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The context is the film Black Hawk Down.

The film portrays most of the US Rangers as young men, often with no or little combat experience. Furthermore, some of them are chalk commanders, even with no combat experience at all.

For example:

  • Private Blackburn, 18, no combat experience
  • Private Grimes, 30-ish, no combat experience
  • Sergeant Eversmann, 20-ish, no combat experience
  • Sergeant Yutek, 20, little combat experience

This is apparent from several film quotes, the most obvious being the conversation between Eversmann and Blackburn before the beginning on the mission:

Eversmann: You okay?
Todd Blackburn: Excited. In a good way. I've been training my whole life for this.
Eversmann: You ever shot at anybody before?
Todd Blackburn: No Sergeant.
Eversmann: Me neither.

I was under the impression that the US Rangers were some of the best men the US Army had. I'm referring mostly to the 75th Ranger Regiment here, the one that fought in the Battle of Mogadishu. This is also reinforced by portrayal in video games, the obvious examples being Company of Heroes and Call of Duty.

Eversmann: Remember, we're Rangers not some sorry-ass JROTC. We're Elite. Let's act like it out there. Hoo-ah?
Rangers: Hoo-ah!

Is the film's depiction accurate? Is the 75th Ranger Regiment nothing special, just another army division with a fancy name? Or is it one of the better army divisions?

This confusion is further reinforced by the portrayal of Delta Force in Black Hawk Down and the Delta Force series of video games. While not as pronounced in the movie, the Delta Force soldiers still appear inexperienced, which seems contradictory for arguably the Special Forces' best men.

  • Two things: with regards to the tags it is unlikely they will be created since they fall under the military, second, do you want to restrict this to a particular point in time or just treat this as "in general"? I suspect the answer will change depending upon what the current geo-political climate is since it's hard to get combat experience when there aren't a lot of wars going on. Plus, a private with no combat experience isn't very surprising since they might be straight out of Ranger School. – rjzii Jul 31 '13 at 20:26
  • @rob, not necessarily to this point of time, answers about the situation during other major battles are welcome, just that this movie gives me a totally different impression compared to what I had. As for the tags, that'd be okay, it's just a suggestion. While a private with no experience isn't surprising (actually expected), what about a sergeant? (made a chalk leader by Captain Steele no less) – Mircea Chirea Jul 31 '13 at 20:29
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    @MirceaChirea Who makes the claim that Army Rangers have little or no combat experience? We don't use fiction as evidence of claims about the real world. – user5582 Jul 31 '13 at 20:52
  • @Sancho, the movie synopsis. It isn't completely fiction when it is a mostly accurate portrayal of a real battle. Just the selection of the cast makes the assumption I'm asking about. In fact the rules do allow this question: If you have a question about the accuracy of public claims made in the media or elsewhere, if you're interested in the evidence behind what you hear or read, then you are in the right place. – Mircea Chirea Jul 31 '13 at 20:56
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    @Sancho: film might take some liberties in interpretation, but basically it's a film version of non-fiction book. – vartec Aug 1 '13 at 8:39
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Best of ...

So first thing first, as for "best of Army" or "best of special forces", significant units portrayed in the movie are:

All of which are US Army units, all 3 are part of US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC). However only Delta and SOAR are classified as Tier One and are part of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), while Ranges are not. Thus arguably Delta, rather than Ranges could be considered "the very best of Army".

As for "the very best of special forces". I'm not going to do pointless exercise of without trying to argue if Delta is better that DEVGRU or vice-versa. There is CIA's Special Activities Division (SAD) which recruits the best of special Deltas, DEVGRU and STS 24th, of which the best are recruited for Special Operations Group (SOG) (source, mirrored here).

Combat experience

Now, in years prior to Battle of Mogadishu (1993) there where two significant conflicts in which US Army soldiers might have gotten combat experience.

Rangers, Deltas and SOAR all participated in the invasion of Panama. However that doesn't mean they've actually had contact with enemy, other than accepting their surrender.

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 General Manuel Noriega’s beach house, to neutralize Panamanian Defense Forces. The Rangers captured 1,014 Enemy Prisoners of War (EPW), and over 18,000 arms of various types. (source)

Also in the entire operation Just Cause only 200-300 enemies were killed, while 27,684 U.S. troops and over 300 aircraft were used.

SOAR inserted Delta units inserted into Iraq for purpose designating Scuds during Scud hunting operation (source). This consisted primarily in staying undetected and laser-designating the targets, rather than firing small arms at the enemy. On rare occasion that did however occur:

The book, Delta, by Terry Griswold and D.M. Giangreco, describes a Delta Force operation in which a team inserted by parachute into the desert. Due to a shortage of helicopters, a small Delta Force team performed a High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) jump from a USAF C-141b Starlifter aircraft. Once on the ground, the unit set up a OP close to a MSR. When they spotted a suspected SCUD convoy the Delta team called in a series of air strikes by US and UK attack aircraft. Later, as the Delta team attempted to covertly exfil the area, they bump into an Iraqi foot patrol. A brief firefight ensued, resulting in one Delta KIA and another with serious injuries. With extraction by helicopter unavailable, a MC-130 was called in to carry our a surface-to-air recovery (STAR) of the wounded trooper via the Fulton recovery system. This goes ahead successfully and the rest of the unit are later extracted by MH-60. (source)

Rangers participation in Desert Storm was very limited, their only deployment was to observation posts on Kuwait-Saudi Arabia border prior to ground assault. Their only combat experience was one of the observation posts being overrun in the battle of Khafji.

