In one of his more important undertakings as Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis had launched a project to review and improve the lethality of the military’s close-combat units. The Close Combat Lethality Task Force (CCLTF) is examining how it can increase the combat effectiveness of troops engaged in close combat.

In an interview with Military.com, retired Army Major General Robert Scales, a combat veteran who received the Silver Star for his actions during the Battle of Hamburger Hill in Vietnam, suggested that the task force is aiming quite high in its quest for improved combat efficiency. In fact, Major General Scales envisions turning all infantrymen into Rangers.

“Infantry is not a branch – 0311s, 11Bs (respectively the infantry military occupational specialities [MOS] for the Marines Corps and Army) – it’s not that. It’s a function. It’s those people on the ground who have line of sight of the enemy and kill them face to face,” said Major General Scales. “Secretary Mattis said from the very beginning…the only way this will work is if we treat close combat as an excepted function. If we build that functionality into the task force, it will work. If we fail to do it, if we fall back and treat the infantry as just another branch, it won’t work.”

To achieve their goal, the project’s managers have reached out to the special operations units of the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in an attempt to see what they have done to make their units so lethal. They studied Delta Force, Marine Force Recon, and the 75th Ranger Regiment and concluded that the lattermost was the more appealing template for the task force.

“The nuclear submariners are different; they are excepted,” Major General Scales said. “They are treated, trained, paid, recruited, selected differently than the rest of the Navy. Why? Because of what they do. It’s the same thing with the infantry. Unfortunately, over the last 220 years of our republic, the infantry at peacetime have been just sort of place-fillers. If you need somebody to do police, call up the guys who aren’t doing anything, the infantry,” he added.

The CCLTF found that the Ranger Regiment’s approach to recruitment, selection, and training enables it to produce what is arguably the most lethal light infantry unit in the world. Conversely, Delta Force, alongside SEAL Team Six—the military’s premier counterterrorism special mission unit—were deemed too focused on the individual as opposed to the Rangers’ focus on large-scale operations.

“If you except close combat as JSOC does—SEALs and Delta and the Rangers and so forth—and you look at what they do, what they are capable of doing, and you think to yourself, ‘Well, holy crap. You get that much more effectiveness by treating them differently?’ So why don’t we treat them all differently?” added the retired general.

But the Ranger Regiment, and indeed most of the special operations community, is facing recruitment and retention issues. And here lies the rub. If these units can’t achieve 100 percent manpower, how could the Marine Corps or the Army recruit, select, and train the thousands of infantrymen to the same standards? Ultimately, it’s all about standards. Special operations forces (SOF) aren’t special because they get to play with fancy toys; they’re special because of the physically and mentally rigorous selection processes and subsequent training. Otherwise, any unit would be able to perform their duties. The CCLTF is certainly prudent in its attempt to reorganize close-combat units, but they might be shooting for the stars with this effort in particular.

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