Infantry: An American Tradition


July 20, 2008: The war on terror, and especially the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, have brought back an old American battlefield tradition; tracking and stalking the enemy. Even before the American revolution, colonial militias used the hunting skills of their members to develop uniquely American infantry tactics. The generals never completely accepted or permanently adapted these skills. But in every war, and especially in World War II and subsequent conflicts, the tracking and stalking skills of troops were recognized, and utilized, on the battlefield.

During World War II, many divisions organized special scouting units, recruiting troops who were particularly skilled at tracking, and stalking game. These hunting skills are easily transferred to the battlefield. Indeed, the earliest armies made use of these skills, and primitive tribes still use "hunting parties" as "war bands" when the game is two-legged and able to fight back. The most successful army in history, that of the Medieval Mongols, was based on the hunting organization and tactics employed to survive on the great plains of Eurasia.

During the Korean War (1950-53), division commanders created "Ranger Companies," composed of their most skilled stalkers and scouts. These rangers were disbanded after Korea, but were revived in Vietnam, in the form of LRRPs (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols) and other specialized units. After Vietnam, the Ranger Regiment was created, but as a force of elite light infantry, not scouts. More of these ranger type skills were taught to all troops, but not in a concentrated enough way to make a difference.

But the U.S. Marine Corps noted that snipers, a development of the late 19th century smokeless powder (making it more difficult to spot a sniper who had just fired the more accurate and longer range rifles), also had to use stalking and tracking skills to be effective. So the marines established small "Scout-Sniper" units, and utilized both these skills to both find the enemy, and kill them if necessary.

In Iraq, policemen and detectives, serving there in large numbers as reservists, brought their concept of "street marts" to the growing bag of tricks developed for fighting in Iraq. Being able to spot who was a bad guy, dressed as a civilian and trying to stay undetected in the population, was something urban police are good at. In many infantry units, these skills were codified, and taught to troops. The marines took this a step farther, and developed a new stalking and tracking program for all marines.

The U.S. Army Special Forces, and commando troops world-wide, have long recognized the usefulness of these skills, and now the U.S. Army is trying to incorporate more of it into their regular training. After all, it's an old American tradition.


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