Retired General: Train, Pay Army and Marine Infantry as an Elite Force

U.S. Marines with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, participate in the Infantry Immersion Training Course at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Jan. 25, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Robert L. Kuehn)
U.S. Marines with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, participate in the Infantry Immersion Training Course at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Jan. 25, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Robert L. Kuehn)

A year after the launch of the Defense Department's Close Combat Lethality Task Force (CCLTF), Army and Marine infantry may be moving closer to being transformed into an elite force, much like the 75th Ranger Regiment.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, a key adviser to the CCLTF, told Military.com that he believes Marine Corps 0311 and Army 11B infantrymen should be recruited, selected, trained and treated as a specialized force.

"Infantry is not a branch -- O311s, 11Bs -- 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," Scales said, talking about retired Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' vision for the task force.

"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."

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Scales said the concept of creating an excepted force is not new, referring to sailors who work on submarines.

"The nuclear submariners are different; they are excepted," he 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 said.

Fortunately, Scales said, Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, has embraced the idea of creating elite, close-combat forces, an effort that has paid off over the last 17 years of war.

"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," Scales said.

The key will be having the right template for "recruiting, selection, pay, dedicated training, leadership -- all the things that need to be done differently for the Army and Marine infantry," he said.

"We spent a long time looking at that, what you need for a template, and we were all over the place," Scales said. "We went to Marine Force Recon, we looked at Delta Force, and it seems to me that the sweet spot in that is the Ranger Regiment.

"You don't turn them into individuals like you do with Delta. It's still a team sport at the Ranger Regiment level, but you give them the resources and the exceptional ability to recruit, select, train and retain, and you get to a level of competence, frankly, that is unparalleled in the world."

Joe L'Etoile, director of the CCLTF, said the task force has started efforts to develop a system for screening individuals to see if they have the attributes to be successful in close combat.

"We have worked with TAPAS, the Tailored Adaptive Personality Assessment System, which is essentially a personality test ... to find people that have the attributes that propense them for success in close combat," he said. "So we have efforts underway to identify those; that would be a cognitive factor."

The CCLTF also supports multiple programs "to look at physical X-factors" and figure out "what are the things physically that we need to do to optimize human performance," L'Etoile said. "There is a universal recognition that human performance is an area where we can make exponential increases in performance."

Scales acknowledged that there will be challenges to overcome along the way, but said the potential payoff is too great to ignore.

"Let's say instead of having 3,000 Ranger-quality, light infantry, we have 55,000," he said. "How much of a difference is that going to make in our ability to fight wars in the future? I'll tell you ... in terms of outcomes and success on the battlefield at a lowest possible cost, I think it's far more impactful than a new aircraft carrier or a new fighter."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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