The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


July 29, 2009

Name: K
Posting date: 7/29/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: Embedded in Afghanistan

To lengthen our stay in the mountains we decided to incorporate donkeys into a recent mission. We figured donkeys are a reasonable way for the ANA to sustain themselves. They can't exactly call on helicopter resupply the way we can. Donkeys come at a pretty reasonable rate around here -- $5 a day for a donkey, with a bit extra tacked on for fodder. Afghan donkeys are small, maybe three feet at the shoulder, totally unlike the large mules we worked with briefly during training. They can supposedly carry a third of their body weight for long distances.

Framed K donkey2

With donkeys you obviously can't pack them too heavy and you can't pack them unevenly -- easier said than done on the packing part. Not having a lot of experience with donkeys, we let the local handlers we rented them from pack the donkeys with our supplies: mostly water and ammunition. You'd think letting the professionals pack the donkeys would be the way to go, but it wasn't long into the walk that we noticed the packs slipping to one side or the other. 

A donkey will most certainly walk crooked if he's not packed evenly. So there we were pulling the packs back and forth, trying to keep them balanced on the donkey as we stepped off into the night. For the most part, the donkeys would at least follow along with the program, and they were in no hurry, which wasn't really a bad thing since we were all carrying pretty heavy loads. 

Framed K donkeyload2

Despite the slow pace, 30 minutes into the show the unfortunate happened; a donkey keeled over and would not get up. I actually felt sorry for the little guy, as he did seem to be one of the smaller donkeys and he was carrying what seemed to be a heavy load. Later on I learned just how much abuse it sometimes takes to get a donkey going when I saw two donkey handlers grab the halter and tail of a donkey, yank him to his feet, and kick him in the balls to get him going. At the time, not being willing to mete out quite that much abuse, and not having a lot of time to deal with the fallen donkey, we just unloaded him and left him there. So basically, the donkey had his way with us -- fall over a couple of times and they'll leave you be and you can skip the trip up the mountain. Let the humans carry their own stuff.

After spread-loading 80 pounds worth of supplies amongst four of us we were falling pretty far behind everyone else, and not looking too good for catching up, given the extra weight. But we eventually caught up after a few tense moments looking around for everyone else in the dark. The rest of the trip involved one more donkey falling out (this one could still walk, just not with any weight) and a long and difficult trip of the mountainside that ended with me nearly becoming a heat casualty. All that dragging of the donkey, running around, and extra weight didn't sit too well with me given that I was already less than 100% physically to begin with. In the end, we didn't make it as far as we would have liked with the donkeys, as the weather and mountains have a way of just crushing your best efforts this time of year. But we managed to spend enough time out there to learn a few things.

Lessons learned:

Pack the donkeys better and lighter.
Bring extra donkeys with no weight as spares.
Let the ANA handle the donkeys -- they are more accustomed to them.

We even came up with an excel spreadsheet on how to load them, though I haven't figured out how to attach it in its original form to this blog.


Completely enjoyed this. I just read of a Marine program high in the mountains of northern california that trains them to handle donkeys. Donkeys are great animals, sturdy, and helped settle the Western US, by the way. Feel proud, you're engaging in an age-old tradition of relationship between man and beast.

Another life skill notch added. I applaud you. Good luck and stay safe!

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