MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT TRAINING CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Marines from MEU Service Support Group, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, are well versed in the capabilities of the off-road and tactical vehicles they use to keep the supply lines moving.
Yet, there are some places that even a high mobility, multi-purpose wheeled vehicle, better known as a Humvee, simply can’t go.
Current operations in Afghanistan have presented terrain impassable for conventional military vehicles. However, supplies and ammunition still must get to the front lines. To that end, several MSSG-13 Marines recently rehearsed an alternate means for transporting combat supplies, as they trained here during revised combined arms exercise working with mules.
The Marines learned to provide proper care for the animals and the appropriate ways to pack military gear. For some, the most important thing they learned was just how to “deal" with the stubborn animals.
“I’ve never really worked with animals,” said Cpl. Mack T. Jones, warehouse clerk, who admitted to growing up in the city and never dealing with farm animals. “I learned what a mule is.”
Many of the Marines who worked with the donkey/horse crossbreed come from a variety of backgrounds. Most, like Jones, were raised nowhere near a farm, while only a few boasted ranching experience. That said, the Marines interested shared a common goal - familiarization.
“The only people who came through this course are those who are interested,” said Sgt. Robert L. Scott, instructor, Animal Packing Course.
“It can be easier to teach the city kids because their minds are open,” he added, “but the comfort level is higher with the country kids.”
Lance Cpl. Matthew Furlow, driver, MSSG-13 Motor Transport Detachment, said he was happy to be around animals again. He grew up on a farm and felt that his experience with horses helped him to work with the mules.
“They’re easy to control, unless they get spooked,” he said. “They just get real nosey with anything they think they can eat.”
Jones had a different opinion.
“They are really stubborn. You’ve got to push them and let them know you are in control,” he said. “They’re pretty good animals though.”
The MSSG-13 Marines also spent time learning to tie the different knots and hitches they would need to securely attach combat supplies, skills they would soon apply in the "Mule Week’s" final evolution - patrolling to a drop zone.
“We used everything we learned this week to pick up that gear,” Jones said. “If I ever come across on of these things again, I’ll know what to do.”