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The history of Army Rangers from 1775 to now

The U.S. Army Ranger history predates the Revolutionary War. In the mid 1700s, Capt. Benjamin Church and Maj. Robert Rogers both formed Ranger units to fight during the King Phillips War and the French and Indian War. Rogers wrote the 19 standing orders that are still in use today.


An interpretive portrait of Maj. Robert Rogers by Johann Martin Will. Portrait: Public Domain via Wikipedia

In 1775, the Continental Congress formed eight companies of expert riflemen to fight in the Revolutionary War. Later, during 1777, this force of hardy frontiersmen, commanded by Dan Morgan, was known as the Corps of Rangers. Francis Marion, "The Swamp Fox," organized another famous Revolutionary War Ranger element, known as Marion's Partisans.

During the War of 1812, companies of U.S. Rangers were raised from among the frontier settlers as part of the regular army. Throughout the war, they patrolled the frontier from Ohio to western Illinois on horseback and by boat. They participated in many skirmishes and battles with the British and their Indian allies. Many famous men belonged to Ranger units during the 18th and 19th centuries, including Daniel Boone and Abraham Lincoln.

The Civil War included Rangers such as John Singleton Mosby, who was the most famous Confederate Ranger. His raids on Union camps and bases were so effective - part of North-Central Virginia soon became known as Mosby's Confederacy.

Some of Mosby's Rangers. Photo: Public Domain via Wikipedia

After the Civil War, more than half a century passed without military Ranger units in America. However, during World War II, from 1941-1945, the United States, using British Commando standards, activated six Ranger infantry battalions.

Then-Maj. William O. Darby, who was later a brigadier general, organized and activated the 1st Ranger Battalion at Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, June 19, 1942. The 1st Ranger Battalion participated in the North African landing at Arzeu, Algeria, the Tunisian Battles, and the critical Battle of El Guettar.

The 3rd and 4th Ranger Battalions were activated and trained by Col. Darby in Africa near the end of the Tunisian Campaign. The 1st, 3rd, and 4th Battalions formed the Ranger force. They began the tradition of wearing the scroll shoulder sleeve insignia, which has been officially adopted for today's Ranger battalions.

The 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions participated in the D-Day landings at Omaha Beach, Normandy, June 6, 1944. It was during the bitter fighting along the beaches that the Rangers gained their motto, "Rangers, lead the way!" They conducted daring missions to include scaling the cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc, overlooking Omaha Beach, to destroy German gun emplacements trained on the beachhead.

World War II Rangers demonstrate the ladders they used to scale Point du Hoc. Photo: US Army

The 6th Ranger Battalion operated in the Philippines and formed the rescue force that liberated American prisoners of war, or POWs, from a Japanese POW camp at Cabanatuan in January 1945. The 6th Battalion destroyed the Japanese POW camp and evacuated more than 500 prisoners.

The 75th Infantry Regiment was first organized in the China-Burma-India Theater as Task Force Galahad, on Oct. 3, 1943. It was during the campaigns in the China-Burma-India Theater that the regiment became known as Merrill's Marauders after its commander, Maj. Gen. Frank D. Merrill. The Ranger battalions were deactivated at the end of World War II.

The outbreak of hostilities in Korea, June 1950, again signaled the need for Rangers. Fifteen Ranger companies were formed during the Korean War. The Rangers went to battle throughout the winter of 1950 and the spring of 1951. They were nomadic warriors, attached first to one regiment and then to another. They performed "out front" work - scouting, patrolling, raids, ambushes, spearheading assaults, and as counterattack forces, to regain lost positions.

3rd Ranger Company soldiers check their gear before a patrol in Korea. Photo: Public Domain via Wikipedia

Rangers were again called to serve their country during the Vietnam War. The 75th Infantry was reorganized once more, Jan. 1, 1969, as a parent regiment under the Combat Arms Regimental System. Fifteen separate Ranger companies were formed from this reorganization. Thirteen served proudly in Vietnam until inactivation, Aug. 15, 1972.

