Obama: Horses, Bayonets & Submarines, Oh My!

GOP nominee Mitt Romney, in Monday night’s debate, said that Barack Obama was attempting to “gut” the military. In responding, Obama said that because the nature of the military was changing “we also have fewer horses and bayonets.”

In the exchange here was Obama’s response in context,

“But I think Governor Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”

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The nature of the military has not changed. They still have a basic function of killing people and breaking things and that should be in defense of the country.

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Second, horses as well as other animals are greatly used in modern military. I’ll get to that in a moment. But I also discovered the bayonet is still used quite a bit in the military. Awr Hawkins points out:

While the Army discontinued traditional bayonet training in 2010, the USMC still trains Marines with bayonets and issues them as standard equipment. The Army has also begun training soldiers in a different style of bayonet use–not affixed to the end of a rifle but as a secondary melee weapon.

To make bayonet training relevant again, the Army got rid of the bayonet assault course, in which soldiers fixed a bayonet to the end of a rifle, ran towards a target while yelling and then rammed the bayonet into the target center. Instead, soldiers learn in combatives training how to use a knife or bayonet if someone grabs their primary weapon.

Some users on Twitter have claimed that, by virtue of the USMC still using bayonets, there actually are more bayonets in use than 1916, when the army had between 100,000 and 140,000 enlisted members. As of 2010, the Corps boasted 203,000 active duty members and 40,000 reserve marines.

It all started apparently when a Marine who was watching the debate tweeted the fact that marines still use bayonets. But again, no one said that bayonets are not used today. There was merely the comment that the nature of military has changed.

In some sense it has. In another sense it has not.

In fact, did you know that our military actually uses horses on occasion? I know all we usually see are guys either on their feet, in a tank or in a fighter jet. But it’s true. But apparently the Iraq war, which began in 2003, the military used all kinds of animals.

According to Library Index.com,

Hundreds of animals were used by the United States military during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, including dogs, dolphins, pigeons, and chickens. The use of animals was criticized by animal rights and welfare groups, including PETA, the HSUS, and United Poultry Concerns. In an April 1, 2003, letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, a PETA spokeswoman and wildlife biologist wrote that “these animals never enlisted, they know nothing of Iraq or Saddam Hussein, and they probably won’t survive.” Other activists have accused the military of wasting animals needlessly when sophisticated equipment could be used instead.

The military dogs in Iraq helped perform various tasks, including guard duty, bomb detection, scouting, and even helping apprehend enemy soldiers. The HSUS donated $9,000 to buy thirty cooling vests for K-9 dogs in battle with the U.S. Marines in Iraq. The vests wrap around the dogs’ midsections and have pockets for inserts that remain cool for hours. The HSUS was worried that the dogs would suffer from hot desert temperatures (as high as 120 degrees F) during the summer months. Birds were deployed in Iraq as early-warning alerts in the event of a chemical or biological attack. However, their use is not considered a success. Nearly every chicken died after only days in the desert due to heat, stress, illness, or injury. Some may have been killed and eaten by hungry U.S. troops. The chickens were replaced with nearly 200 pigeons, but these birds too died in large numbers.

More successful was the use of some specially trained dolphins. U.S. forces used two bottle-nosed Atlantic dolphins named Makai and Tacoma to seek out underwater mines along the Iraqi coast. The dolphins were trained to find the mines without detonating them and then alert handlers to their presence.

Frontline reported on the U.S. Navy’s historical use of dolphins and other marine mammals in “A Whale of a Business” (PBS, Boston, Massachusetts, 1998). The navy began its Marine Mammal Program in 1960. Marine mammals were trained to perform tasks such as filming objects underwater, retrieving and delivering equipment, and guarding vessels against enemy divers. They were used during the Vietnam War and later in the Persian Gulf during the 1980s.

Dolphins are trained to detect enemy divers and attach restraining devices to them so they can be apprehended by human handlers. These devices include a line with a buoy that floats to the surface. Sea lions are trained to actually pursue any fleeing divers who go ashore. Mine-hunting dolphins identify and mark mines so that they can be decommissioned or later exploded safely.

Imagine that! Even in a technologically advanced age such as ours and even with advanced weaponry, we still use many animals to aid in warfare.

Finally what about the Navy? First of all, Obama referred to submarines as ships. They are classified as a boat. But beyond that, at the beginning of Obama’s term as President the Navy’s goal was to produce a 313-ship fleet by 2013. That target has long since been abandoned.

Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mark Ferguson said with regards to sequestration of the military:

“Our role is really about the flexibility of forces, that they can move to various regions, both in this region in the Gulf and outside the Gulf… Should sequestration be enacted, the Navy would not be able to support the current national defense strategy and it would cause a reduction in the size of the fleet to the point that we would have to relook at the strategy,” Ferguson said. The Navy “would be reduced both in size and in its presence around the globe.”

Here is the section of the debate mentioned:

Watch the entire debate here if you missed it.

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