Simulated IEDs and roleplaying terrorists aren’t the only dangers lurking for soldiers at Combat Support Training Exercise 91. The exercise, led by the 91st Training Division, is taking place on Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif., a base known for its vast wildlife.
Among the potential threats here are rattlesnakes, black widows, brown recluse spiders, mountain lions and black bears. But Fort Hunter Liggett game warden Kyle Millsap said soldiers can mitigate these threats by simply staying alert and keeping a safe distance.
“As long as an animal feels like it has the ability or opportunity to move away it will do that,” he said. “Where you get into the dangerous or potentially bad contacts is when you surprise them or they feel cornered, and that’s when you’ll engage that fight mechanism.”
The best course of action for an animal encounter is to “just let them move away naturally,” added Millsap.
Or as Pfc. Hector Lopez more directly put it, “Don’t mess with them, and they won’t mess with you.” Lopez is taking part in CSTX-91, taking place in July, as a member of the 192nd Quartermaster Company, an Army Reserve unit from Milan, Ohio.
The rattlesnake, which is not uncommon here, especially gets a bad rap as an aggressor, which apparently is unjustified. Millsap said the rattle is really just a “big warning” to get away.
“So long as you heed that (the rattle) and get out of its area — generally once it feels it can move away — it will uncoil and move away,” he added. “But when people try to pick them up with a stick or move them away — that’s when things can go wrong.”
Having said that, however, Millsap reports that no one has been bitten on post during the eight years he’s worked here, even though he and his partner capture and relocate approximately 50 rattlesnakes per year that threaten living or work areas.
Snakes here have even crawled into sleeping bags or boots.
To reduce the risk snakes pose, soldiers should either hang their boots up, turn them upside down, put the top of one boot inside the other, or at least shake them out. Sleeping bags should be shaken out and inspected before going to bed. These measures will also help safeguard against spiders.
Another safeguard against spiders is wearing gloves in areas where they may be present. “We don’t have any spider species that can penetrate a glove, so gloves are a big plus,” added Millsap.
In terms of bigger animals such as black bears and mountain lions, such sightings are rare. Millsap explained they are very elusive and tend to stay on the margins of the base far away from humans. He said there has never been a bear or mountain lion attack on Fort Hunter Liggett.
Animals that are seen regularly or fairly regularly are mice, squirrels, rabbits, deer, elk, coyotes and bobcats. The best defense against small critters such as mice, squirrels and rabbits is to not keep food in your tent. This will also decrease the likelihood of snakes in tents, as they are a natural predator of small animals.
Soldiers should also be aware that there are five endangered species on post: purple amole (a flowering plant), vernal pool fairy shrimp, San Joaquin kit fox, arroyo toad and California condor. The bald eagle, which can also be spotted on post, is a protected species. As a general rule, stay in approved areas and respect staked off areas, which may indicate a sensitive habitat.
The overall importance of risk management cannot be overemphasized, as one participant of CSTX 91, Spc. Russ Loede with the 192nd, acknowledged. Yet he also emphasized the bigger picture when it comes to wildlife.
“Enjoy it, it’s God’s creation, just be cool around it,” he said.
Story by Sgt. Michael Connors
302nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
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