In January 1974, Gen. Creighton Abrams, Army chief of staff, directed the formation of a Ranger battalion. The 1st Battalion (Ranger), 75th Infantry, was activated and parachuted into Fort Stewart, Ga., July 1, 1974. The 2nd Battalion (Ranger), 75th Infantry, followed with activation, Oct. 1, 1974. The 3rd Battalion, 75th Infantry (Ranger), and Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 75th Infantry (Ranger), received their colors on Fort Benning, Ga., Oct. 3, 1984. The 75th Ranger Regiment was designated during February 1986.

The modern Ranger battalions were first called upon in 1980. Elements of 1st Battalion, 75th Infantry (Ranger), participated in the Iranian hostage rescue attempts.

In October 1983, 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions spearheaded Operation Urgent Fury by conducting a daring low-level parachute assault to seize Point Salines Airfield and rescue American citizens at True Blue Medical Campus.

Army Rangers parachute into Grenada during Operation Urgent Fury Photo: US Army

The entire 75th Ranger Regiment participated in Operation Just Cause. Rangers spearheaded the action by conducting two important operations. Simultaneous parachute assaults were conducted onto Torrijos/Tocumen International Airport, Rio Hato Airfield and Gen. Manuel Noriega's beach house, to neutralize Panamanian Defense Forces. The Rangers captured 1,014 enemy prisoners of war and more than 18,000 arms of various types.

Elements of Company B, and 1st Platoon Company A, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, deployed to Saudi Arabia, Feb. 12, 1991 to April 15, 1991, in support of Operation Desert Storm.

In August 1993, elements of 3rd Battalion and 75th Ranger Regiment, deployed to Somalia to assist United Nations forces in bringing order to a desperately chaotic and starving nation. The Rangers conducted a daring daylight raid with 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, Oct. 3, 1993. For nearly 18 hours, the Rangers delivered devastating firepower, killing an estimated 600 Somalis in what many have called the fiercest ground combat since Vietnam.

The 75th Ranger Regiment deployed Regimental Reconnaissance Detachment, Team 2, and a command and control element to Kosovo in support of Task Force Falcon, Nov. 24, 2000.

Army Rangers fire a 120mm mortar system during training. Photo: Pfc. Nahaniel Newkirk/US Army

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Rangers were called upon to lead the way in the Global War on Terrorism. The 3rd Battalion and 75th Ranger Regiment spearheaded ground forces by conducting an airborne assault to seize Objective Rhino in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Oct. 19, 2001. The 3rd Battalion employed the first airborne assault in Iraq to seize Objective Serpent in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, March 28, 2003.

Due to the changing nature of warfare and the need for an agile and sustainable Ranger force, the Regimental Special Troops Battalion, or RSTB, was activated, July 17, 2006. The RSTB conducts sustainment, intelligence, reconnaissance and maintenance missions, which were previously accomplished by small detachments assigned to the regimental headquarters and then attached within each of the three Ranger battalions. The activation of the RSTB signifies a major waypoint in the transformation of the Ranger force from a unit designed for short-term "contingency missions" to continuous combat operations without loss in lethality or flexibility.

Photo: US Army Edward N. Johnson

Today, Rangers from all four of its current battalions continue to lead the way in overseas contingency operations. The 75th Ranger Regiment is conducting sustained combat operations in multiple countries deploying from various locations in the United States, a task that is unprecedented for the regiment. Rangers continue to conduct combat operations with almost every deployed special operations, conventional and coalition force in support of both Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The Ranger Regiment is executing a wide range of diverse operations that include airborne and air assaults into Afghanistan and Iraq, mounted infiltrations behind enemy lines, complex urban raids and rescue operations.

In addition to conducting missions in support of overseas contingency operations, the 75th Ranger Regiment continues to train in the United States and overseas to prepare for future no-notice worldwide combat deployments. The regiment also continues to recruit, assess and train the next generation of Rangers and Ranger leadership.

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