MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER, Calif. --
The MWTC near Bridgeport, Calif., has begun teaching
an advanced horsemanship training course in order to teach Special Operations
Forces (SOF) personnel the necessary skills to enable them
to ride horses, load pack animals, and maintain animals for military
applications in remote and dangerous
this course so that we can integrate irregular warfare into the Marine SOF
horsemanship program, as vets we can help educate the Marines and other SOF on
these matters,” said a SOF veterinarian assigned to U.S. Marine Corps Forces
Special Operations Command (MARSOC). “It’s a very unique course because it
combines the conventional warfare tactics of the Marine Corps with the
irregular warfare used by SOF.”
The course is designed to aid small specialized units in operating
with indigenous personnel who ride and/or pack animals. This includes riding
horses and packing animals for transporting crew served weapons, ammunition,
supplies, and wounded personnel to and from terrain that is inaccessible to
mechanized and air mobile transportation.
“We teach Marines how to use pack
animals and riding animals as a means to transport people and supplies when
ground vehicles or air support isn’t possible,” said Anthony Parkhurst, 49,
Director Animal Packing Program, from Eggers town, Ind. “Even though we use
mules and horses here the course teaches principles that can be used on any
pack animal; camels, llamas, and donkeys can be used depending on the
Other course subjects included animal care, anatomy of working
animals, animal packing techniques, casualty evacuation techniques, animal
first aid, bivouac considerations, and horsemanship techniques as well as
capabilities of the different animals.
“A typical pack animal weighs 800 to
1,000 pounds and can carry one quarter to one third its body weight. Of course
the best pack animal is still a Marine, since they routinely carry more than
half their body weight,” laughed Parkhurst, who retired from the Marine Corps
and speaks from personal experience.
The Marine Corps quit using pack animals in 1953. In 1983, the course to use pack and ride
animals began again as the Department of Defense started a program to test the
value of pack animals. Originally the program was only to last three to five
years but the success of the course resulted in its continuation at MWTC. The program taught at MWTC is currently the
only one of its kind in the Department of Defense. The course simulates the difficulties of
mountainous terrain. The training is essential to help Marines and other
military members understand the capabilities of the animals and the influence
and considerations of both terrain and climate.
For many of the Marines this is a unique experience and something
different than the normal type of infantry training.
The factors that can dictate the use of pack animals
vary, many countries have terrain without roads or otherwise impassable with
motor vehicles. Countries that have heavy rain may make many roads impassable.
While almost any animal can be trained to pack, the Marine Corps uses nine basic
pack species. Dog, elephant, llama,
camel, horse, ox, donkey, mules, and even reindeer, while every animal is
different, basic mule packing skills are needed to pack any other species. Consideration for each animal is slightly
different, animals like dogs and oxen are considered freight animals and are
better used for pulling heavy loads.
“The course gives commanders a force multiplier. The animals can
traverse any type of terrain; they can reach places that vehicles can’t. They
make a unit quicker, quieter and more mobile than foot movement alone,” said
Gunnery Sgt. Andrew Balcunas, 32, staff noncommissioned officer in charge,
animal packing program, from Campbell, Calif. “They never have to use a road or
set trail so they never have to worry about IED’s (improvised explosive device)
or ambushes or things of that nature.”
This course is available to all Marine Corps and SOF units.