FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Basking in the golden sun, the young Army private rips up the green grass covered in morning dew. He chews on the grass for a few moments before going back for more. He rips and tears at the grass for almost an hour before being called back to training.
Pfc. Jack "Huck" Blackjack is no ordinary Soldier. His large ears, silky brown hair and jet black hooves make his stand out among any formation. Blackjack is an 11-year-old mule from Ronda, North Carolina and currently stationed at Fort Bragg. He assumed duties as the 1st Sustainment Command (Theater)'s mascot in June after the unit's original mascot, Staff Sgt. John Blackjack passed away. Both mascots were donated to the command by (retired) Air Force Col. Robert O. Wray and his wife, Rosanne.
Blackjack's early years were spent at Windy Hill Mule Farm where he carried people and supplies up and down the hills of Ronda. He now calls the Northstar Veterinary Hospital in Parkton, North Carolina home and is cared for by the hospital's owner Kim Krivit, doctor veterinary medicine, and her staff at the NSE stables where he lives and trains. Much like his First Team teammates, Blackjack is used to doing the heavy lifting and getting the job done.
"He was raised as a pack mule. He can pack supplies and goods and go on a trail, up a mountain or into the woods," said Krivit. "He's the Humvee of the mule world."
Blackjack was trained to drive and ride and he even has his own driver's license (from Ronda, North Carolina) joked Krivit.
Like any Army private, Blackjack must undergo training to learn his new job and how to assimilate to the military lifestyle.
"He has to learn his role, how to stand at attention and be a Soldier," said Robert Chase, trainer and handler for NSE Stables and a Mount Holly, New Jersey native. Chase went on to say Blackjack is a very quick learner and gets better every time he practices.
Unlike his mule mascot counterparts, Ranger III and Stryker, the mascots for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Blackjack only had a few days to prepare for his first military ceremony. According to an Army.mil article, Ranger III and Stryker spent nearly four years being conditioned for their new assignment at the academy.
Mules as mascots began in 1899 when an officer at the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot decided the Army needed something to counter the Navy goat for the 1899 rivalry game between the two service academies.
Now, 116 years later, the tradition continues with Blackjack. He is almost a celebrity around the 1st TSC, attending most unit ceremonies, homecomings and events for the command.
"When I first saw him as he got off the trailer, he was just strikingly handsome. There are the George Clooney's of the equine world and he would definitely be on the cover of People magazine," said Krivit, with a smile on her face.
With his good looks and charming personality, Blackjack has won the hearts of his teammates.
"We all love Blackjack and he really embodies everything the battalion stands for," said Lt. Col. Landis Maddox, commander, Special Troops Battalion, 1st TSC. "We couldn't have Blackjack without a 'team of teams' mentality and many thanks to everyone who has a hand in making sure he stays fit to fight."
As long as Blackjack continues to exceed the standard and remain obedient and dedicated, like any other Soldier, he will have a very successful Army career.
"Just like any Soldier in the TSC, Blackjack will have to prove that he is ready and earn additional responsibilities," said Maddox. "From what I have seen so far and his outstanding performance during the organizational day, Pfc. Blackjack is well on his way to earning a promotion."