Infantry: June 12, 2001

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For the last half century, the 82nd Airborne division and the 101st Airmobile division have served as American elite "guards" units. In the last two decades, the 75th Ranger regiment has been added. These outfits accept only volunteers and have been the key elements of the nation's strategic reserve. Like most strategic reserve/guard units, they have rarely been used. There was some action in Vietnam, the Gulf War and some domestic crises. But by and large, if you served with these units you trained hard, but stayed home. But as we enter the 21st century, questions are being raised about just how useful these units would be. Combat parachute jumps appear to have had their golden age during World War II, and few have occurred since. The 101st Airmobile division requires hundreds of helicopters to work, and as a result is difficult to move long distances. The 82nd or Rangers can be dropped anywhere in the world on short notice but, horror of horrors, a recent RAND study pointed out that the lightly armed paratroopers would take heavy casualties if they got into a big fight. This kind of bloodletting is a no-no these days and proposals are being made to reorganize these divisions to make them basically spotters for artillery and air strikes. The army is not keen to mess with these outfits. They have a long tradition of hard fighting and the airborne generals warn that you can't create tough soldiers like this on short notice. There will always be instances when you need roughnecks who can do the breaking and entering type jobs. It's going to be an interesting debate. 

 


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