Sunday, June 14, 2015

Five Awesome Facts About The Army

I used to be in the Coast Guard, and that means that while I spent a lot of time around the Navy, Marine Corps, and even Air Force, I almost never saw anyone from the Army.

…Of course, that doesn’t mean they weren’t actually there.

The Army is the oldest of all the military branches. Over the last 240 years, it’s gone just about everywhere and done just about everything. So when I started making a list of awesome facts about the Army the same way I did for the Coast Guard, I found it a little hard to surprise anyone.

See, most of the basic facts about the Army are intuitive: of course it’s the largest branch. Of course it’s the oldest. Of course it’s been to [name a country]. But, much like the Army itself, I’m not really one to back down from a challenge. So I did a little more research, and here's what I came up with.


1. The Army was the first service afloat

The Coast Guard and the Navy always battle over which service was first to hit the waves. But as it turns out, the Army beat us both. In May of 1775, almost six months before the Continental Navy came into existence, the Army captured a schooner on Lake Champlain and renamed her Liberty. Outfitted with new guns and crewed by Continental soldiers, Liberty sailed the Great Lakes, carrying out raids, captured other vessels, and even acting as a flagship for none other than Benedict Arnold (y’know, before he betrayed us to the British).

And that wasn’t the last time the Army set sail: today, they have over 14,000 vessels in service, working to ferry troops, carry supplies, and act as mobile repair stations for vehicles and aircraft. All in all, the Army has more boats than the Coast Guard or Navy, and has been fighting on the water for longer than both.

2. The Army learned to fight from a German mercenary

If the Revolutionary War had a Han Solo, it was probably Friedrich von Steuben. Von Steuben had no stake the American fight; he was a Prussian-born soldier of fortune who – despite being deeply in debt – agreed to train the Continental Army for only the promise of pay after the war. Not only that, but (spoiler alert) like Han Solo, he arrived right in the Army’s darkest hour: at Valley Forge, where troops were living in squalor and eating their own boots to survive.

Von Steuben not only trained the troops in discipline and tactics, he set sanitation standards that reduced disease and improved quality of life. Without him, the Army might never have pushed back the British, let alone survived until 1779.

More impressively, despite not speaking any English, von Steuben successfully wrote the Army’s drill manual and instructed troops. He spoke through a translator, who would interpret his words. Including his cursing.

3. For four years, the Army was called “the Legion of the United States”

In 1792, the Secretary of War, Henry Knox, decided to drastically reorganize the Army. Part of this was because Congress feared a standing military; part of it was because Knox believed the American terrain demanded a different kind of fighting force. And part of it was just because the Founders were total geeks for Roman history (see also: every building in D.C.).

So the Army became a Legion, based on the legions of Ancient Rome. They mixed heavy and light ground troops with artillery and cavalry, in one of the earliest American experiments in combined arms. The Legion model allowed troops to be sub-divided into small, versatile teams capable of tackling asymmetric threats. Although the experiment ended in 1796, it’s pretty similar to how the Army fights today. Only, their name isn’t as cool.

4. West Point was founded primarily to create scientists and engineers

And until 1835, was the only school in the country that produced them. If it seems strange that the U.S. Military Academy was created more to train scientists more than soldiers, think about who was President at the time: Thomas Jefferson, who had spent decades opposing the very idea of a standing army. But after everything that happened between the Revolution and his arrival in office, Jefferson had come to realize that defense was necessary. And in Jefferson’s mind, the best means of defending the country – both from foreign militaries and its from own – was to teach young officers to wield not just weapons, but knowledge.

5. The Army still fights on horseback

The last horse-mounted charge by the U.S. Army took place in 1942, on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines. By that point, the rest of the Army had already mechanized and the term “cavalry” would soon refer to troops using armor or helicopters, not horses.

Then the U.S. invaded Afghanistan.

…Okay, 60 years later, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. They found the terrain to be a little difficult.

Army Special Forces discovered that the only effective way to fight alongside their Afghan allies across the country’s rugged slopes was on horseback. Except it had been close to a century since the Army stopped training soldiers to ride, shoot, and carry gear on horses. So, working in conjunction with the Marine Corps, the Army revived equestrian training in 2011.

I guess the lesson is, when it comes to combat, you have to prepared for anything to come back into play, whether it’s the Roman Legion or horseback riding. And over the last 240 years, the U.S. Army has proved to be incredibly versatile in just that way: never afraid to step into uncharted waters (literally or metaphorically) when the fight called for it.

But maybe we should teach them to use sailing ships again…just in case.

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Also check out:

   Five Awesome Facts About The Coast Guard

1 comment:

  1. I love this! Sharing with my veteran Army Sgt. husband. :)