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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

About Those Horses and Bayonets ...

Yes, the American military still uses bayonets, and quite a few. There are horses too.

When Mitt Romney complained during Monday night's presidential debate that the Navy “is smaller now than at any time since 1917,” President Obama shot back with “Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets.'' Mr. Obama's line, meant to underscore that military capability matters more than sheer numbers, quickly ignited a fire on the Internet.

Marines quickly jumped in to say that they still attach bayonets to the end of their rifles, either the M4, M16 or M27. Of course, Mr. Obama did not say that the military has no bayonets and horses at all - just that there were fewer now than then.

While that is almost certainly true (the United States government drafted four million men in World War I), the 2012 United States Marine Corps still has more than 175,000 bayonets â€" or nearly one for each of the 197,500 current active-duty Marines. Marines carry bayonets wh en they deploy overseas, typically in sheaths attached to their body armor. In the martial arts training that all Marines receive, they are taught to attach them to their rifles in difficult or close-quarters situations.

“Basically when you're in a hand-to-hand-combat situation, if you're out of ammo and if your rifle malfunctions, you can attach the bayonet and still kill somebody,'' said Capt. Kendra Motz, a Marine Corps spokeswoman. The bayonet blade is 7 inches long.

Horses are still used for funerals at Arlington National Cemetery and in formal military parades. One of their most well-known uses in recent years was in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, when elite teams of American commandos on horseback radioed in airstrikes to American pilots with the enemy's exact position.

As for the Navy, Mr. Romney is right that it is the smallest since 1917, the year the United States entered World War I. The war buildup is easy to see in Navy statistics: In 1917 there were 342 ships in the Navy compared with 245 ships the year before. At the end of 2011, there were 285 ships in the Navy. That's a slight increase from the George W. Bush administration, when in 2007 there were 278 ships.