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Airmen train with pack animals in rural Idaho

By Airman 1st Class Taylor Walker | 124th Fighter Wing | Feb. 12, 2020

GOWEN FIELD, Idaho – Airmen from the 124th Air Support Operations Squadron (ASOS) in the 124th Fighter Wing trained with pack animals Feb. 9 in case they ever need to use them to haul cargo in rugged terrain.

Special warfare tactical air control party (TACP) Airmen drove from Gowen Field to Emmett, where hunting guides Harry and Matt Youren and J.D. Brock trained them to wrangle, saddle, pack, ride and care for horses.

“We’re learning how to properly pack people and equipment onto horses so that if we’re ever in a situation where we can’t use normal methods of transportation, we can use the animals to assist,” said Staff Sgt. Neil Mooney, a special warfare TACP Airman and the noncommissioned officer in charge of weapons and tactics from the 124th ASOS.

Special warfare units may use horses, mules and donkeys as substitutes for motorized vehicles in high mountain terrain, dense jungles, deserts, backcountry or other environments that require units to move on foot. The animals can carry food, water, first aid, radios and batteries to sustain units for extended periods.

“TACP units are joint providers of precision strike capabilities, and as the premier precision strike provider, we have to be able to get in and get out of anywhere in the world at any time,” said Mooney. “We never know where we’re going to be until we’re there, and we never know how we need to move until we’re in that situation.”

Mooney said the skills learned are important not only to the unit’s selection for a mission, but to their success in a joint environment. Those skills can also be put to use during in-state missions.

“There’s a federal mission we need to be prepared for, but there’s also a stateside potential that we could be called up with immediate response authority to go into the backcountry, and our members need to know how to get around with available livestock in that situation,” Mooney said.

Although this was the first local training of its kind for Airmen from the 124th ASOS, Tech. Sgt. Justin Clark, a TACP and delta flight training noncommissioned officer in charge, said the unit accomplished its goal of becoming more comfortable with the animals and learning the different systems to gather, pack and manage horses.

“The training was also important for our community outreach goals,” said Clark. “Not too many people know that Gowen Field exists, so we use opportunities like this to build real partnerships with organizations on and off base to help our career field evolve and further the collective mission.”