Afghan Llamas

I just received a call that took me back almost 20 years.  A Special Forces Operator that recently retired called to thank me for conducting a llama packing instruction (10th Special Forces Group, Airborne- Mountaineering/Tactical Pack Animal Operations) that he attended here at the ranch in 1997.  He told me that he deployed to Afghanistan shortly after 9/11.  They were in rough terrain and needed to do a lot of freighting, supplying remote positions.  Equine stock was readily available, but it needed more support than could be supplied.  He determined that llamas were the answer and asked about the possibility of getting animals.  Four animals showed up from somewhere; untrained, but for sure llamas.  After 3 weeks of training work, the llamas were put into service and were being parachuted in crates from C130s and Hueys into remote regions.   He and three other operators followed them out of the hold, and once on the ground, would uncrate the boys and go to work distributing the supplies dropped ahead of them.  He said the llamas were perfect for the assignment as they were calm travelers, steady packers, totally self-sufficient, and the sparse water sources were adequate for their maintenance.

The conversation really caused me to pause.  I wasn’t surprised the llamas could do it, but I was amazed that men with 4 days of instruction could assimilate, and four years later, apply every aspect of our instruction.  That they could assess that llamas were the solution to a problem on the ground, and then move decisively to quickly to procure and train animals to a high level of performance, and ultimately employ them in the most demanding of conditions is remarkable.  But I think it’s just another “git ‘er done” day in their lives.    

During the instruction, I was impressed the 44 men were paying attention as if the instruction would one day help them on a mission.  After two days in the classroom and close work handling untouched animals and rigging and loading trained llamas, we graduated to off trail transport of various weapons systems, simulated fire fights, and culminated with an 8 hour night op.  Each man got a taste of everything, but not much chance to swallow.  It is testimony to the intelligence, focus, and work ethic these men have and I assume the same qualities mark the men serving today.  I am truly thankful for what they do and how they do it.

I found it remarkably considerate for that soldier to call after such a long time and express his thanks for the instruction and to want me to know those 4 days of instruction made a difference for him and his unit. As I process our conversation, I’m left with one thought; my life was never on the line, his was.