It may not have been in their boot camp brochures, but U.S. Marines headed to the mountains of Afghanistan are learning back home how to get hundreds of pounds of gear off their backs — and onto those of donkeys and mules.
The furry animals are perfect for hauling heavy loads through rugged terrain and have become crucial helpers as U.S. forces prepare to head to a war zone where the air is too thin for heavy choppers, roads are inaccessible and donkeys are plentiful, cheap and efficient.
According to the training center in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, a 500-pound donkey can carry up to 150 pounds in gear, food, water, clothing and even weapons. The ability to relieve each Marine from having to carry that load can help prevent exhaustion and save lives, especially in an ambush situation.
"I know when I get ambushed I don't want all this stuff on my back," Corporal Jason Dierberger told FOX News.
But though the donkeys and mules are doing the heavy lifting, the Marines traveling with them still have plenty of work to do, even before they hit the battlefield.
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Training includes learning how to tie ropes and pack up saddle bags so that the weight of the heavy gear is distributed evenly and nothing falls off.
More importantly, these Marines must learn the art of coaxing, as the strong animals are surefooted so long as they can see the ground, but if they can't see their feet — or decide to be stubborn — they won't budge.
"It's almost like having a 5 or 6-year-old child you're trying to teach," Sgt. Joe Neal told FOX News. "You have to make them think it's their idea."
By the end of the two-week course, the Marines and mules are said to be a team, and those Marines are better prepared to carry the fight to the enemy with the help of their trusty burros.
FOX News' Claudia Cowan contributed to this report.