Marines untied a donkey from a booby-trapped cart in Afghanistan and followed it to find the insurgents who’d try to set a trap for Marines, said Robert Work, deputy secretary of defense, in a speech Wednesday. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Victor R. Everhart Jr.)

It’s the kind of story that gets shared around the smoke pit at military bases for years.

Robert Work, the deputy secretary of defense, shared a “true story” with U.S. troops while visiting Guam yesterday and it showed the spirit and ingenuity that enlisted personnel bring to the job. A retired Marine colonel, Work said that while Marines were on patrol in Afghanistan, they saw Afghan men apparently hiding improvising explosive devices.

The Marines rules of engagement, however, wouldn’t allow them to attack. They had to figure out if there actually was a threat first, Work said. The Marines approached, and the Afghan men fled, leaving behind a donkey cart.

“So the Marines come down, and sure enough, there it is. In the hole, there’s all sorts of bomb material,” Work recounted, according to a transcript of the event. “So the Marines say, OK, these guys were really bad guys.”

A “young sergeant” was in charge of the patrol, Work said. He told his fellow Marines to unhook the donkey from its cart, and decided they would follow it wherever it went.

“So they follow the donkey and it goes to a village, and there, lo and behold, are the four guys that they saw,” Work said.

The lieutenant who oversaw the sergeant was shocked, Work said.

“How in the heck, this is really good,” the lieutenant said, according to Work. “What were you thinking?”

The sergeant’s response, according to Work: “Sir, I was born on a farm. I was raised on a farm… I’ve been following jackasses my whole life.”

Work told the troops on Guam that he shared the story to illustrate that while enlisted rank-and-file personnel are “a little irreverent,” they have a great sensor of humor and are “endlessly innovative.”

“You’re never going to leave your buddy behind under any circumstances. Never,” he said. “That’s what makes this force so special. It’s not the generals; it’s the enlisted force. You have always been the backbone of the American military.”