Blood Warriors: American Military Elites

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9780345448910: Blood Warriors: American Military Elites
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Rangers, Green Berets, SEALs, Delta Force, LRRPs, Force Recon—
and the struggle of the best and the bravest to keep America free

They’re some of the toughest and most highly trained fighting men in the world—going where no ordinary soldier would go and doing what no ordinary soldier would dare. Outnumbered and outgunned, operating in small teams of five or six-deep in enemy territory far from help, they rely on their wits, their skills, and each other to get out alive.

Blood Warriors is a penetrating, no-holds-barred account of the training, missions, and history of the military elites who mold America’s most dangerous and highly skilled warriors . . . from the navy’s SEALs and the Marine Corps’ Force Reconnaissance to the U.S. Army’s Delta Force, Rangers, and Special Forces. Here’s an in-depth look at each unit’s methods and standards: what’s required and what it takes to survive and succeed. Whether gathering intelligence, capturing prisoners, executing raids and ambushes, or just creating havoc in enemy territory, these men know that death is their constant companion—and one small misstep could mean body bags for everyone. Maybe that’s why America calls them heroes.

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About the Author:

Michael Lee Lanning retired from the army as a lieutenant colonel after more than twenty years’ service. During his assignment to Vietnam, he served as both an infantry platoon leader and a company commander in the 199th Infantry Brigade (Light). He lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Overview

Elite combat units are not an innovation of the American military. Since the dawn of warfare, commanders have assembled special men into special units to perform special missions. According to legend, English King Arthur surrounded himself with a few dozen carefully selected armed soldiers who become known as the Knights of the Round Table.

The earliest commander for whom reliable records of military operations survive took advantage of the skills of elite* warriors. In 539 b.c. Cyrus the Great, while king of Persia, combined small units of archers and cavalry to defeat larger units armed with pikes and swords. By the time of his death ten years later Cyrus controlled much of the civilized world and ruled over history's first great empire.

Two centuries later Alexander the Great of Macedonia conquered the Persian Empire. His elite sarissas units fought with pikes twice the length of ordinary spears and established the tradition for the next fifteen hundred years whereby military elites were those employing innovations in weaponry. Fernandez Gonzalo de Cordoba used a small, elite unit of infantrymen armed with heavy, shoulder-fired muskets known as arquebuses to gain a Spanish victory over the French on April 28, 1498.

* The English word elite comes from a similar French word meaning "the choice" or "the most carefully selected." Historically its most common use has been in reference to social classes. Its military usage has occurred only in the past one hundred years.

Elite units with superior weapons and equipment again proved successful a short time later. Hernán Cortés, with fewer than six hundred Spanish soldiers supported by twenty horses and ten small cannonlike muskets, conquered an Aztec Empire populated by more than five million people in 1519, giving Spain claim to all of Central America. In 1531 another Spaniard, Francisco Pizarro, defeated the Incas with an elite force of only two hundred men. In addition to spears and swords Pizarro's warriors carried three arquebuses and twenty crossbows.

For a significant span of time special units armed with the most modern weapons and equipment of the day continued to win battles. However, advances in technology and the integration of musket-armed infantrymen, artillery, and cavalry greatly changed the scope of warfare. Kings and commanders discovered that small elite forces, even when properly armed, could not survive against large standing armies, even if the latter were poorly trained and armed. Size and numbers do make a difference; huge armies consistently prove victorious over small forces.

As the scope of warfare changed, the need for more numerous forces followed. Armies of a few thousand men could no longer decide wars with a single battle fought in an area of only a few miles where commanders could see, command, and participate in the entire fight. By the eighteenth century wars were fought on multiple land and sea fronts between armies and navies of tens or even hundreds of thousands. Elite units still guarded their kings, admirals, or generals, but they played less and less of a role in the actual outcome of battles. Instead of designating a single elite knight in shining armor, a dozen special pikemen, or even a company of musketeers, the elite title expanded to entire regiments and divisions. Single ships, or fleets of vessels under command of a single captain, also began to be mentioned among the elite.

The record of elite military warriors in America coincides with the arrival of Europeans on the continent. The settlement of colonial America brought a brief return of small elite units as key forces in combat. North America's huge space of uncharted forests and waterways far exceeded the capability of any army or navy of the period to dominate. Its population of Native Americans, loosely organized into more than five hundred tribes, relied on stealth and individual bravery rather than the massing of forces or the sophistication of weapons.

