Infantry: The Other Grunts


June 16, 2009: There are 35,000 U.S. Army military police (MPs). Their work involves guarding prisons, as well as convoy protection, police work on bases and security in general. There was a very high casualty rate for the reservist military police guarding convoys in Iraq. As a result of the Iraq experience, MPs were given even more combat training. While peacetime MPs spend most of their time performing security and police duties, in wartime, they are often in the combat zone, and frequently in combat. In Iraq this was even more the case. So now, MPs are trained to the point where they can be relied on to act as light infantry, doing most of the jobs regular infantry perform.

The U.S. Army Military Police (MP) units have long been present in combat zones (and getting killed as a result) were never included among the combat arms. In past conflicts, truck drivers and MPs have been in combat zones and been involved in combat. But, again, never to the degree of the infantry, or, except in rare situations, the other combat arms. Moreover, the convoy battles in Iraq used tactics that tried to avoid close combat. Troops were taught to step on the gas if they came under fire, although if forced to stop, they were also taught how to get out and shoot at the enemy. But overall, most of the firefights over there involve American infantry, doing what they were trained to do.

But the increasing use of MPs in combat situation in Iraq led to efforts to give the battle hardened MPs some recognition. So three years ago, MPs who were in combat were among the first to receive the new “Combat Action Badge” (CAB).

This came after years of effort by the other combat arms, until the army relented and created the CAB for troops in armored, cavalry, combat engineering and field artillery units. Since World War II, the infantry have been eligible for the “Combat Infantry Badge” (CIB) if they served in an infantry unit, as infantry, in a combat zone. Holders of the CIB are much respected in the army. This is because the CIB indicates someone who has not just seen a little combat, but has spent time in the combat zone. The CIB represents having gone through sustained combat, the day after day of getting shot at and living very rough indeed. Sustained combat is a recent development, seen on a wide scale for the first time during World War I (1914-18). This continued during World War II. Sustained combat not only increased the chance of getting killed or wounded, but also gave us more combat fatigue.

Troops in armored, cavalry, combat engineering and field artillery units, overall, suffer only a fraction of the casualties infantrymen do. But these other “combat arms” do get hammered much more than everyone else in the army. Even during World War II, 75 percent of the people in the army never heard a shot fired in anger. But the non-infantry combat units sometimes see more intense combat than the infantry, such as when combat engineers get out in front of the infantry to clear minefields and obstacles during a major attack. But overall, the infantry have always suffered most of the casualties (about 80 percent in the last century.)

But that has been slowly changing. In Iraq, during some weeks, the infantry often took less than half the casualties. And many artillery and armor units were temporarily reassigned (after some refresher training) to infantry duties (mainly patrolling.) This is nothing new. During World War II, tank crewmen often served with infantry units. When a tank got hit, most of the crew usually survived, and got out of the vehicle uninjured. They were then expected to "fight as infantry", at least until a new tank was available for them or their damaged tank was repaired. Artillerymen keep their infantry skills up to date, and regularly set up defensive positions when they are in the field. In World War II, artillery units sometimes got hit by enemy infantry, or enemy artillery. Despite all this, these men have never been eligible for the CIB.

That changed with the introduction of the CAB, but the many non-combat troops, especially the MPs, who had been in lots of action, protested. The army looked at the casualty figures, and decided to make all military personnel eligible for the CAB, and many MPs were soon awarded one.




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