped me overcome whatever I faced,” Marshall said.
Similar to the rest of the Corps, Parsons Mounted Cavalry would also continue to see a steady overall growth in membership across the years. From 25 members during the 1974-1975 academic year to the unit’s present 86 members for 2023-2024, PMC’s tryout process has adapted to become more competitive and time involved.
“PMC has grown in many ways over the past 15 years. In the early years membership was determined by if you could provide your own horse. Today, we average about 180 sophomore cadets vying for 50 positions allocated to the junior class. Unlike other special units in the Corps, it takes 10 months of training to earn your cord and become a member,” Gardner said.
This growth is also accompanied by a significant jump in the unit’s overall GPA, which has regularly averaged out to 3.30 for several years.
Keeping pace with the Corps in membership and academic performance has elevated Parsons Mounted Cavalry to iconic status within the organization, and has positioned PMC for greater involvement and visibility within the larger Texas A&M community.
A Game Day Staple
From their presence before the game to in-stadium at Kyle Field, Parsons Mounted Cavalry plays a significant role in the Texas A&M game day experience. Before each home football game, Parsons Mounted Cavalry serves as a major piece in the Corps of Cadets’ march-ins, with the entire unit on display throughout each route.
“Riding in on game day feels, in a word, inspiring. Riding on horseback through the campus is something that I love so much. It makes me so proud to see thousands of Aggies cheering and supporting what we do as members of PMC. Rain or shine, our fellow Aggies always line up along our ride route to support us,” Chaz Garcia ‘24, current Commanding Officer of Parsons Mounted Cavalry, said.
One of Parsons Mounted Cavalry’s most notable game day traditions is the firing of the cannon after every Aggie touchdown in Kyle Field.
The cannon used in this tradition, known as “The Spirit of ‘02”, was discovered in 1974 at Easterwood Airport, where cadets were conducting a cut for the annual bonfire.
Recognizing the potential that this cannon had for use within PMC, cadet John Gunter III ‘79 approached Colonel Thomas Parsons with a plan to restore the gun. Upon completion of the restoration project in 1979, the 3-inch M1902 artillery piece was named The Spirit of ‘02, in honor of the gun model’s 1902 origins. It was fired for the first time on Texas A&M’s Quad in 1982, at the start of a Corps march-in.
The Spirit of ‘02 would then go on to make its Kyle Field debut in 1984, marking the beginning of a beloved Texas Aggie tradition, and the start of one of PMC’s most visible gameday duties. This involvement would launch PMC into significant national visibility, with Aggies and fans of opposing teams quickly recognizing the unit for this tradition.
“We represent the Corps and Texas A&M University in every ride and every game at Kyle Field. My goal as CO is to make sure that every time we’re present, we make the Texas A&M community proud of their Cavalry unit in how we represent them, no matter where we are,” Garcia said.
Though PMC has become well-known and loved in Aggieland, it has also made a name for itself, the Corps of Cadets and Texas A&M on the national stage.
Representing Texas A&M Across Our State & Nation
As Parsons Mounted Cavalry continues to solidify its reputation as a cornerstone of Texas A&M’s identity, so has the special unit’s participation in large-scale, national events. The nation’s only collegiate mounted cavalry unit, PMC is truly one of a kind in every arena.
From parades to a presidential inauguration, Parsons Mounted Cavalry has regularly represented Texas A&M and the Corps of Cadets on many significant stages.
“We have participated in everything from the [George H.W.] Bush inaugural parade in 1989 to the Bryan Christmas parade. We tend to be a crowd favorite at each event, and we believe we represent the spirit and traditions of A&M very well,” Gardner said.
One of PMC’s most recent prominent appearances is the 2019 Rose Parade. This parade featured the entire unit, which traveled by several trucks and trailers from College Station to Pasadena, California over the course of three days.
Rose Marshall ‘19, who is from Southern California and actually named after the parade itself, led the special unit throughout its involvement in the parade.
“When I became Commanding Officer, I was informed that the Cav always tried to ride in a parade in the CO’s hometown. I thought that this made sense for COs that were from Texas, but just as a joke I asked about my hometown parade, the Rose Parade. I was shocked when the response was, ‘well, let’s apply,” Marshall said.
