Here's my favorite part:
For Campbell and Cross, the day with Annie could be a preview of days to come. The two may soon deploy to Afghanistan, where donkeys and mules have been the preferred mode of military transport for centuries -- and remain so.
With the U.S. shifting its focus from the deserts of Iraq to the mountains of Central Asia, this course on pack animals at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center has become critical to the new mission.
Opened in 1951 to train troops for Korea, the center -- with its administrative buildings, barracks, corrals and an enormous tent for visiting troops -- is set on 47,000 acres of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, where serrated peaks above 10,000 feet are the perfect terrain to teach high-altitude combat skills.
Five donkeys, 24 mules and five sergeant trainers are stationed at the center for the course, which is given eight times a year to Marines, Army soldiers, Navy SEALs and some foreign troops.
Humvees and even helicopters are of limited use in Afghanistan's mountains. There are few roads and the air is thin. But a 1,000-pound mule or 400-pound donkey can easily carry a load one-third its weight -- or more, if necessary.
The weapons of war have changed, but the basics of handling donkeys and mules -- like the sawbuck saddle and packs on Annie -- are not much different from how they were in the time of Genghis Khan.
"It's a very primitive way to carry very modern weapons," said Sgt. Joe Neal, one of the instructors. "But it works."
So basically the Marine Corps wants you to talk to donkeys precisely the opposite of the way you do junior enlisted.
On those half a dozen occasions when Annie refused to budge, Campbell and Cross stuck to the dictum drilled into them: Donkeys do not respond well to rough treatment or harsh language.
Sgt. Chad Giles sat on his horse and watched the two 20-year-olds coax and cajole Annie. He urged persistence but admonished against rude language, saying they should talk to her as they would a woman they loved.
UPDATE: SNLII reminds me in the comments that there's actually a Field Manual for this (AKO access only).