25. U.S. Military Trains Soldiers to Kill and Eat Tame Animals

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Source: THE ANIMALS AGENDA, July/August 1999, Title: “Irrational Rations: Animals Used in Military Training” Author: D’Arcy Kemnitz

Faculty Evaluator: Laurel Holmstrom
Student Researchers: Rebecca Aust & Aimee Regan

Mainstream coverage: Seattle Times, July 2, 1999, page B1; Willington-Star News, July 12, 1999, page 3B; News & Observer, Raleigh NC, July 6, 1999, page Al; Spokane Review, Spokane WA, July 2, 1999, page Al; Denver Post, June 30, 1999, page B4

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have charged that animals are being killed unnecessarily in military training classes. A course titled “Survival Skills” taught at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah teaches soldiers to hunt, kill, cook, and eat tame rabbits and chickens.

According to the author, the animals are transported from a local farm to the training grounds by truck. The soldiers then stage an ambush of the vehicle and release, chase, capture, and kill the animals. The officers in charge demand that the soldiers kill the animals with their bare hands.

While PETA was successful in having the class at Dugway discontinued, they also received reports of animal killing at Loring Air Force Base in Maine where soldiers were told to feed and care for rabbits and later to kill and eat them. At Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington, eyewitness accounts describe soldiers who are “required to stroke the rabbit to calm it, then bash it on the head—and the rabbits don’t always die with the first blow.”

Survival skills training classes began in 1947, in Alaska, to expose Air Force members to the harsh Arctic, and later a training camp was opened near terrain that resembles the former Soviet Union. By 1966, several of these classes were developed to train for the action in Vietnam. Marine Sergeant Joe Bangert told Life magazine in 1971, “The day before I went to ‘Nam this staff sergeant came out in front of us with a rabbit. Petting it he pulled out a knife and started skinning it, then disemboweled it.”

Government documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act show that two Air Force bases alone used more than 1,500 rabbits each year at a cost of more than $10,000. According to a 1997 Department of Defense (DOD) report, the Air Force kills more rabbits in survival skills courses than does the DOD in all its intramural research facilities combined. PETA estimates that more than 10,000 animals, including chickens, rabbits, and goats are used each year in dozens of classes at military installations around the country.

These exercises seem to serve no practical purpose and teach no relevant skills to soldiers who may one day experience life-threatening, adverse conditions. Soldiers stranded in wartime are not likely to find tame bunnies and hens sitting on a battlefield. These live animal programs are controversial even within the military. Major General Leo J. Baxter of the U.S. Army base in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, stated, “We [at Fort Sill] are in complete agreement that there is no need to utilize live animals for realistic survival skills training.”

In the past, there have been instances where such exercises were canceled after receiving national exposure, yet thousands of animals continue to suffer each year on military bases that pursue this training.

UPDATE BY AUTHOR D’ARCY A. KEMNITZ: The story “Irrational Rations: Animals Used in Military Training” outlined a campaign begun when soldiers at U.S. military bases learned they were expected to kill rabbits with their bare hands in “survival skills” training classes. Whistleblowers called animal rights groups to try to get this practice stopped, and their reports marked the lurid beginnings of a national effort to stop one of the most outdated, barbaric, and unjustifiable practices in the military. These exercises result in the deaths of more than 10,000 animals annually—including goats and chickens—usually by soldiers using their bare hands or primitive tools such as rocks and sticks.

The practice dates back to World War II and was designed to teach soldiers how to procure food when separated from their divisions for long periods of time. However, in the modern exercises, soldiers are given tame rabbits before heading out to the training field. Nothing about the exercises simulates combat conditions with regard to “hunting” for food, making the classes as pointless as they are cruel.

Following the story’s publication in The Animals Agenda, articles appeared in newspapers in areas near large military installations, and Time magazine covered the story as well. The Pentagon’s public affairs division has frustrated activists by obstructing any communication with decision-makers on the issue.

The mainstream press responded with an emphasis on the gory aspects of small animals being killed by soldiers. Other individuals who were more familiar with such practices took action to stop animals from being killed. For instance, one Seattle-based former survival skills training instructor, who taught rabbit killing exercises to soldiers going to Vietnam, wrote to members of Congress to help initiate legislation to stop the practice. He stated: “As a former Air Force Sergeant survival instructor at Fairchild Air Force Base from 1968 to 1971… I taught survival in both classroom and field settings. Part of that training was the practice of killing a live rabbit with my own hands and then butchering the rabbit as one would a larger animal such as a deer. Since the rabbit was caged and hand-fed for a few days before being dispatched, my students often became attached to this animal and were reluctant to see or conduct the killing themselves …. The killing and butchering of these live rabbits is wholly unnecessary and does not enhance the survival of military personnel.”

What remains now is for military authorities and/or members of Congress to use the information revealed in this campaign and take appropriate action to end this cruel and unproductive practice.

For more information regarding the campaign to stop the use of live animals in military survival skills training courses, contact: The Animals Agenda, P.O. Box 25881, Baltimore, MD 21224; Tel: (410) 675-4566; E-mail:office@ani-malsagenda.org; Web site: http://www.animalsagenda.org.