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02 Marines USMC Mountain Warfare Training Center mules mountain training Civil War Afghanistan Support Our Troops

Bridgeport, California. (June 20, 2024): For over two hundred years, America has relied on the dependable mule to serve as “beasts of burden” and they continue to play an important military role today. In this photo by Lance Corporal David Intriago, Corporal Parker Shaffer loads equipment onto a pack mule during Mountain Training Exercise 4-24 at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center here. The exercise familiarizes Marines with the many uses of these loyal animals when operating at high altitude and in mountainous terrain.

The faithful Mule, a hybrid of a horse and donkey, was first used by the U.S. military by General George Crook. Known to history as America’s best Indian fighter, General Crook saw donkeys as a solution to the difficulty of using wagons to cross mountains and streams. Wagons would often bog down in mud, flip over when crossing streams, or could not handle steep mountainous terrain. General Crook found that four or six mules could carry the same as a wagon and be able to negotiate virtually any terrain. Later during the Civil War, mules were used to pull supply wagons, artillery equipment, ambulances, and food supplies.

Mules were also used as pack animals to transport regimental gear, ammunition, and rations during WWII. Mules served in the mountains of Italy and Sicily and in the mountainous jungles of Burma behind Japanese lines. Most recently, Mule trains carried vital supplies for elite forces operating in the mountains of Afghanistan.

In recent years, the Army even experimented with a robotic mule that could carry ammunition and other combat supplies for soldiers. Perhaps that may belong to the future, but for now America continues to rely on these veritable "beasts of burden."