Battle Ready

Myths and mystery aside, the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry boasts
an enduring, centuries-old connection to America’s past—and it’s still making
an impact today.

First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry’s Jacob Field (Photos by Jared Castaldi)Capt. Anselm T.W. Richards, Honorary Capt. Dennis Boylan and Sgt. Thomas Werner are counting captains on the marble placards in the breezeway beneath the castle-like 23rd Street Armory of the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry (FTPCC). As if reading Braille, they move their fingers over the inscribed names and dates of service, delineating the leadership of the nation’s oldest mounted military unit.

In February 2007, Richards took over as the 49th commander of the troop. From 1983 to 1986, Boylan was the 41st. The 19th captain (1896-1910), John C. Groome was also the first state police commissioner, naming his men troopers in honor of FTPCC.

With an estimated 2,400 members over its 234-year history, this unique U.S. Army National Guard unit has served continuously in every major conflict since the Revolutionary War. It remains the only U.S. military unit that elects its members and officers—each of them assigned a sequential number.

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A fixture at historic and ceremonial activities in Philadelphia and on the Main Line, FTPCC’s mounted warriors—arrayed in opulent uniforms and dazzling helmets that date from the early 19th century—automatically confer authenticity on any event, For years, members were drawn strictly from the area’s social elite. Now, in a time of ongoing global conflict, the organization has become more egalitarian in its efforts to recruit the ultimate citizen soldier, one who volunteers service and pools his pay to support the group.

The troop is likely to be busy this Veterans Day, but in the interest of national security, its members can’t comment on the present or future. Out of respect, they won’t discuss or confirm the total number of active troopers. Among the myths that surround FTPCC is that it’s an exclusive, upper-crust re-enactors club. Nothing could be further from the truth. These days, stories about FTPCC are more likely to appear in the news pages than the society pages.

After 9-11, the troop wrote to then-Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and offered its services, as was protocol during the Civil War and the Revolution. “It continued a precedent,” says Boylan, the 53-year-old director of market operations for the Philadelphia Board of Trade.

The letter initially led to a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia in 2002—the troop’s first call-up since the Korean War 50 years before—then a tour of duty in Iraq in 2005 and 2006. Others have recently served in Germany, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Jordan and Guantanamo Bay.

Many troopers have spent this year deployed at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. As a matter of security, the Army doesn’t announce dates for troop movements, but they’re eligible to return as soon as this month. Others who didn’t go to the Sinai are being selected to deploy with the 56th Brigade to Iraq before the end of the year.

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On their first tour in Iraq, troopers were stationed in the Al Anbar province northwest of Baghdad. It was flat-out survival of the fittest.

“Every day, we questioned our own mortality,” says the 38-year-old Richards, who was a platoon leader.

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First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry’s Sgt. Nick Miccarelli IIIOf the 28 under his charge in Iraq (not all were troopers), 10 won Purple Hearts. What he truly valued was shaking his men’s hands as they received the honor. “They were alive and had a hand to shake,” says Richards, a partner in a Center City financial management company.

Troopers who served in Bosnia were excused from the first call-up to Iraq, but that didn’t keep Werner or Tom Farley (who turned 59 while there) from volunteering anyway.

“I wasn’t always on combat patrol, but (with permission) I was out enough to make it interesting,” says the now-retired Farley, whose 40-year military career also included tours of duty in Vietnam, Desert Storm and Iraq.

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While Farley and the others revel in their long history of protecting, preserving and promoting their enduring connection to American history, FTPCC remains shrouded in mystery.

The troop prefers it that way.

During his preteen years, Jack Thomas Tomarchio read a newspaper story about trooper Charles P. Conrad, then a budding astronaut who’d become the third person to walk on the moon. He was fascinated with the photo of Conrad in a “Napoleonic-era uniform.”

Once in college, and on an ROTC scholarship at Penn State, he called the armory and was invited to a monthly Monday dinner. A few dinners later, FTPCC asked Tomarchio to join, though he couldn’t. First, there was law school, then four years service in active duty.

In 1985, Tomarchio returned to Philadelphia and joined FTPCC. Away from the troop, the Newtown Square resident is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s deputy undersecretary for operations in the Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

FTPCC counts among its membership one- and two-star Civil War generals, members of the U.S. Congress, a 19th-century naturalist who discovered and named the coyote, and a trooper who handled Nazi intelligence traffic in World War II. Along with Conrad, there’s Jonathan Williams, the first superintendent at West Point, and Thomas Sovereign Gates Jr., secretary of the Navy and secretary of defense under Dwight D. Eisenhower and the first U.S. liaison to the People’s Republic of China. The troop’s fifth captain, John Dunlap, printed the Declaration of Independence, and William Ward Burrows was first commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Today, its civilian members include physicians, bankers, lawyers, architects, painters and high school principals. FTPCC’s former recruiting chairman, Tomarchio says it’s harder than ever to attract soldiers. “Now, you have to enter with the idea that you could end up in combat,” he says.

What hasn’t changed is the troop’s desire—and need—to attract kindred souls. By federal law, FTPCC can’t enlist women since it’s a frontline combat arms unit. “Nearly all troopers have college degrees, and we have more MBAs than any other military unit,” Tomarchio says. “You join because another member sponsors you. That’s the only way. We don’t hang posters saying, ‘Join Us.’”

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Capt. Richards is even more direct. “There’s an inherent value in each man in this unit, and we’ve figured that out before he gets in,” he says.

Tomarchio, a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, held the rank of captain when he joined FTPCC. But like everyone else, he voluntarily resigned his commission and joined as an enlisted man. “The self is taken away here in exchange for the good of the troop,” Richards says.

