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Horses, Bayonets And The Modern Military

President Obama said during Monday night's debate that the U.S. Army has fewer horses and bayonets than in the past.

That's true. Although Army Special Forces were on horseback in Afghanistan when they helped defeat the Taliban in 2001, the Army's horses are now used only for ceremonial occasions.

As for bayonets? The last bayonet charge was during the Korean War in 1951.

The bayonet has somewhat gone the way of the horse cavalry, as far as the Army is concerned (although Marines still use bayonets in training).

Two years ago, bayonet training stopped for new recruits, under orders from Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, then head of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command. Sergeants instead focused on more practical skills like hand-to-hand fighting.

"What's interesting," Hertling told The Christian Science Monitor at the time, "is if bayonet training is that important and it's the centerpiece of everything we do, why is it the only place it's taught is at basic training? If it's that important, you'd think all the operational units would have bayonet assault courses."

Obama's statement during Monday's third and final presidential debate, which centered on foreign policy, came after Republican Mitt Romney criticized the size of the Navy: "You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916," Obama said. "Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets — because the nature of our military's changed."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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