When Native Americans defended their territory against other tribes and the European immigrants, they employed fast actions of short duration. Ambushes, running fights, and brief engagements fought with handheld clubs, spears, and bows and arrows typified Indian warfare. Even after securing muskets and other firearms, Native Americans rarely had the manpower or desire to conduct "conventional warfare."

While Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro easily defeated the dominant tribes of Central and South America in the sixteenth century, other Spaniards, as well as the English and French, found the diverse Indian tribes of North America to be much more difficult opponents. The early European settlers saw the Indians use entirely new battle tactics and, being few in number themselves, adopted the same techniques. Communities and colonies formed, trained, and equipped militia units to defend their property as well as to conduct offensives to destroy the Indians and claim their lands. Some of these units, such as Church's and Rogers's Rangers, became so adept at out-Indianing the Indians that they became the first American military elites.

From the opening shots in 1775 at Lexington green that started the American Revolution, the rebel colonists discovered that their militias could not fight successfully against the superior numbers of the better-trained British army. As a result, George Washington and his subordinates often formed special units to conduct reconnaissance and raids against the redcoats while generally fighting fixed battles only when no other choice was available. British commanders attempted to form a few elite cavalry and marksmanship units to combat the rebels but usually relied on their superior conventional forces.

Neither could the Americans match the number of British warships, so instead of launching fleets, they manned individual vessels with specially selected crews and officers to engage British merchant ships and single man-of-wars. To assist in boarding enemy vessels, and at times to defend captains from their own crews, the Continental Congress authorized the formation of the U.S. Marine Corps in 1775.

The Americans, in both the North and South, eventually discovered the need for larger units of special soldiers during the Civil War. Cavalry increased from small bands to full divisions. Confederates J. E. B. Stuart, John Mosby, and John Morgan led cavalry on reconnaissance and raids that gained the attention of the public as well as their generals. Various infantry brigades on both sides deservedly earned reputations as the elites of their armies. However, other than a few specially equipped marksmen or snipers, few true blood warriors in the modern sense emerged from the war.

During the American Indian wars that prevailed during the three decades following the Civil War, conventional cavalry and infantry bore the brunt of the fighting. The only forces that met the general requirements for identification as warrior elites were bands of Indians briefly assembled against the U.S. Army and several groups of Indian Scouts who fought against their own race in support of the white Americans.

The twentieth century brought even more change to warfare and the influence of warrior elites. Lessons learned in the use of artillery, wire communications, rail support, and massed infantry during the American Civil War, the Crimean War, and other European conflicts of the latter half of the 1800s made combat even more brutal and lethal. Entire nations mobilized, with all their matériel and manpower assets devoted to the conflict. Huge armies of conscripts replaced small professional forces. Heavy artillery, repeating rifles, and machine guns greatly increased the firepower of the infantry and the overall lethality of the battlefield.

By the time the Great War began in 1914, conflict was not among a few countries but rather consumed the entire world. Total war became the term for bloody conflict that would kill off an entire generation of young men-especially those of Britain, France, and Germany. By the end of the war in 1918, horse cavalry was basically finished as a means of warfare, and technology began to compete with and even exceed manpower as the dominant combat factor.

The hundreds of miles of trench lines that snaked across Europe in the Great War, however, did not lend themselves to small, specially trained units. Days or even weeks of combat often produced only a few yards of gain and left the no-man's-land between the trenches covered in rotting corpses. Oddly, in a conflict where the infantry of both sides were actually masses of blood warriors, the soldiers who received the most press and public interest, fighter pilots, never even got their boots muddy.

While the Great War involved most of the world, its land and sea battles were limited to a small portion of the earth's surface. It was not until twenty years after the "war to end all wars" concluded that the Second World War truly involved the entire planet and spread warfare across the earth's seas and landmasses. The Second World War added even greater technical advances in weaponry that made trench warfare impractical. The primary tactic became the maneuvering and massing of forces at enemy weak points to break through to rear areas and command centers. Without static trench lines limited to relatively small areas in which to fight battles, the need for intelligence and behind-the-lines operations became much more important.

Early in World War II the Germans led the way in fielding combat elites with airborne units and special raider companies. They also excelled in morale building by naming brigades and divisions after leaders and provinces of the country and award- ing them special uniforms and adornments. While not really elite, these units thought they were because of their uniqueness, and as a result often fought beyond their expectations.