There were numerous Army infantry divisions participating, so it's possible that someone who later became Ranger or Delta had combat experience as regular grunt. However, unlike 2003 Invasion of Iraq and following occupation, Desert Storm was mostly fought on open desert, mostly by air assets and armor and mechanized infantry.

The definition of "combat experience"

There is assumption in the question, that combat experience means actually engaging enemy with direct fire weapons. In case of special forces such as Rangers or Deltas it's most often neither their mission nor even secondary objective. In fact more often avoiding detection is priority. Thus special forces which would infiltrate, carry out their mission and exfiltrate enemy territory w/o firing single shot from their weapons would still be considered to have gained combat experience.

Now vs then

The question is "Are many US Army Rangers young people with no combat experience?", however Battle of Mogadishu occurred in 1993. So past tense would be more appropriate. The answer above addresses implied question "In 1993, were many US Army Rangers young people with no combat experience?". What could have been the case in 1993 most likely is not be the case at all currently. For the last 12 years US has been engaged in one major war (Afghanistan) and for 9 of these years in another one (Iraq). 2.5 million soldiers have at one point in time been deployed to either of these war zones (source).

  • Ah, the classic "the very best of special forces" debate which is always best avoided. Although it would be nice to see a shout out to the TACPs, CCTs, or PJs. – rjzii Aug 2 '13 at 13:45
  • @rob: right, the guys you mention are from USAF's 24th STS which is also mentioned as source of recruits for SAD/SOG. – vartec Aug 2 '13 at 14:12
  • That's not the only place they are, but most people haven't even heard of them in the first place either. – rjzii Aug 2 '13 at 14:17
  • I've just realized that 1993 was 20 years ago, I'm so old ;-) – vartec Aug 4 '13 at 22:06
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The Rangers that fought in the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993 were part of company B of the 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. This unit was formed in 1984 and its only previous combat experience was during the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989 (Source: 75th Ranger Regiment history) where it took part in the battle for Rio Hato airfield on December 20. (Source: The U.S. Army Center of Military History: Operation Just Cause)

So in 1993, any soldiers who had been recruited since 1989 would have seen no combat. (And even soldiers who had been serving in the battalion longer than four years could have fought at most that one day at Rio Hato.)

A soldier can only gain combat experience in war, and sometimes there aren't enough wars to go round.

[A clarification since a couple of commenters seem to have misunderstood: the question title says many, not all. Some members of company B had combat experience; for example Jeff Struecker was at Rio Hato. But the general point is that soldiers can't get combat experience unless their unit is involved in a battle, and in 1993, the only recent battles were those in the invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War.]

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    wrong assumption. Just because the unit has seen no combat does not mean the members of it haven't seen combat in other capacities, other units they were assigned to prior to joining that unit. – jwenting Aug 1 '13 at 5:13
  • jwenting is right, to apply for ranger training, one must already be US Army soldier in a combat unit, so the fact that 75th Ranger Regiment haven't seen battle isn't enough of a proof that soldiers have not seen combat. – vartec Aug 1 '13 at 14:53
  • @vartec is incorrect, (or at least was as of 2003-2007). It is entirely possible to enlist with airborne school and ranger school on your contract, and wind up (after schooling) in a ranger unit as your first non-training unit. To get into Special Forces branch you need to already be a soldier, but the green berets and the rangers are not at all the same thing. – Ben Barden Aug 4 '17 at 13:11
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None of the conditions for membership in the 75th Ranger Regiment involve combat experience (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/75th_Ranger_Regiment_(United_States)#Modern_Ranger_selection_and_training).

Given that combat experience is not a criteria for selection into the 75th Ranger Regiment, it is possible that many of the members do not have combat experience.

The average age of Ranger School students is 23. (ref)

This article says:

The Army’s celebrated Ranger School, once coveted by young soldiers eager to prove their mettle by surviving two months of grueling simulated combat, is finding it hard to compete with another alternative: actual combat.

[...]

But others, including some who are Ranger qualified, believe that combat trumps training, that the hard-earned Ranger tab worn on the left shoulder after completing a brutal 61-day regimen through mountains, woods and swamps, on minimal food and sleep, is no substitute for years spent fighting real-life enemies in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Given that, it seems to me that most people would be entering the 75th Ranger Regiment (after completing Ranger School) without combat experience.

  • Average age of 23 for class in which 53% are lieutenants or above. They don't give average age for enlisted men. – vartec Aug 1 '13 at 8:32

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