Animals have a long history of involvement in the armed forces, from dolphin spies and bomb-sniffing bees to dogs that serve alongside soldiers and even make it into the history books. But not all military animals are involved in intelligence and warfare — many are simply used for ceremonial purposes or serve as symbols of a unit. Here are seven of the most famous military mascots from around the world.
U.S. Marines adopted this donkey in 2008 when he showed up wounded and malnourished at Camp Taqaddum in Iraq. Although regulations prohibited keeping the animal, the camp’s commander, Marine Colonel John Folsom, had a Navy psychologist designate Smoke as a therapy animal because he relieved stress among the Marines. Smoke quickly became part of the family, stealing cigarettes from soldiers and learning to open desk drawers to find apples, carrots and other treats the Marines hid for him. Folsom left Smoke in Iraq in 2009, but when he learned that the donkey was on his own again, he launched “Operation Donkey Drop” to bring Smoke to the United States as a therapy animal for military personnel. After 18 months of cutting through red tape, Folsom transported the donkey to Nebraska. Sadly, Smoke died of colic months later.
A King penguin named Nils Olav serves as the mascot and colonel-in-chief of the Norwegian Royal Guard. The flightless bird lives in the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland and was knighted in 2008 by King Harald V. The name “Nils Olav” has been given to two other King penguins that preceded the current one as the King’s Guard’s mascot. The first Nils Olav served the Guard in 1972 and was named in honor of Nils Egelien and King Olav V.
Irish Wolfhounds have served as the mascot of the Irish Guards since 1902, when the Irish Wolfhound Club presented the first dog to the force. The dog was named Brian Boru after an Irish king, and since then, the 14 dogs that followed were also named after kings or chieftains. In 1961, the canine mascot was admitted to the select group of official Army mascots, which entitles it to food and quartering at public expense. The current mascot, Conmael, pictured above, debuted in 2009, and he leads the battalion in all major parades. On state or special, occasions the wolfhound dons a red cape or blue-gray linen cape.
The kangaroo serves as the regimental mascot of the 9th and 10th First Australian Imperial Force battalions. During World War I, many of the country’s military units brought kangaroos, wallabies and other Australia animals with them to Egypt, and some of the animals were given to the Cairo Zoological Gardens. In this photo, an Australian soldier plays with a kangaroo at Mena Camp, which was located near the pyramids.
Chief Dog Sinbad, was a mixed-breed canine member of the U.S. Coast Guard who served 11 years aboard USCG Cutter George W. Campbell. Chief Boatswain’s Mate A. A. Rother of the ship got Sinbad as a gift for his girlfriend, but she couldn’t keep him, so Rother enlisted him in the service. He signed the dog’s paw print on the official paperwork, which meant that Sinbad wasn’t a pet, but a full-fledged member of the Coast Guard. The canine Coast Guard member saw combat during World War II, but although photos showed him wearing a helmet and posing by a gun, the pup’s post was actually below deck where his ears wouldn’t be damaged by the sound of gunfire.
The Royal Welsh, one of the infantry regiments of the British Army, has a long tradition of goat mascots and currently has three goats, including a Kashmir goat that’s been gifted from the royal herd since 1884. All of the 1st Battalion’s goats are named William Windsor (Billy for short) and march at the head of the battalion in ceremonial events. The animal is more than just a mascot though — it’s a full member of the battalion and can even move up the ranks. As a full member, each goat is accorded the status and privileges of its rank, including membership in the Corporal’s Mess and the right to be saluted by subordinates. There are other perks to serving as the battalion’s mascot as well, including Guinness and cigarette rations.
Marine bulldog mascot The U.S. Marine Corps has used bulldogs as its mascots since 1922 when Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler introduced “Pvt. Jiggs,” who eventually rose in the ranks to sergeant major. The current bulldog is the 12th in a series of mascots named “Chesty” after Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller, the most decorated marine of all time. The puppy must still complete obedience training before officially taking over at the Marine barracks in Washington, D.C., on March 29. Chesty’s responsibilities include marching in parades and attending local Marine Corps events.
Photos: Wikimedia Commons, Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images