“You may be a captain, but all of a sudden, you’re cleaning tureens as a sergeant,” Tomarchio explains. “It’s a big sacrifice, plus we give back our drill pay for the upkeep of the [armory], the cost of uniforms and boarding horses.”

No trooper associates anything with a price—other than the possible cost of losing his life. “But when I raised my hand [and swore an oath], it wasn’t to go or not to go somewhere; it was to serve,” says Richards. “We’re government property, so we do what we’re told.”

Deployment to the Sinai Peninsula has been a one-year reconnaissance mission. It’s the 51st rotation of a Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) peacekeeping effort designed to uphold the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel.

“We’re all eyes and ears,” Richards said before he left. “We’ll report an Egyptian doing this, or an Israeli doing that. We’re not to stop them from doing it. We’re just to observe and report.”

Since 9-11, the face of National Guard and Army Reserve units has changed. Years ago, members were “weekend warriors,” Tomarchio says. “Now, the Army can’t go anywhere without the Guard—neither can the Air Force. We’ve become part of the package because the active force has shrunk.”

National Guardsmen aren’t just filling sandbags and driving the injured to the hospital anymore, Richards says. “We’re a trained, skilled fighting component of the U.S. Army,” he says. “It’s the changing face of the world, and this troop has changed with such unbelievable foresight—and because we have, we’ve had unbelievable results.”

In Bosnia, the troop helped solve economic problems and other “things the active Army didn’t take the time to do,” Farley says.

Troopers reached out to businesses and schools and were instrumental in other endeavors. “We made a difference,” says First Sgt. A. Bevan Cummin.

King of Prussia’s Cummin, 43, is a troop legacy. His father, G. Jeremy Cummin, was captain between 1968 and 1970. His father-in-law, Charles H. Davis, was a trooper in the ’50s. “It was made clear that I would serve my country somehow,” says Cummin, a senior consultant with a business continuity and disaster recovery company. As a dad who deployed again to the Sinai, Cummin works hard to instill military values in his sons, Hunter and Nathaniel, even if only to explain and justify another tour of duty—and time away from home. The National Guard and Reserve have been “legitimatized” and “recognized,” Cummin says.

“It’s not that we’re better,” Richards adds. “We just have different experience. But if I fail, I fail the newest guy and those guys (whose oil portraits hang on the armory walls). I have a great responsibility to both the living and the dead.”

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In November 1774, 28 men founded FTPCC, or what was initially called the Light Horse of the City of Philadelphia. They organized in Carpenters’ Hall to defend the colonies. Abraham Markoe was the first captain between 1774 and 1776; Samuel Morris followed from 1776 to 1786. In the armory’s officer quarters, portraits of the two hang on either side of a Charles Brinton Cox oil painting depicting the troop parading down Chestnut Street in the 1887 centennial celebration of the U.S. Constitution.

“Here, we revere our leaders forever,” Farley says. “The paintings on the walls tell you that.”

Troopers were Washington’s lifeguards and scouts at Trenton, Princeton, Brandy-wine and Germantown. For proof, you needn’t look further than a handwritten citation from Washington to Morris, penned on Jan. 23, 1777, that reveals his admiration for the troop, or a Charles Peale Polk (nephew of Charles Wilson Peale) oil portrait of Washington at Princeton. When Yorktown surrendered on Oct. 19, 1781, the captured British standards were placed in the care of 83 troopers who led a parade through the streets of Philadelphia to the State House, where the troop offered the war trophies to Congress. At Gettysburg, the troop was part of Buford’s Cavalry, which first made contact with Lee’s Confederate Army when it invaded Pennsylvania.

FTPCC’s artifacts are displayed in the armory’s private second-floor museum, which is open only by invitation. Among other things, it houses the troop’s uniforms—the original from the Revolution and the current one that’s been used since 1823—as well as the troop’s first battle flag, which incorporates the unification design that ultimately became the Stars and Stripes. The old is mixed with newer relics from Bosnia and Iraq. Guarding it all is Woodrow, a circa-1860, life-size wooden training horse—and a favorite prop for portraits and children alike.

“When I’m alone here, I take it all in,” Chestnut Hill’s Werner says. “It’s special. I walk by [the portrait of] Conrad; he walked on the moon. Then I asked myself, ‘What have you done today, Werner?’”

The armory itself was built in 1900. The only other headquarters—two blocks away at 21st and Ludlow streets—dated to 1863. When a snowstorm collapsed its roof in 1899, construction began on the armory. Before that, the troop met in taverns and captain’s homes.

Being both a historical and social organization affords FTPCC unique invi-tations. “We get calls because of that uniform, frankly,” Richards says. “People want to see us put on that uniform.”

There are debutante balls, mounted escorts, parades, equestrian competitions and formal military galas like the troop’s anniversary dinner held each October. Presidents and governors are still standard invitees, though Teddy Roosevelt was the last president to share a meal in 1905.

“Is it social? Certainly,” says Richards.

Even so, you’d never mistake today’s FTPCC for a stable of rich guys in fancy uniforms on horseback. The troop has become increasingly diligent in training as a military cavalry unit at Valley Forge Military Academy & College. The Monday sessions build esprit and help bury stereotypes,” Tomarchio says. “We’re not training for debutante balls. We’re training to go into harm’s way.”

At FTPCC’s anniversary dinner, names of each of the 43 troopers killed in service are read aloud. “We still have pomp and circumstance,” Tomarchio says. “But if word comes down tomorrow and we’re told to go to the front lines in North Korea, we’ll go.”

And though they now serve on tanks and Humvees, and not horseback, the need for troopers is the same as it was during the Revolution—but at least it’s no longer an act of treason to volunteer. “I think if he saw us today, George Washington would recognize us,” says Boylan.

And the troop prefers it that way.

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