On October 25, 1983, Operation Urgent Fury unfolded when the 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions, 82nd Airborne Division, Marine Corps 8th Marine Regiment, U.S. Army Delta Force, and Navy SEALs invaded the island nation of Grenada. 

The military operation, conducted along with members of the Jamaican forces and troops from the Regional Security System, overwhelmed the Grenadian and Cuban forces in the country in a matter of days.

However, despite Operation Urgent Fury being a cakewalk for the U.S. forces, it brought to the forefront several flaws in the U.S. warfighting machine. The inability to communicate between the services and the lack of joint interoperability and coordination would bring sweeping changes to the way Americans go to war. This would lead to the Goldwater-Nichols Act and soon the creation of the Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

The Background to the Invasion

Grenada, a small island, located about 100 miles north of Venezuela, was granted its independence from the U.K. in 1974. Maurice Bishop, the leader of the Marxist-Leninist New Jewel Movement seized power in 1979. However, Bishop was relatively a moderate in foreign policy which upset the more hard-line members of the military. So, on October 19, 1983, the military staged a coup. It arrested and executed Bishop, his partner, three cabinet ministers, and two union leaders. It appointed Hudson Austin as the new head of government.

The Governor-General of Grenada, Paul Scoon, was also arrested during the coup and held under house arrest. When Bishop was executed, Scoon had little real authority, except for a constitutional provision that allowed him to appeal to other nations for help. So, he asked the U.S. to intervene.

President Reagan justified the U.S. intervention by stating that the American government was worried about the fate of the 600 American medical students going to school at St. George. 

Rangers during Operation Urgent Fury
Rangers conduct a quick meeting on the ground in Grenada in 1983. (U.S. Army)

At the time of the invasion, there were nearly 800 Cubans on the island. Fidel Castro had at different times identified most of them as construction workers while at others called them soldiers.

The Cuban commander, Colonel Pedro Comas, later said that he issued most of the construction workers with weapons for self-defense. The Cuban soldiers and “construction workers” were forbidden to surrender to the American forces.  There were some stories floated around afterward that the construction workers were actually Cuban Special Forces or Combat Engineers.