FORT SILL, Okla. (Feb. 14, 2019) -- Outside the Army Field Artillery Museum there is a bronze statue of a cannoneer carrying a 105mm round, close to him an M119 howitzer. The statue is of a 2nd Battalion, 2nd Field Artillery "Big Deuce" Soldier standing watch, and the howitzer used to belong to the battalion. Across the road is the stable and pasture of the Fort Sill Artillery Half-Section.
It was the perfect backdrop for the promotion of the battalion's live mascots: Jesus donkey Big Deuce VII, and his technical adviser, Boer goat Short Round VI.
Soldiers of the battalion stood in formation as Deuce VII was promoted to staff sergeant, and Short Round to specialist. Dozens of post leaders, guests, service members, and friends also attended the morning ceremony Feb. 5.
Lt. Col. Lazander Tomlinson, 2-2nd FA commander, led the proceedings; battalion Command Sgt. Maj. David Cutshall helped tack on their new stripes; and 1st Lt. Jennifer Huntley, A Battery, 2-2nd FA fire direction officer, and officer in charge of the mascots, welcomed the crowd.
Tomlinson clarified that this was not the first time Deuce VII saw the rank of staff sergeant.
"In 2016 he was a staff sergeant, but after much to-do and biting the hand of this command sergeant major (Cutshall), yes, we deemed if fit to demote him to sergeant," Tomlinson said. "Frankly, we were concerned that Big Deuce was not fit for further military service."
Huntley said that Deuce VII has a nibbling habit. It's playful, but it doesn't always feel that way when you get bit, she said, speaking from experience and holding her arm.
During the World War I era, donkeys and mules were instrumental in carrying pack howitzers and ammunition over rough terrain, and long distances onto the battlefield, said 1st Sgt. Robert McGinnis, A/2-2nd FA. They weren't phased out until a little after WWII.
The 2-2nd FA Battalion's tradition of having a donkey mascot goes back almost 70 years.
In 1950, 2-2nd FA Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. John Sanders followed his commander's order to "get me an ass," said the CSM's son Mike Sanders, who attended the promotion ceremony with his wife Tonya. He explained that his father procured Big Deuce I from his grandfather in west Texas.
"My grandpa went down in Mexico and got him (Big Deuce I) and brought him to his house," Mike Sanders said. "Then my dad went over and got Big Deuce. The trip and all cost about $42."
Members of the Sanders family always get invited to attend the mascot ceremonies, Tonya Sanders said.
"We are so proud to be here today," she said. "We love it that we get to see his (Deuce VII) progress."
As each promotion certificate was read, Deuce VII and Short Round's respective handlers Spc. Stephen Gran and Spc. Austin Hester, along with Cutshall, pinned the new ranks on the ceremonial blankets worn by the mascots.
Deuce VII originally enlisted in the Army Aug. 17, 2015, as a sergeant when he was 4 months old.
It was Feb. 26, 2018, when 10-month old kid Pfc. Short Round VI enlisted as the first female mascot.
That's symbolic because at the time women were first entering the combat arms military occupational specialties, said McGinnis.
Fort Sill and the United States Military Academy are the only two active-duty Army units with live mascots.
"We're very proud of that and for them to be at Fort Sill," McGinnis said.
The mascots are a reminder of the lineage of pack animals' contributions to the Army, McGinnis said. They participate in numerous ceremonial events here, such as changes of command, retirements, re-enlistments, and community outreach.
The mission of A Battery is to provide field artillery support and training at the FA School, including advanced individual training, and the Basic Officer Leader Course, as well as for the Fires Center of Excellence, the first sergeant said. It also has the mission to care for the mascots.