Oak Grove Technologies, in partnership with Mountain Mule Packers, conducted a Joint Airforce and North Carolina National Guard five-day course in Animal Handling Skills which included both horsemanship and mule packing techniques from 23 to 27 January 2017 at the Oak Grove Technologies Tactical Training Site, 158 Rushing Road, Hoffman North Carolina. The focus of the course was to present proven packing and riding skills to the soldiers of the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team, NCNG, and airmen of the Special Tactics Squadron in how animals can assist in the accomplishment of their mission when deployed overseas in terrain inappropriate to vehicles and utilizing pack animals to quickly move mission essential equipment.
The first days consisted of an introduction into the history of animal packing supporting different military operations across history and how these proven techniques still applied today. The team moved into the practical application of these techniques as instructors showed them animal configuration in the corral area and how to pick the best animals possible when overseas.
Over the next three days, the curriculum concentrated on the following subjects:
• “Real world” military application of animal packing in third world countries.
• Animal configuration and care; grooming, raising feet, preventative and trail medicine.
• What type of animal to look for to safely select and utilize animals in third world countries.
• Choosing healthy animals along with Identifying age, sex and fitness of animals to pack specific military loads. How far with what types of loads can you travel in rough terrain with the help of animals. And, most importantly, animal behavior in various situations.
• Other considerations: Feeding, fitness, fatigue, restraining, calming and catching an animal.
• Introduction to packing equipment and packsaddles, tack, and fitting them to the animal.
• Introduction to riding equipment and selection of saddles and rigging of riding equipment.
Note: Students were divided into two teams to work with either mules or horses.
Practical application began with students conducting hands-on with equipment and livestock in saddling and rigging of packsaddles and riding saddles.
Team One focused on Packing equipment with a selection of packsaddles, tack, and fitting them to the animal.Subjects such as load planning considerations, packing equipment, common knots and tie down methods, along with load building techniques for each animal, pack train configuration, and cross-loading of sensitive equipment. Students conducted animal handling drills to lead and control pack animals in the local area.
Team Two focused on Basic Horsemanship with selection of riding saddles; equipment, saddling and rigging of equipment on animals, and riding techniques.First rides were conducted in the local area and when the student demonstrated the required proficiency were then allowed to conduct trail rides around the training site.Focus areas are; Straight line travel, Accelerating, Turning, Stopping and other animal control methods.
At the end of day three after all students demonstrated proficiency in both riding and building pack loads, the instruction moved on to special military considerations such as:
Movement of heavy weapons including the M-2, .50 caliber machine gun and 120mm mortar consisting of base plate (138 lbs.), bipod (75 lbs.) and barrel (110 lbs.) along with ammunition considerations (35 – 40 lbs. per round).
Also practiced were different medical considerations involving casualty evacuation using different types of litters with animals along with high angle patient extraction of injured personnel using litters and animals to lift them out.
The final portion of the course involved a full mission profile exercise using horses and mules to move personnel, equipment, and weapons across terrain to a target objective at night. During movement, a mission support site was establish having the team emplacing crew-served weapons and establishing a security perimeter utilizing the pack animals to alert to any activity during the night. Instructors demonstrated both emplacing the animals and then conducted probing the perimeter by different means to show the students how quickly and efficiently the animals reacted. The team recovered the following day and upon return to the training center covered further subjects involving animal and equipment maintenance. This was followed by loading and trailering animals and preparing them for movement.
The course concluded with a formal AAR with the staff and students followed by the presentation to each student with an Oak Grove Technologies & Mountain Mule Packing Certificate of Completions for 60 hours in Animal Handling Skills (Basic) awarded by the Program Manager.
Student critiques noted the professionalism of the instructors and the tactics, techniques, and procedures demonstrated during this course would be very useful in supporting military operations in rough terrain where heavy weapons were required to accomplish military objectives in denied territory inaccessible to vehicles. The animals were also very useful in maintaining a security posture during both movement and halts and the team found that they could move further, at a faster pace and carrying more mission-essential equipment utilizing animals which greatly improved their survivability and chances of mission success. Both NCNG and Airforce representatives remarked on how the course exceeded their expectations. Oak Grove Technologies – our service continues!