WEST POINT, N.Y. (Dec. 13, 2011) -- Ranger III and Stryker made their public debut at West Point during a ceremony Dec. 8 at Michie Stadium. The two new Army Mule Mascots were welcomed by the Corps of Cadets and other guests, while Raider and Ranger II were officially retired from service.
Their arrival was long-awaited, as they have spent nearly four years being conditioned for their new assignment at the U.S. Military Academy.
They've already been exposed to the military environment at Fort Bragg, N.C., where Maj. Anne Hessinger works as an Army veterinarian. She previously owned the two mules and has gotten them familiar with firecrackers, gun shots, tarps, balloons, umbrellas, flowers -- any peculiar elements and environments they may come across during their tenure as Army Mule Mascots.
They'll also be able to handle the occasional cannon fire when the football team scores touchdowns at Michie Stadium.
"As long as the riders stay quiet on them, the mules won't mind," Hessinger said. "They'll hear it the first time and be like, 'What's that?' and then the second time they'll ignore it. That's how adaptable they can be."
She said Ranger III and Stryker will have no problem leading teams onto the field, carrying flags and interacting with fans.
"They can be more than just statues standing on the sidelines," she said.
In years past, some mascots were able to perform extended gaits and a few trick moves, but Hessinger said these new mules were conditioned to pulling wagons and hauling logs rather than showboating.
"They're broke to drive as a team, so there's the potential, down the road, to getting a harness for them and buying a wagon and being able to drive them that way. They've worked as a pair and that's why they're so much alike."
They're also brothers, perhaps from the same father, Hessinger believes.
"It makes a difference that they're brothers in the fact that they've been together their whole lives, so they feed off each other like the Army's battle buddy system," she said. "They've always been each others' battle buddy and the more things they do together the better they'll be."
Hessinger said if one appears more nervous than the other, the calmness of one can reassure the other.
"They can be that support system for each other," she said. "But it's funny because they also love to fight. They work hard and they play hard."
Having trained them for so long, Hessinger said it is sad to see them go.
"It's hard for me because they're a part of my family now. They're my kids," she said. "Leaving them behind is a little hard, but I hope to get them back eventually."
It will also give her a reason to visit West Point again.
Class of 2013 Cadet Nels Estvold and the other cadet mule riders enjoyed a 30-minute session with the new mules upon their arrival to West Point. Estvold described Ranger III and Stryker as steady and stable successors.
"We were all pretty excited to finally have them here," Estvold said. "We basically been waiting an entire year for their arrival, so once the saddles were on, it was great to finally ride them."
At least two riders will work with Ranger III and Stryker every day, which means Estvold will have a chance to ride the new mules two or three times each week.The departure of their former colleagues was bittersweet as the cadets led them off the field.
Estvold was partial to Raider and partnered with him the most. But all mule riders eventually come to know each mule by their individual personalities and traits.
"They've been around ever since we've been here, so in a way, they're part of our family here," Estvold said.
Steve Townes, a former Army officer with the 75th Ranger Regiment, was proud that Ranger III will carry on an Army tradition at West Point.
"My only stipulation as the permanent mule donor in perpetuity is that one of the Army mules will always be named Ranger in honor of all Rangers, living and dead," Townes said.
Townes, a Class of 1975 graduate and former West Point mule rider, met with the current group of cadet riders.
"I told them this is a 113-year tradition and is part of the permanent brand image of West Point," he said. "I told them to take good care of the mules and have fun."
(Editor's Note: The third Army Mule Mascot, General Scott, was not in attendance at his retirement ceremony. Raider, although officially retired, made his last official appearance as an Army Mule Mascot at the Army-Navy football game on Dec. 10.)