Die Gebirgstragtiere der Bundeswehr


The subject came up in a discussionwith a friend and since its always been a favorite of mine I’d thought I’d post on the horses and mules of the German mountain troops.  The Bundeswehr, has one brigade of true mountain troops, Gebirgsjager, who are expert skiers, climbers, and cold weather soldiers.  As part of the brigade headquarters, they maintain the Gebirgstragtierwesen (Mountain Pack Animal Detachment) 230.

 230 is a logistics unit that utilizes a combination of Halflinger mountain horses and Mules to move heavy equipment and supplies over mountainous terrain in support of the mountain brigade.  The unit has approximately 60 mules and 20 horses.  They are stationed at the General Konrad Kaserne (formerly the Gebirges Artillerie Kaserne), in Bad Reichenhall, Germany –in the heart of the Bavarian Alps. During the Cold War the kaserne was the home of the German mountain artillery battalion and mules were an important part of that unit as well –used to transport disassembled light howitzers in support of the gebirgesjager.

A great video on their training can be found by clicking on the below picture:


  The “Muli” and Halflingers have a long history with the German and Austrian mountain troops that goes back to before World War I.  A superb discussion with great pictures of the mountain troops and tragtier in particular was posted at the Society of the Military Horse discussion boards .

Military packing was once an important military craft.  The U.S. army made extensive use of mule pack trains up through and including in World War II.  Tens of thousands of mules were employed by the U.S. army as pack animals in the mountains of Italy and in the China Burma Theater.

To my knowledge, three European countries maintain active tragtier units; Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.  Austria and Germany use Mules and Halflingers while the Swiss army uses Freiberger Swiss mountain horses.  The German mules have been employed on active operations in Kosovo –though I have not heard yet of a deployment to Afghanistan.

The below video, though a little long (9 minutes), demonstrates the animals and equipment of the gebirgesjager and, if you can follow the German, tells you a little about them.

Book Announcement: Horse Soldiers

New Book coming out next month: Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan, by Doug Stanton, describing the operations in Afghanistan by U.S. special operations and the Northern Alliance horse mounted forces against the Taliban.  Interesting how this all comes together with the final chapter of my book, and the last part of the Corb Lund song of the same title. 

Good thing I didn’t choose Horse Soldiers as my title –but I didn’t want to compete with the Randy Steffen classic series of reference books by the same name –not to mention the John Ford movie mentioned in a previous blog.

Anyway, it looks like an interesting book and if I get a chance to get to it this summer I will post a review.  Also, Disney has bought the movie rights and so we might see it on the big screen in a year or two.  In the meantime, check out the PBS interviews which was one of the sources I used in my writing on the subject.

Book Review: War Horse

A very nice review was just published on my book, War Horse, in the most recent Society of Military History’s Journal of Military History.  Though I won’t reproduce the whole review here, the bottom line from the reviewer, Catharine Franklin:

… War Horse is an excellent book. In addition to its coverage of military topics, it explores the physical characteristics of horse breeds, the training of horses and riders, and the evolution of horsemanship. Historians of both ancient and modern warfare will find this text of interest, as it attests to the complexity of cavalry actions and considers current trends in military history. Those who love horses will, like this reviewer, be heartened by the book’s focus on the horse and the author’s steadfast assertion of the horse’s selfless service in war.

Catharine R. Franklin
University of Oklahoma
Norman, Oklahoma

Thinking through Technology: Tactics Training in Virtual Reality


I’m not a trained education specialist, nor do I have any particular knowledge about creating virtual worlds or simulations or gaming.  I am a retired professional soldier who has been wrestling with how to train and educate soldiers to think better than their adversary for thirty years.  With that perspective, I think there is a huge role to be played in  professional military education (PME) by technology that remains untapped.

I wrote the below article more than 15 years ago for Armor magazine. I have never been asked about it or ever heard anyone comment on it.  I think that means that it was completely ignored.  Either that or I totally failed at explaining the idea.  To my knowledge nothing approaching an individual focused virtual trainer designed to both train and educate officers has  been considered by the U.S. military.What amazes me is that after all this time, and all the technology that has evolved since, I still think the concept stands up and should be pursued.  The below trailer for the Call of Duty 4 game system is indication of where virtual technology has gone.

What inspired this article, all so many years ago, was two things.  One, mentioned in the article, is the army’s UCOFT (Unit  Condcut of Fire Trainer) training system for tank gunnery.  It is essentially a training matrix that a tank crew works through on a simulator that begins with simple and moves to more complex tasks.  Each level requires mastery of the tasks at the previous level.  The other is the Kobayashi Maru test mentioned in the Star Trek TV series.  The test was a tactical thinking test which was only ever passed by Cadet James T. Kirk –an accomplishment which identified him as a gifted officer early in his career.  It seemed to me that a combination of the UCOFT concept and the Kobayashi Maru test would be an incredable training device.

