The Soldiers to Shepherds Program

Ewe have to be kidding. Soldiers undergo farm training to gain skills for Iraq.
(this headline is from another version with registration required, so I can̢۪t take credit)

The Army is responding to an unusual problem – your road is blocked by a bunch of sheep (or goats) – what do you do? Or you are inspecting a barn, what do you expect to see? Most soldiers have no idea, so obviously training of some sort is needed. At Fort Lewis in Washington, some soldiers are getting hands-on training, by going to a nearby civilian facility that normally trains sheep dogs.

Two dozen soldiers huddle in the snow outside a sheep pen, calling out jokes to their comrade inside. The animals skitter back and forth as the soldier – a man trained to kill with all manner of high-tech weaponry – stomps his feet and hisses, trying to figure out how to drive the sheep in the desired direction.
At the other end of the arena a soldier and a military police dog stand ready to search out mock explosives. The dog, distracted by the flock, tugs excitedly at his leash as his handler barks orders to heel.
This is serious business, though: special training for wartime conditions. The soldiers with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and the 51st Military Police Detachment know it could save their lives when they go back to Iraq next year.
Lt. Stuart Chapman of Richmond, Va., said he’s been around livestock “a little bit” but was unsure what to expect from the training.
“I didn’t really know what to think, honestly. I haven’t been overseas yet but apparently you have to deal with animals quite a bit,” Chapman said, standing outside a pen with his hands tucked in his jeans pockets and muddy stains on his pant legs from an earlier attempt at herding sheep.
Even with little experience around farm animals, Chapman has more than the average soldier, who often comes from a city or suburb and has never seen a sheep. Their primitive herding methods – waving their arms, yelling and shoving – met with little success.

Hmm, I though the common knowledge was that the soldiers are either poor city minorities or rural white crackers, who should know animals? In any case, there is no Joint Doctrine for Animal Handling. What we are seeing here is flexibility in the Army, responding to new demands.

“Five years ago, you never would have seen this,” he says of the soldiers’ drills at Ewe-topia. “You wouldn’t have seen it not just because the local community wasn’t into the United States Army but the United States Army didn’t see the necessity to get outside into the complexities that exist out here.”
Today, more outside training opportunities are being seized – something Kleisner says was always true of the military’s special operations units, and now is being adopted by mainstream units.
He gestured to the soldiers milling around in the snow after learning how to herd sheep and ducks: “It all adds up at the end of the day, when we go back we will be trained in several different things that years ago we never would have worried about,” Kleisner said. “It was all about killing people years ago.

The most interesting portion of this article to me is the adaptability of the Army in using outside resources, and RAPIDLY accepting what is available without waiting several years in the contracting system for a government contractor to develop (reinvent) the skills. Unfortunately, I predict that in a few years the Beltway Bandit complex will have reinvented this training at a much higher cost, and lower effectiveness. But this is definately part of the new mission of keeping the peace.

FILED UNDER: General, Iraq War, National Security, ,
Richard Gardner
About Richard Gardner
Richard Gardner is a “retired” Navy Submarine Officer with military policy, arms control, and budgeting experience. He contributed over 100 pieces to OTB between January 2004 and August 2008, covering special events. He has a BS in Engineering from the University of California, Irvine.