“It wasn’t long after we applied that we got accepted. That’s when the work really started. I am so thankful that I got to go all the way to Pasadena, my hometown, and bring a little piece of Aggieland with me. Riding through the parade, all I could think about was how many people were watching us. It was just filled with people on both sides, which was so fantastic and overwhelming all at the same time.”
PMC’s participation in the Rose Parade, at the time, symbolized one of the most prominent national involvements for the unit.
"I felt like we had really put PMC on the map outside of Texas during the Rose Parade. Everyone knows the Texas A&M and the Corps of Cadets, but this felt like the first time that we really got to show off the Cav. We really got to put our work ethic on display,” Marshall explained.
Parsons Mounted Cavalry continues to regularly represent Texas A&M and the Corps in San Antonio’s Battle of Flowers Parade, the Rio Grande Valley’s Citrus Parade, in rodeos across the state and many other highly attended events.
“The work that goes into preparing for these events is tremendous, and it is truly a special thing to see Texas A&M and the Corps of Cadets represented through our students in Parsons Mounted Cavalry. Whether you’re an Aggie or not, the impressive nature of the Cav is undeniable in every setting. They’re a pivotal piece of our school’s identity, and the unit’s participation in major events is a prime example of that fact,” Brigadier General Patrick Michaelis ‘93, Commandant of the Corps of Cadets, said.
As the Corps of Cadets continues efforts to build its overall membership numbers, membership within the special unit has grown to represent some of the Corps’ highest quality cadets.
“My favorite part of being the PMC advisor is watching the cadets grow and mature across their time in the program. Members of the unit are excellent students. The overall GPA for the Cav has consistently increased year after year for several years now, which is a major statistic. We have high quality cadets here in the Cav, and we’re proud of that, ” Gardner said.
Parsons Mounted Cavalry’s presence at events across the state has effectively positioned the special unit to be one of the Corps’ most effective and impactful recruiting assets.
“We are a great recruiting tool for the Corps. We are one of the most visible special units in the Corps, and we are a unique national treasure. Horsemanship is a big part of our program, but we teach so much more. Teamwork, problem solving, accountability, communication, planning and execution of those plans are all parts of what we teach. These are skills that cadets can use for the rest of their lives, regardless of what field they go into,” Gardner explained.
From its beginnings as a simple idea conjured by a group of cadets, to its present recognition as one of Texas A&M’s greatest identifying features, Parsons Mounted Cavalry has grown to include cadets from all backgrounds, providing them the opportunity to learn and develop within the special unit.
“Approximately 90% of our cadets in PMC actually come to the special unit with no prior horsemanship experience. Across a ten month period beginning in their sophomore year, cadets earn their cords and their place within the Cav. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you hope to do after you leave here. If you’re willing to put in the work and improve everyday, there’s a place for you in Parsons Mounted Cavalry,” Gardner said.
For many cadets, the lessons they’ve learned from their time in PMC have served them well into their professional careers and personal lives. Though cadets only spend two years within the special unit as upperclassmen, the lessons learned and the memories made will remain with them for life.
“Being in PMC, I have had the opportunity to test myself in unique scenarios. Whether it's working with a horse or planning operations where we have to coordinate with multiple different parties, PMC has given me an opportunity to grow into the man and the leader I was meant to be,” Garcia said.
Building upon the proven value of the experience the Cav provides, the Corps of Cadets looks forward to what the coming decades will bring for PMC and, as a result, the Corps as a whole.
“The Corps of Cadets is a leadership laboratory designed for students who are looking for more out of their college experience. We welcome young men and women from all over the world, and prepare them to lead at every level, no matter their career goals,” Michaelis said.
“Students who may not have otherwise interacted in this setting are now at the heart of one of our university’s most cherished traditions, gaining skills that will serve them well into the future and connections they will have for the rest of their lives. The Cav experience produces leaders who are compassionate, determined and dedicated to excellence in their craft, and that’s exactly the kind of individuals that our communities, our state and our nation need as we move toward the future.”
With a storied legacy already firmly established in its first 50 years, it is hard not to imagine all the ways Parsons Mounted Cavalry will continue to accomplish and grow across the next 50.
While much remains to be seen, there is one thing that is certain:
Parsons Mounted Cavalry will continue to ride on.
Story by: Robin Nelson '22