I just don’t think our leadership has the imagination to understand how to truly leverage the technology that is out there and available.   I believe that the right use of technology, such that it becomes imbedded in the lives of people, much like the relationship some people have with their blackberry, can change the way a person thinks, reacts, and responds to situations at an instinctual level.  I don’t think the  military recognizes or has bought into that.  Once they do, the possibilities of using technology, not just to train skills, but to train and teach thinking, can truly be realized. 

Tactics Training in Virtual Reality (The Future of the Officer Advanced Course)

The company commander looked ahead and saw the Bravo section of his 1st platoon break the wood line as they began bounding forward. Turning to the right, he could see the small group of houses where the Alpha section was waiting. A glance at his commander’s display told him that 2d and 3d platoons were moving along their designated axis. At that moment, there was a sudden roar, and then the concussion of incoming artillery. He looked up in time to see the streak of antitank missiles; he watched both of the bounding Bravo vehicles take hits and explode. Missiles were also coming at him, but his vehicle defense system was faster than the enemy gunners: it launched smoke, chaff, and electronic countermeasures. As his helmet-mounted thermal goggles automatically came on, his driver was already moving back into the deep cover of the forest and out of the line of fire.

Read the rest of the article here.

A War of Frontier and Empire: Short Review

A War of Frontier and Empire: The Philippine – American War, 1899-1902, by David J. Silbey (New York: Hill and Wang, 2007), 254.

David Silbey’s work is a short, clearly written over-view of the conflict between Emilio Aguinaldo’s Philippine Republic and the military forces of the United States. Silbey’s intent is to place the war accurately within its historic context. His thesis is that the war was not an insurrection or a revolt against imperialism, but rather “was classically a war, and remarkably unlike an insurgency. The two sides were both states substantially sovereign, using conventional armies, fighting conventional battles, with conventional lines and weapons.” He does not deny that the Filipinos reverted to a guerrilla war strategy in 1900, but only makes the case that the important decisive aspect of the war, to Americans and Filipinos at the time, was the conventional fighting in 1899.

Other than its thesis, which is original and probably somewhat controversial given that it stands opposite the classic military history, which focuses on the insurgency, and the new left version of America’s war in the Philippines, this book is somewhat unremarkable. The author is an associate professor of European History at Alvernia College in Reading Pennsylvania, and may be working outside of his field tackling a difficult American military history subject. His research is adequate to the task at hand –that is producing a readable general history. It does not match that of the top works on the subject –John Gates’ Schoolbooks and Krags, and Brian Linn’s The Philippine War (reviews coming soon on both of these works), but is none-the-less a good introduction to the subject.

Founder’s Day


On March , 1802 –two hundred and seven years ago, on 16 March 1802, Congress authorized the establishment of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.  Last night about a hundred and fifty of us “old grads” celebrated the founding of our alma mater here at Fort Leavenworth Kansas.  Our oldest grad was class of ’48 and the youngest “old grad” was class of ’07.  It was sometimes fun, sometimes interesting, sometimes boring, and often a humbling evening.  We had the Dean of Academics, Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, as our guest speaker and he was effective, if a bit long,  in nudging our memories and stirring our hearts. 

The Dean was particularly effective at high-lighting the sacrifices made in the Global War on Terror by the junior officers who are the graduates of the last decade.  Unlike us Cold War warriors, they have directly borne the burden of combat and long deployments.  Some 68 graduates, mostly captains and lieutenants,  have made the ultimate sacrifice.  Their service has reaffirmed that West Point continues to do exactly what its mission has called for:

To educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army.

The corps motto, “Duty, Honor, Country,” is well met by the current generation of cadets and graduates.

Another part of the evening was a contest to see who could remember some of the cadet trivia that all plebes are required to remember.  Two pieces that several officers were able to recite very clearly struck me as particularly important aspects of officership.  I reflected as I heard them again, more than thirty years after I first encountered them in my Bugle Notes back in the summer of 1977, that at the time I  first memorized them I didn”t realize how important, and prophetic they were.  When I was a cadet, I assumed that they were really just restatements of common sense.  I didn’t realize how difficult the standards that they represented would be to meet on a daily basis in a complex and challenging environment. 

Worth’s Battalion Orders

But an officer on duty knows no one — to be partial is to dishonor both himself and the object of his ill-advised favor. What will be thought of him who exacts of his friends that which disgraces him? Look at him who winks at and overlooks offences in one, which he causes to be punished in another, and contrast him with the inflexible soldier who does his duty faithfully, notwithstanding it occasionally wars with his private feelings. The conduct of one will be venerated and emulated, the other detested as a satire upon soldiership and honor.

Brevet Major William Jenkins Worth

Schofield’s Definition of Discipline

The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instruction and to give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice to inspire in the soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or the other of dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them regard for himself, while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward others, especially his inferiors, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.

Major General John M. Schofield
Address to the Corps of Cadets
August 11, 1879

Its funny how ethics and leading American soldiers hasn’t changed too much in over 200 years.

So it was a night to reminisce and renew old friendships.  It also was an evening which reminded us of the mission of the military academy, affirmed for us that that mission is being well met today, and allowed us to appreciate how fortunate we are to have been part of something special.