The Allies, as well as the Axis, realized the need for blood warriors, but the Americans entered World War II ill prepared in all aspects, including combat elites. Learning from the British, who had formed British Commando units, Americans soon organized Ranger battalions to conduct raids and to lead invasion forces. Interestingly, both the British and Americans took the name for their elites from former enemies. Winston Churchill had fought the Boer commandos in South Africa and personally assigned that name. The Americans had occasionally used the name Rangers for special units in previous conflicts, but the moniker originated with British units in North America who first opposed the French and later the American rebels.

Once the Allies had stopped the Axis and begun to retake the European continent and the islands of the Pacific, the need for another warrior elite became apparent. The Axis powers, particularly the Germans, reinforced their beach defenses with a great variety of obstacles. These had to be cleared before the army infantry and marines could assault the beaches. The U.S. Navy's underwater demolition teams (UDTs) became the first to land so that they could clear the way for those who followed.

Beach landings at Sicily, Anzio, and Normandy were key to the eventual Allied victories in Europe, while dozens of amphibious attacks in the Pacific led the island-hopping campaign that defeated Japan. The marine corps, not large enough to take on all the amphibious responsibilities, relied on army divisions to help gain beach footholds and then to exploit the advantage. In Europe particularly, while the beaches were being at least partially cleared by the navy frogmen, army paratroopers struck behind the lines to destroy command and communications centers, while Rangers neutralized the most critical enemy defenses. In the Pacific the marines formed special raider and reconnaissance units that performed duties similar to those of the army paratroopers and Rangers.

At the conclusion of World War II, America drastically reduced the number of combat elites or disbanded them altogether. Blood warriors were a breed whom the American public and military leaders welcomed in time of war, but whom neither group wanted or appreciated in time of peace. However, navy UDT personnel did assist in the few amphibious operations during the early part of the Korean conflict, and the army reorganized Ranger companies to replace the battalions that had served in World War II. Korea, however, soon bogged down into trench warfare similar to World War I, eclipsing the need for the elites.

Another important factor influenced the regression of the combat elites in the post-World War II and Korea period. The United States alone possessed atomic weapons, and some analysts predicted that no nation would challenge its power. A small fleet of long-range bombers armed with a few atomic bombs would be all the military power needed to sustain a viable threat against any opponent. When the Soviet Union fielded its own atomic weapons a few years later, many feared that the next war would result in the end of the world.

More logical thinkers understood, or at least hoped, that the potential of mutual destruction would prevent a global nuclear war, but they also knew that tactical nuclear weapons would change future battlefields. Many believed that the plains of Europe that bordered the Iron Curtain between East and West would be the trigger point. Because air and artillery units could deliver small nuclear weapons, ground troops would have to be widely dispersed and highly mobile to survive. Killing would be done at a distance. There would be no place for blood warriors and their up-close-and-personal combat techniques.

The United States and Soviet Union built and fielded their mechanized armies and deployed their missiles and long-range bombers, but the threat of total destruction discouraged the superpowers from going to war. However, this state of affairs did not deter power seekers from overthrowing their own or other governments to increase their territory and influence.

In the Balkans, Central America, Southeast Asia, and other locations, a series of conflicts began. Guerrilla* tactics, including terrorism, prevailed. Conventional forces generally were not effective in combating guerrillas, and the American public hesitated to support the commitment of its sons to remote fights that seemed to have no direct effect on national interests or security.

As early as 1953 U.S. military commanders recognized the need to organize guerrilla or counterguerrilla units by forming the army Special Forces. It was not until President John F. Kennedy became convinced of the country's need for them in 1961, however, that they gained acceptance and became a major part of the U.S. Army. Wearing their green berets, as authorized by the president, Special Forces increased their operations, especially in Vietnam where they had been assisting the South Vietnamese against communist guerrillas since 1957.

Vietnam ultimately became America's largest counterguerrilla war and the longest conflict in its history. During the more-than-a-decade-long war the United States dropped 6,161,000 tons of bombs on North and South Vietnam and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Cambodia and Laos-more than three times the amount of explosives dropped on the Axis powers during World War II.

Bombs, however, had little effect against the highly mobile Vietcong guerrillas and North Vietnamese regulars, who used darkness, mountains, and jungles to mask their movement and hide their camps. Conventional American infantry experienced difficulties in finding and destroying the guerrillas, yet not a single U.S. Army brigade or division arrived in Vietnam with any long-range reconnaissance patrol person- nel or Ranger units. The marine corps c...

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