Strong and beautiful: NC Troopers Caisson Unit provides tribute to fallen heroes
When a law enforcement officer dies in the line of duty they deserve the highest possible tribute. The North Carolina Trooper’s Association Caisson Unit, based in Goldsboro, is a big part of making that happen.
A group of strong, beautiful horses are ridden by North Carolina troopers solemnly pulling the “caisson” that carries the flag draped casket of a fallen public servant.
Trooper A.J. Stocks was killed in a crash in 2008 while responding to a call in Wake County. His wife, Lianne Stocks, now volunteers with the caisson unit.
“To have the honor of the caisson unit carrying my husband for his final ride meant everything to me. My husband was not only a trooper, he was a Marine and a soldier,” she said.
Trooper Bennie Grady rides in the unit, and for the last year, he has spent his free time taking care of the six horses that live on his property.
“The hardest thing about it when you’re doing a funeral is trying to keep some type of composure,” Grady said. “A brother or sister who has lost their life, who will never get a chance to help someone again, this is why I do this.”
The Highway Patrol pays the 14 member team to participate in the funerals and to train the horses 12 times a year, but the rest of the funding and resources come from the community.
“The struggle is to the extreme, it never stops,” Grady said.
It takes tens of thousands to dollars a year to maintain the horses, including, housing, feeding and transporting. The group is now holding fundraisers to try to supplement some of the cost.
“We’ve had 78 missions and if each of those 78 families would donate even just $25 would be fabulous,” Stocks said.
And the daily work is on Grady’s shoulders.
“I know that guy or that lady who we have carried never gave up, so I’m not going to give up,” she said.
The caisson unit operate in five states, Georgia, Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee and North Carolina.
The unit has handled seven funerals this year and nearly 80 since they began in 2008.
Each event costs about $20,000. Members of the team say they would like to see the state help with the funding.