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Military survival skills training is never a picnic - especially if you're on the menu.

But after an animal-rights group intervened, a dozen or so chickens and rabbits have survived a Dug-way Proving Grounds sur-vi-val-ist outing.The animals were scheduled to be killed Thursday as part of a survival skills training course for the headquarters support troops, most of whom are clerical workers.

Tipped off to the event by a base employee, Mary Beth Sweetland, an investigator with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, called Dugway to complain.

Dugway public affairs officer Melynda Petrie told PETA, an animal-rights group based in Washington, D.C., that the animals were a necessary part of the training and that the exercise would proceed as planned. The survival-skills students would be required to kill the animals, then clean, cook and eat them.

To kill the chickens, the soldiers would wring their necks. The rabbits would receive a swift blow to the backs of their heads.

"It sounds awful in print, but it would be humane," said Carol Fruik, a Dugway public affairs specialist.

Sweetland disagrees.

"Wringing their necks humanely sounds like an oxymoron to me." In addition to being cruel, the exercise would have been useless, Sweet-land said.

"I pointed out that, if a soldier gets lost somewhere, chickens aren't likely to be part of the scenery and that no one is going to walk up to them in the woods and hand them a rabbit or a chicken that they can bludgeon."

On Tuesday, Sweetland asked Defense Secretary Les Aspin to intercede. That afternoon, Petrie faxed a letter to Sweetland, informing PETA that the exercise involving the animals had been canceled by Col. James R. King, base commander.

"This was (King's) own decision and the (PETA) letter to Les Aspin . . . had no bearing on that decision," Petrie's letter stated.

"I don't care how it got stopped," Sweetland said. "I'm just glad it got stopped . . . It was one of the most silly things I've heard of."

Full-scale investigation

The plan to kill chickens and rabbits at Dugway Proving Grounds this week has prompted an animal-rights group to launch a full-scale investigation into military survival skills training.

"I'm wondering now if this goes on all over the U.S. at our military installations. We're going to find out," said Mary Beth Sweetland, director of research and investigations with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

PETA may have been instrumental this week in stopping Dugway from allowing soldiers to kill chickens and rabbits as part of their survival education.

The animal-rights group plans to use the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to all military records pertaining to the use of animals in military survivalist training practices. PETA is currently investigating a report of animals being killed at West Point.

PETA will also fight for a permanent order preventing the military from killing animals, Sweetland said.