MARINE CORPS MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER BRIDGEPORT, Calif. -- Mountain leaders from the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center conducted an Animal Packing Refresher Course at the MCMWTC’s stables, April 29.
The course served as an introduction to animal packing and transportation for mountain leaders and instructors. This training also afforded a day for those who have already passed the Animal Packer’s Course to hone their skills.
The day-long course began with two classes that taught the organization of a pack string, the anatomy of a horse, how to gauge the age and health of a horse, and different techniques of packing that have been used in the past.
“The animal packing portion of our program is designed to provide an alternative means of transportation for infantry battalions to navigate through mountainous terrain when other resources are not available,” said Anthony Wayne Parkhurst, director, Animal Packer’s Special Operations Forces Horsemanship, MCMWTC.
The pack string portion taught what ranks are usually associated with the position in a string which is set up to have a commander, team leaders and those who make sure the loads on the animals are balanced and packed properly. The anatomy of the horse or mule also comes into play when packing because adjusting the mount to the shape and size of the horse improves the comfort for the animal by not hurting it or causing sores, which will ultimately improve its performance.
“Packing the load properly from the beginning prevents many possible setbacks that may happen during the journey,” said Staff Sgt. Scott Coffin, team leader, Mountain Leader Course. “The summer course for mountain leaders also covers this material but practical application is important to maintain the skill. Over the years, the course has become more refined, focused and easier to learn for Marines as instructors have gained more experience working with the animals.”
In countries such as Afghanistan, there are areas that service members will have to traverse during missions where vehicles or aircraft may not be available.
“There may be some missions where adding a vehicle may compromise the operators,” Parkhurst said. “With the war winding down, availability of vehicles may also come into play when deciding modes of transport which is why this program is so beneficial for units of all branches, countries, and specialties.”
The course gave examples of the benefits of the skill in combat zones with a scenario of casualty evacuation and injury of Marines. The example went over the techniques that should be used to pack and transport in both cases.
“If you think about what could happen for a platoon or squad that may not know these techniques, if there is a situation that a casualty occurs then the body is something each member would have to carry the entire distance which affects the speed and effectiveness of the group, which is why these skills add so much to a unit,” Coffin said. “Even in the exercises we hold in the training areas, the effectiveness of moving equipment, food, or any load improves with animal packing and transport available.”
The use of animals on the battlefield existed long before the use of vehicles in any conflict. Today, animals such as horses and mules still serve a purpose, even if their role has changed.
“I was an instructor for this course when I was a sergeant in the Marine Corps and its value is just as evident now as it was then,” Parkhurst said. “This Animal Packers Course is the only one available in the Department of Defense. It has also grown over the years and although I don’t see it getting any bigger than the footprint we see today, its importance stretches throughout American military, to international units that train aboard the MCMWTC.”