BARSTOW, Calif. - Thousands of spectators rose to their feet, cheered hysterically and proudly waved 15,000 American flags that were distributed earlier, as the announcer introduced the Marines, “first to enter and the last to leave, the bravery of the United States Marines!”
On December 12, 1942, the battle of Guadalcanal ended after several months of fighting. Hundreds of Americans gave their lives for their country in the battle and there are very few remaining survivors today.
Seventy years later, in recognition of the battle, the 54th annual National Finals Rodeo, round seven, at the Thomas & Mack Center, in Las Vegas opened with a salute to the military. During the opening ceremony, the Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard, stationed aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif., was given the honor to present the national colors during the National Anthem, played by the 1st Marine Division Band, stationed aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Military representatives from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps entered the arena for the playing of the National Anthem. These representatives included Sgt. Rod Rodriguez, a 92-year-old Marine veteran, Bronze Star recipient and one of the last remaining Guadalcanal survivors, escorted by retired Lt. Gen. Emil ‘Buck’ Bedard, who served 37 years in the Marine Corps. The veterans proudly saluted what they have all fought for, as the Mounted Color Guard entered the arena bearing the American flag.
Boyd Gaming, the sponsor of the seventh round’s opening ceremony, chose ‘a salute to the military’ as the night’s theme.
“Tonight was our night to sponsor the rodeo and with the Battle of Guadalcanal ending today, 70 years ago, I knew I wanted a military theme,” said Dan Stark, vice president of the company’s corporate marketing branch. “My father was a Marine and the military has always had a lot of meaning to me.”
“As soon as we had the Marine Corps Band coming to play the National Anthem for us I knew the crowd would go crazy if we had the Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard to present the colors,” Stark explained. “The NFR is a huge deal, it’s the Super Bowl of Professional Rodeo, and it’s an honor the Marines took the time to come out here.”
The countless amounts of spectators waving American flags in the crowd were proof the Marine Corps’ only Mounted Color Guard has their nation’s support.
“The crowd’s reaction as soon as they heard ‘Marines,’ goes to show how distinguished we are from any other service,” said Sgt. Edgar Torrealba, a stableman and acting staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the MCG for the event.
Allen Rheinheimer, the contestant manager and opening director of the event, explained how much he enjoyed working with the MCG.
“The Mounted Color Guard’s discipline made them [the unit] extremely easy to work with. They were always exactly where we needed them to be, when we needed them to be there. I would love to see them here next year, and I know the crowd would too,” Rheinheimer said. “The crowd is very patriotic. They go wild seeing military out there, especially Marines on horseback.”
Torrealba, Sgt. Daren Cole, Sgt. Joel Richards, Cpl. Bryanna Kessler, and Cpl. Cherisess Paige, all members of the MCG who participated in the NFR, explained how honored they were to be included in such a big event. The MCG’s mission is to represent the Marine Corps to the best of its ability, Torrealba explained. The Marines take their responsibilities as Marines and ambassadors of the Corps very seriously, he added.
“We represent, first and foremost, the United States of America and the Marine Corps, which means paying a lot of attention to detail, making sure our uniforms are squared away and our horses are maintained,” Torrealba said. “We accept nothing less than what we stand for as U.S. Marines.”
In preparation for the event, the MCG executed many rehearsals.
“From early in the morning to late at night, we did everything we needed to do to take care of our horses and ensure they were familiar with the environment in which they would be performing,” explained Torrealba.
Along with those responsibilities, the Marines often find they have a massive impact on the crowds for which they perform.
“That opening ceremony was a tear jerker,” one spectator remarked as the MCG departed the arena.
The MCG often receives positive and moving feedback after their performances, and in this respect, the NFR was no different.
“There’s no doubt people admire the Mounted Color Guard,” Torrealba explained. “A lady and gentleman actually stopped us in the elevator after the performance. With tears in her eyes, the lady explained how their son passed away while on a deployment in Afghanistan last year. They shook our hands and thanked us for our service,” he added. “Moments like that make us extremely proud of what we do, and honored to be out here representing the Marine Corps.”
With the thousands of spectators in attendance at the NFR, the Marines believe this was a big step for them.
“There were many people out there who didn’t know we existed prior to the event,” Torrealba explained. He believes events like this one help the MCG in their efforts to interact with the public and promote the Marine Corps.
The next big event for the MCG will be at the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year’s Day.
If the patriotism at the Rose Parade is anywhere near that of the NFR, the Marine equestrian unit is in for another memorable event.