BRIDGEPORT, California- -- Marines from 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, recently conducted training aboard Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California, Aug. 18 to Sept. 17, 2014.
The Marines of 3/1 arrived in Bridgeport Aug. 17 to begin their training in preparation for deployment with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit scheduled to depart late 2015.
During the month-long exercise, Marines from motor transportation trained in animal packing and small unit mobility geared toward mountaineering skills and high-altitude warfare. Marines learned to tie harnesses, rig saddles, load equipment and navigate with their individual animals through mountainous terrain.
Throughout history, pack animals have aided in successful campaigns and missions. Gunnery Sgt. Dan Daly, while serving in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, used pack animals to move weapons, ammunition and other supplies around the mountainous terrain to locate enemy positions. He earned his second Medal of Honor when he and his Marines were ambushed while transporting supplies across a river.
Many students in the course gave hesitation when dealing with an unfamiliar animal said Sergeant Brandon Concannoncolter, an MCMWTC instructor for the animal packing course.
“Some challenges students have are simply working with the animals. Some Marines haven’t even owned a dog and now they’re working around a 1,400-pound animal,” said Concannoncolter. “We give the students a lot of time with the mules so that when we take them to the field portion of this course they’re very familiar with their animal.”
Sergeant Jeff Anderson, chief instructor for animal packing at MCMWTC, said that his goal is to enable his students to operate independently on their own when using pack animals.
“Our goal is to take a group of Marines, teach them the basics of packing with animals so they can take those skills to any other country and be able to utilize any other pack animal for their movement needs,” said Anderson.
The instructors at MCMWTC use mules because of their strength, durability and longevity that suit the military’s needs when operating in a foreign country. Students who attend the course learn to navigate difficult terrain with their pack animal during day and night operations, simulating the possibilities of a deployed environment.
Staff Sgt. Mark A. Cobb, the 3/1 motor transportation operations chief, said that utilizing mules was an eye opener.
“During our final exercise we transported supplies 12 miles to the line companies and it gave us a real understanding when using this mode of transportation to deliver supplies,” said Cobb. “We had to feed and water the mules daily so they could make it to our objective. It was incredibly time consuming.”
Despite the challenges that arose, Cobb’s mindset looked toward his Marines.
“These young Marines are going to be replacing me and my peers one day and having this experience and knowledge is going to be useful for them in those third-world countries that we may have to go to,” Cobb added.
“In a nutshell, we want our class to not just apply what we’ve taught them, but instead get them to think of new ways to better apply their animal and accomplish whatever mission they may be given, with excellence,” said Concannoncolter. “That’s the way my Corps does things.”