Belmont Club

Going to the dogs

The LA Times describes a little known US military training facility where soldiers are trained to handle pack donkeys for possible use in Afghanistan. It writes:

With the U.S. shifting its focus from the deserts of Iraq to the mountains of Central Asia, this course on pack animals at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center has become critical to the new mission.

Opened in 1951 to train troops for Korea, the center — with its administrative buildings, barracks, corrals and an enormous tent for visiting troops — is set on 47,000 acres of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, where serrated peaks above 10,000 feet are the perfect terrain to teach high-altitude combat skills.

Five donkeys, 24 mules and five sergeant trainers are stationed at the center for the course, which is given eight times a year to Marines, Army soldiers, Navy SEALs and some foreign troops.

But the Army isn’t the only service that uses animals in warfare. The US Navy has literally enlisted the denizens of the oceans under the Marine Mammal Program, in which Bottlenose Dolphins and California Sea Lions are trained to perform “tasks such as ship and harbor protection, mine detection and clearance, and equipment recovery.” There are “military dolphins”, who are reputedly able to attack sharks and presumably act as bodyguards for USN trainers against Jaws.  That is, if the dolphins didn’t overrule their trainers, because according to one site, the dolphins refused to attack non-dangerous sharks.

During the 1960’s, the U.S. Navy trained Bottlenose Dolphins to incapacitate large sharks by butting their delicate gill pouches. The dolphins quickly learned to attack Sandbar, Lemon, and Nurse Sharks , but refused to approach a Bull Shark of similar size and shape. Sandbar, Lemon, and Nurse Sharks are not known to attack dolphins in the wild, but Bull Sharks are. This suggests that dolphins are able to classify sharks as either dangerous or not dangerous — an eminently practical taxonomy.

Of course, everyone has heard of the K9 corps, but not everyone may have heard of the so-called anti-tank dog used by the Soviet Army during World War 2. These dogs were conditioned to carry an anti-tank mine under tanks, and were intended for use against Nazi vehicles. A stick detonator protruded from the charge and was presumably triggered by the action of the dog running under the belly of the tank. The dogs were blown up in the process, but this was probably of little consequence to Stalin’s commanders, who treated human soldiers scarcely better and who stationed battle police behind the lines to machine-gun any unfortunate soldier who was tempted to retreat.  Unfortunately the Soviet anti-tank dogs were trained using Red Army tanks and had the tendency to emplace their mines under the T-34s from force of habit instead of the German armored vehicles, which was not quite what was intended. The program was eventually abandoned, but the program remains an historical curiosity, probably revealing more about men than about dogs.


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