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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
On another thread, @ACinATX asked if there were still active horse mounted units in the US Army. The answer is yes. I served with the 1st Cavalry Division Horse Platoon from '79 to '82. The unit has since been redesignated the 1st Cavalry Division Horse Detachment. This is the only active duty horse mounted cavalry unit still active. There is, or was, a cavalry troop at Fort Carson, Colorado. But that one was a volunteer activity for soldiers on their off duty time. Fort Sill, Oklahoma still maintains a horse drawn caisson unit that demonstrates how field artillery was put into action before it became mechanized. I'm not sure if that one operates as an a give assignment as the 1st Cavalry one does, or on a volunteer basis.


But here is the link to the current horse detatchment at Fort Hood, TX.
https://www.govserv.org/US/Fort-Hoo...valry-Division-Horse-Cavalry-Detachment-(HCD)


And some photos of how we looked back in the early '80s.
 

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Thank you for posting that!
 

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At least that is what it seems like now when my child started inquiring for a paper he wrote in a careers class.
 

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I was in the Marine Corps infantry but I went to a special course to learn how to pack animals with military gear to get heavy guns etc. back into the mountains of Afghanistan. I actually rode horses a lot during my Marine Corps service. Never thought knowing how to ride a horse would come in handy in the infantry but it sure did.

https://www.29palms.marines.mil/mcm...Warfare-Formal-Schools/Animal-Packing-Course/

If you google: marine corps animal packing course

You can find a bunch of pretty neat articles and videos about it.
 

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@AndyTheCornbread that's super cool! I had no idea horses (or was it mules?) had been used by the US military recently. I guess it makes sense; I would imagine that the roads aren't too great in that part of the world. Did they have a pre-existing unit that knew how to do that, or did they have to improvise something once they realized they couldn't use vehicles? Were they animals owned by the military, or were they rented from locals? If locals, was it primarily the locals doing the work and you were just overseeing, or were soldiers also doing a lot of the work? Was the process more efficient than you thought it would be, or was it the case that the animals couldn't carry very much? They were being used as pack animals, carrying the loads on their back, rather than pulling, right? Or is modern weaponry lighter than in the past because now composites and alloys are being used? Obviously horses use to be used for this all the time, but is it the case that modern waepon is so heavy that a horse could only carry one gun? Or is that even possible, since you'd have to load them equally on each side? When you use animals like that, do you have to get extra animals to carry feed, or could they graze along the way?

I love horses and I love military history. I honestly had no idea they were still being used today, outside of show purposes. Do you have any pictures?

Sorry for all of the questions, I just had no idea that was still a thing.
@Cordillera Cowboy I'm not too far from Fort Hood. Maybe I will stop and check out that out some day. That thing they do at 10:00 -- is the public allowed?
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I was in the Marine Corps infantry but I went to a special course to learn how to pack animals with military gear to get heavy guns etc. back into the mountains of Afghanistan. I actually rode horses a lot during my Marine Corps service. Never thought knowing how to ride a horse would come in handy in the infantry but it sure did.

https://www.29palms.marines.mil/mcm...Warfare-Formal-Schools/Animal-Packing-Course/

If you google: marine corps animal packing course

You can find a bunch of pretty neat articles and videos about it.

The fellow who taught me farriery was an advisor in the early days of our involvement in Vietnam. One of his jobs was teaching animal pack transportation.


A friend of mine, about 20 years younger than me, and just recently retired, was a 19D, cavalry scout. While deployed to Afghanistan, he was tasked with getting a view of the surrounding area. He and some local guys rode horses up a mountain with terrain to rough for wheeled or tracked vehicles
 

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Cool! Maybe next time we drive up to Dallas we'll make the detour.
 

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Sorry for all of the questions, I just had no idea that was still a thing.
No worries I will do my best to answer your questions.

@AndyTheCornbread that's super cool! I had no idea horses (or was it mules?) had been used by the US military recently.
The Marine Corps. actually packs a variety of animals including camels and dogs believe it or not. Of the several types of animals I was told we pack I personally only ever packed on horses, mules, and donkeys. Big donkeys were the most frequent thing I packed on. We rode horses but we packed on donkeys and less often on mules.

Did they have a pre-existing unit that knew how to do that, or did they have to improvise something once they realized they couldn't use vehicles?
I have heard several stories about how that course came about but it has been around since the 1980s. The story I personally believe that has the most credibility is that the Marine Corps. special operations units(much cooler than any unit I was ever in) often work closely with the CIA and in the 1980s they were doing things with the CIA in places like Afghanistan and central America that required packing in on animals and there wasn't a lot of knowledge how to do it so they sent some instructors to learn packing at a school here in Montana and they established a course that then taught other special operations Marines those skills. Eventually we got in enough conflicts in nasty places that they realized regular infantry and reconnaissance units needed this training as well. So they started offering the course to heavy weapons infantry companies, battalion and regimental recon etc.

Just to make sure nobody thinks I was in a high speed low drag unit like Force Recon or something like that I want to clear that up. I was in the regular infantry in a heavy weapons company for 6 of my 8 years. That special operations stuff wasn't something I was ever a part of, I was just a regular grunt who knew how to ride horses so they decided I should go to that school to fill that role for my company. I also went to combat radio operators course, which was far less interesting and fun but also provided me some opportunities to go places my fellow platoon mates did not get to go, but that is an entirely different story :smile:

Were they animals owned by the military, or were they rented from locals?
The military owned them but I am told we often bought them from local sources at very inflated prices because every third world farmer thinks his donkey is a show horse when the military comes to buy it. It also wasn't until I had to deal with packing animals in country that I found out that the US military has veterinarians. The ones I knew of were officers, I don't think they have enlisted vets, but I could be wrong. All the ones I knew of were officers though.

If locals, was it primarily the locals doing the work and you were just overseeing, or were soldiers also doing a lot of the work?
It was all us. There is no way I would let a local be in charge of an animal with a US heavy weapons system on it, even if it was just pieces of the system. The only local help we had that directly aided us in any way were terps.

Was the process more efficient than you thought it would be, or was it the case that the animals couldn't carry very much?
I always felt it was very efficient. I couldn't believe how much weight a donkey could carry.

They were being used as pack animals, carrying the loads on their back, rather than pulling, right?
Yes, as pack animals. We learned on sawbucks and modified decker pack saddles but for actual duty I vastly preferred the modified decker pack saddles with halfbreeds on them.

Or is modern weaponry lighter than in the past because now composites and alloys are being used?
Our heavy machine gun was a browning 50 cal and I think those were invented in the WWI era, so nope everything is still heavy as all get out.

Obviously horses use to be used for this all the time, but is it the case that modern weapon is so heavy that a horse could only carry one gun? Or is that even possible, since you'd have to load them equally on each side?
Depends on the weapon system but everything gets broken down and parted out. Some systems like TOW missile systems have to be broken up across several animals for a single system. Other things like Mk-19s you can get two systems, plus ammo on a single animal if it is a good sized mule etc.

When you use animals like that, do you have to get extra animals to carry feed, or could they graze along the way?
It never ceased to amaze me what the donkeys could find for food but we also packed food for them.

Do you have any pictures?
I didn't carry a camera and we were told we would get in a lot of hot water if our command caught us taking pictures of anything we did but my best friend had a cannon elph that was super tiny for the time and he did get some pictures. Not many but I have a few of us that I printed out when I visited him in Oregon a few years back. I do not know where they are now, probably in my basement somewhere.
 

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@AndyTheCornbread thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions! Really interesting. Camels, eh? I guess it sort of makes sense, but it certainly never occurred to me.
 
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