When Special Operations guys enter the units that they’ve worked so hard to get into, they all have a burning desire to use that newfound knowledge and go out and do great things. Those type of operations that they’ve envisioned inside the recessed part of their brain but never publicly spoken about for fear that it would ‘jinx” their chances.

But sometimes the operations that you’ll get tasked to do won’t be those “high-speed,” high visibility operations using the state-of-the-art gadgets from Q-Branch, but using very necessary and forgotten knowledge from generations before. And now, with the operators of all the services conducting missions in all kinds of austere environments, those forgotten lessons are once again…thankfully being taught at the schoolhouse.

My first team that I was assigned to was a Mountain team and I was thrilled. After high school and while in college, I took up rock climbing and the Northeast has several superb areas to practice your craft. I spent a ton of time climbing in the White Mountains of NH, the Adirondacks of NY including the world famous “Gunks” as the local climbers call the Shawangunks and Crow Hill State Park in Leominster, Massachusetts.

Crow Hill is just minutes from Ft. Devens, MA, which in those days was the home of the 10th Special Forces Group and they frequently used Crow Hill for training and I ran into quite a few of them back in the day as they conducted their training much to the chagrin of the local climbers who bemoaned (from afar) their use of pitons in the cracks rather than using “nuts” which didn’t scar the rock. The SF guys could care less.

So as the new guy on the team, I was anxious to show, at least in the climbing realm, I already had a lot of experience and would be a definite bonus to the team. And when we got the word that the mountain team was getting alerted for a mission, I had visions of getting the best alpine gear and going on a climbing expedition to the Andes or some exotic locale.

Well imagine our surprise when our team leader announced we were going to mule packing school. Now back then, the JFKSWC (Special Warfare Center) didn’t have an advanced mountain school or have any course where animal packing was done. We’d learn from civilians in Arizona. The Army hadn’t done serious mule packing since the days of Merrill’s Marauders in Burma. A friend of mine from the SF Reserves in New York sent me an Army Mule Packing Manual from the early 1900s.

We had very strict guidelines in what was to be packed and carried by the pack animals and we set off to learn and to experiment on what worked, what didn’t and how we’d go about in altering the pack saddles and panniers to fit what we need to tote along.

We took our mission to Honduras and the mountains in the interior of the country, far from prying eyes. Working with the Airborne battalion in Tamara and the 6th Infantry Bn. home of “The Centaurs” at Ojo de Agua, commonly known as Ojo de Nada would provide our host nation troops. Some of them had pack animal experience, but most did not.