SIMPSONVILLE, Ky. -- When Arvil Dobson and Kathy Krantz retired from the Army at the rank of lieutenant colonel, never in their wildest dreams did they think they would spend their post-military careers cleaning up the manure of a corporal. But that's exactly what they do.
Dobson and Krantz spend their retirement years on a beautiful farm, Providence, taking care of a Soldier named, Cpl. John "Huck" Blackjack.
Cpl. Blackjack is no ordinary Soldier. He is a 13-year-old pony mule from Ronda, N.C., who serves as the mascot for the 1st Theater Sustainment Command (TSC) and attends many command functions.
He was given to the 1st TSC June 2015 by Air Force Col. (Retired) Robert and Rosanne Wray. He is named after Robert's brother, "Huck," a Soldier who died in World War II during the "Battle of the Bulge."
The tradition of using a mule as an Army mascot began in 1899 when an officer at the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot decided the service needed something to counter the Navy goat for the 1899 rivalry game between the two service academies. In the early 1970s, the 1st Corps Support Command (COSCOM), the unit which was re-designated as the 1st TSC in 2006, adopted a mule as its mascot to carry on this tradition.
Cpl. Blackjack is a fitting symbol of the 1st TSC's can-do spirit. He is no stranger to Army toughness. He spent his early years carrying people and supplies up and down the hills and mountains of Ronda. If Blackjack were to be compared to a vehicle, he would be the Humvee of the mule world.
Those days are long gone, however.
Now, Blackjack spends his afternoons courting his girlfriend, "Spotless" and having a "bromance" with his best friend, "Forrest." Blackjack and Spotless have developed a close relationship with each other during the past few months as they can often be seen rubbing each other's noses. Forrest on the other hand gives his buddy Blackjack neck massages while they are playing in the pasture.
Dobson said when he and Krantz found out the 1st TSC was looking for new handlers for Blackjack, they jumped at the chance.
"We heard the 1st TSC was being relocated to Fort Knox and was seeking someone to provide care and transportation for Cpl. Blackjack," he said. "Our farm specializes in the care of retired show horses and we have on hand sufficient resources to provide for the high quality care and transportation needs of Blackjack."
Dobson shared candidly why he finds the job of taking care of Blackjack so rewarding.
"While in the military, both Kathy and I had been deployed to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait to support the War in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "While at Arifjan, the 1st TSC provided sustainment support for us. I find it appropriate that the 1st TSC took care of us while deployed and now we can return the favor by taking care of Cpl. Blackjack for the 1st TSC."
"We are retired military, so we understand the importance and significance of an Army Mule Mascot," he added. "To us, Cpl. Blackjack is more than just a job. Taking care of Blackjack allows us the opportunity to remain associated with the military and provides continued interaction with young Soldiers."
Since arriving at Fort Knox on Aug. 8, 2017, Cpl. Blackjack has made eight appearances. The behind-the-scenes requirements to get him ready is a very arduous process. Dobson explained it's no easy task.
"Cpl. Blackjack must be groomed, mane clipped, whiskers shaved, hoofs blackened (jump boots), loaded on a horse trailer and then transported to Fort Knox," he said. "It's a lot of work getting him ready."
One could argue Cpl. Blackjack has it made. He lives the life of contentment, being fed grain and hay daily. He also eats an alfalfa "cookie" and a peppermint for a task well done. However, Blackjack has goals he has yet to accomplish…his next promotion.
As Blackjack's "first-line supervisor," Dobson said the pony mule is definitely ready to for the increased responsibilities that comes with wearing sergeant's stripes.
"If I were to write a Non-Commissioned Officer Evaluation Report for Cpl. Blackjack, I could honestly say that he is 'out-standing in his field' every day," he said.
Dobson said he looks forward to working with the 1st TSC and Cpl. Blackjack for years to come.
"Blackjack has some big hoofs to fill," said Dobson. "His predecessor lived over 30 years and served the Army with honors. I feel Blackjack will stand up to the challenge ahead and be the 1st TSC mascot he was born to be."