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Mules assist Corps in war effort

MARINE CORPS MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER, BRIDGEPORT, Calif. (Sept. 23, 2005) -- Mission of Mule Packers: To aid the Marine Corps as an alternative method for transporting crew-served weapons, ammunition, supplies, and wounded personnel to and from areas inaccessible to mechanized and air mobile transportation. (1/3)


Submitted by: MCB Hawaii
Story Identification #: 2005930203125
Story by Sgt. Joe Lindsay

MARINE CORPS MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER, BRIDGEPORT, Calif. (Sept. 23, 2005) -- Mission of Mule Packers: To aid the Marine Corps as an alternative method for transporting crew-served weapons, ammunition, supplies, and wounded personnel to and from areas inaccessible to mechanized and air mobile transportation.

Not much has changed since the U.S. Army issued the last military publication on pack animals in 1914. In fact, the above excerpt from the 2000 manual is the first update to the manual in 91 years.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Morlock, a survival instructor and mule pack master at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif., and a native of Pasadena, Texas. “Pack animals have been used in warfare for thousands of years and have the potential to play a vital role in current military operations in the modern age, especially in places like Afghanistan where the terrain makes it impossible for Humvees or helos to reach certain objectives.”

If anybody should know, it’s Morlock, who spent a combat tour in Afghanistan last year as an embedded trainer with the Afghan National Army.

“Horses, mules and donkeys are combat multipliers for the Marines in Afghanistan,” said Morlock. “The enemy uses them for a simple reason — they are proven to work where modern technologies fail. We are using them in theater for the same reason.”

Which is why it is so vital that the Marines from 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment trained with and used pack animals during their recent training evolution at MCMWTC in preparation for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“The training center here uses mules, as they have been since the inception of the facility in the early 1950s,” said Gunnery Sgt. Steven Brunner, Company Gunnery Sergeant for Headquarters & Service Company, 1/3, and a native of St. Petersburg, Fla.

“We have learned, and history has proven, that even though we have the best and most advanced modern military equipment, they still have their limitations. In the mountains, you’re going to experience some of those limitations.”

According to Brunner, who served here as a sergeant instructor at the Mountain Leaders Course from 1992 to 1997, and then as the chief instructor for the entire training facility from 2001 to 2004 before making a permanent change of station move to Hawaii and 1/3, the Mule Packers Course that Marines took here during their pre-deployment training exercise was some of the most important training they received.

“Helicopters can only fly so high, vehicles can only drive so far on steep terrain without roads, and you’re left with no other option than to put supplies — whether it be water, food, ammunition, crew-served weapons or what have you — on to the backs of Marines,” said Brunner. “By using pack animals, you take the extra weight off the backs of Marines and put it on the mules, which makes the Marines more mobile. Mules can carry heavy loads on treacherous terrain for long distances on little food and water, so they are vital to our mission when pursuing the enemy in mountainous combat zones like Afghanistan.”

For many of 1/3’s Marines, the MPC was the first time they had been exposed to any animals other than cats, dogs, and the occasional goldfish.

“I’m not used to being around animals,” admitted Lance Cpl. Chad Boersma, a 1/3 squad automatic weapons gunner and a native of Grand Rapids, Mich. “I was a little scared at first, and I don’t scare easily.”

Lance Cpl. James Bragg, a 1/3 tow gunner from Philadelphia, said he could relate to Boersma’s words.

“I mean, c’mon, I’m from Philly. You think I’ve been around mules before?” exclaimed Bragg. “I was scared to death they were going to stomp on me or attack me or something.”

According to Sgt. Phillip Bocks, a MCMWTC mule pack master from Truckee, Calif., who previously served with 1/3 in Hawaii, a healthy dose of apprehension in the beginning of training is not necessarily a bad thing.

“Mules are a hybrid cross between a horse and a donkey; they weigh up to 1,200 pounds; they kick; they bite and they are generally stubborn, ornery creatures,” said Bocks. “Our job is to get the Marines comfortable around the animals, to be confident in packing them, in caring for them, and for the Marines to be proficient at leading them on resupply missions by the end of the training.”

According to both Boersma and Bragg, that initial fear has now turned to respect since graduating from MPC, and both Marines now say they are confident they can successfully lead pack animals in Afghanistan on any mission that comes their way.

During his first tour in Afghanistan last year with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Lance Cpl. Loren Lynch, a 1/3 fire team leader with Charlie Company and native of Oviedo, Fla., saw, firsthand, the importance pack animals and properly trained pack masters can have.

“I am glad 1/3 is making the commitment to get as many Marines as possible trained up in leading these animals,” said Lynch. “Having the pack animals with us will make life easier on the ‘grunts’ (infantry Marines).”

After the initial culture shock of dealing with the mules subsided, according to Lance Cpl. Douglas Davis, a 1/3 intelligence specialist from Brunswick, Ga., “The Marines in the Mule Packers Course spearheaded this training head on. I have no doubt that when we are in country and the time comes to get supplies to an otherwise inaccessible location, the mule packing Marines of 1/3 will meet the challenge.”

Lance Cpl. Derek Mallow, a 1/3 administrative clerk from Oceanside, Calif., who worked with horses as a stable hand throughout high school, before joining the Marines, said he was proud of the way the “city” Marines adapted to their new circumstances.

“From the first day of training with the mules until the last day, the change in the Marines’ confidence and proficiency levels was amazing,” said Mallow. “As a Marine, you’ve got to have confidence in your brothers on both sides of you, and I am confident that the Marines who went through the course with me, regardless of their past lack of experience, can now not just handle the job, but excel at it.”

Those words, and others like it from the 1/3 Marines who graduated MPC, are exactly what Brunner was hoping to hear.
“You can’t impose your will on the mountain, because the mountain will win every time,” said Brunner. “Mules, and properly trained pack masters, help level the playing field.”