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Marines learning to use donkeys and mules to fight Taliban

July 6, 2009 |  8:19 pm


At a remote training facility in the eastern Sierra Nevada, Marines are practicing a strategy that could be called "forward into the past."

Marines destined for Afghanistan are learning to use donkeys and mules as pack animals as they prepare to carry the fight to Taliban sanctuaries in the rugged mountains.

Five Marine sergeants are in charge of the Marines and the animals. The latter are idiosyncratic.

"They all have their own quirks and personalities," Sgt. Joe Neal said of the pack animals, adding quickly, "like any of the Marines you'd work with."

Not all of the animals are suited to military life. A mule named Joe is being sent back home to Montana, unable to stop kicking and biting.

But the mule Old John was given a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medal for bringing an injured sailor down from the mountain. Old John was promoted to corporal and is now retired.

The mules and donkeys will stay at the Bridgeport facility. Once they reach Afghanistan, the Marines can buy a good donkey for $5.

The animal-packers course began in the 1980s for CIA agents being sent to Afghanistan. Until recently the Marine Corps preferred to avoid publicity.

But now things have changed. A string of Marine mules marched in a recent rodeo parade in Reno. And there is talk of getting some of the animals and the Marines to march in next year's Rose Parade.

For a full story on the Bridgeport course, read here.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Annie the donkey . Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times