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Originally published October 23, 2012 at 7:40 PM | Page modified October 24, 2012 at 9:54 AM

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Horses and bayonets: Yes, we still have them in the military

"Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets." President Obama's line from Monday night's televised debate with Mitt Romney has ignited a fire on the Internet.

The New York Times

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I read this and was reminded of Col. Potter on MASH & his horse Sophie. A dying... MORE
...and bayonets will always be there. They never run out of ammunition... MORE
In 26 years in the military I used a bayonet once, to open a box of rations. Oh, the... MORE

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Yes, the U.S. 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."

Obama's line, meant to underscore that military capability matters more than sheer numbers, 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, Obama did not say that the military has no bayonets and horses at all — just that there are fewer.

While that is almost certainly true (the U.S. government drafted 4 million men in World War I), the 2012 Marine Corps still has more than 175,000 bayonets — nearly one for each of 197,500 active-duty Marines. Marines carry bayonets when 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.

In 2004, the Marines ordered some 90,000 OKS-3S new model bayonets from the Ontario Knife Co. in Franklinville, N.Y., a unit of Servotronics of Elma, N.Y. According to a report on the Marine Corps website, the new "multi-purpose knife" is more durable than the old M-7 bayonet and doubles as a combat knife.

The 2004 article quotes Marine Major Allen Schweizer of the Marine Corps Systems Command as saying: "The Multi-Purpose Bayonet is best used on the enemy, and it causes physiological as well as physical damage.

"It is psychologically damaging because of the fear it will bring to the mind of our adversaries," he said, according to the article. "It projects a manly looking, fear-invoking presence — not only is it much larger than the M-7 Bayonet, it is much thicker, wider, heaver and meaner."

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

The Army's last cavalry charge was against Japanese forces in the Philippines in early 1942, by a force of U.S. troops and local scouts, said Matthew Seelinger, chief historian at the Army Historical Foundation in Arlington, Va.

The Army did use horses and mules during World War II to carry supplies, "but that was the last combat use for the Army," he said.

In 1965, units of the 7th Cavalry, once headed by George Armstrong Custer, rode into battle in Vietnam's Ia Drang Valley on Huey helicopters, not horses.

Material from Bloomberg News is included.

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