Cover image for Death ground : today's American infantry in battle
Death ground : today's American infantry in battle
Bolger, Daniel P., 1957-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Novato, Calif. : Presidio Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
x, 359 pages : illustrations, maps ; 23 cm
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UA28 .B65 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"In Death Ground professional soldier and historian Daniel P. Bolger describes today's American infantry from an insider's perspective. Through his lucid examination of seven recent American infantry campaigns, Bolger explains what happens when young soldiers clash by night with rifle, grenade, and bayonet in hand. Welcome to the world of combat riflemen. Welcome to death ground."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Author Notes

Daniel P. Bolger is a career army officer currently serving at the Pentagon following a two-year brigade command in the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Colonel Bolger speaks from experience about the infantry. The commander of a brigade in Korea, he writes clearly, intelligently, and eloquently about the various types of infantry making up the thin line, less than 100,000 strong, that the U.S. can put into the field; those types range from heaviest (mechanized and subordinated to their Bradley infantry carriers), to lightest (the Rangers). Bolger also gives superior accounts of less-known aspects of well-known campaigns (e.g., Panama, the Gulf, Somalia) and of actions few nonspecialists have heard of, such as that of U.S. Marines in Liberia. He is passionately convinced that the infantry is now being asked to do too much with too little, as the U.S. maintains an armored force suitable only for a cold war long thawed. Both the writing and the extensive references carry conviction that casual readers and serious students alike will appreciate. The colonel continues to serve his country and his readers honorably. --Roland Green

Publisher's Weekly Review

Bolger, a serving army colonel, is an established writer of military fiction (Feast of Bones) and military analysis (The Battle for Hunger Hill). This is his most significant work to date, important both for students of the contemporary U.S. Army and for general readers‘even those normally uninterested in military matters. Bolger documents the infantry's change, over the past 60 years, from a mass force of citizen soldiers to a small body of elite professionals. He presents each currently existing type of infantry‘paratroopers, air assault, mechanized, light, rangers and marines‘in recent action. For the paratroops, it's the jump into Panama during Operation Just Cause. The helicopter-borne air assault battalions and the mechanized infantry are showcased, along with the rangers, in Operation Desert Storm. The light infantry's finest hour was in Mogadishu, where its flexibility and fighting power saved a trapped American raiding party. The marines appear as peace enforcers in Liberia. In each case study, Bolger emphasizes the importance of quality and preparation, making it quite clear that will without skill and motivation without competence are certain routes to disaster. His style is colloquial and his tone triumphalist, but his message and his subtext are both clear: the grunt has evolved into a warrior, but the gain in expertise brings its own perils. While praising today's infantry as the best the country has ever fielded, Bolger raises the prospect that the U.S. military, by emphasizing technology and economy, will leave the country with an elite infantry too small to sustain heavy losses and too specialized to be quickly replaced. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



PROLOGUE   A Few Good Men In difficult ground, press on; in encircled ground, devise stratagems; in death ground, fight. --Sun Tzu, The Art of War   Everybody expected shooting, serious shooting. Tension, bad karma--bad juju indeed, to use the local lingo-- hung in the humid evening air, as strong as the sweet tang of rotting garbage, as pervasive as the dull stench of lingering human waste, as unnerving as the strong aroma of drying animal blood. Yes, somebody was definitely going to get it this time. The only question involved exactly when and where.   Nobody bothered to ask why. That was obvious, given the antagonists. Put U.S. Marine riflemen and Haitian paramilitary toughs at close quarters, and a clash could be expected sooner or later. It had always been that way in and around the squalid port town of Cap-Haitien. Both sides knew the deal.   The two groups were supposed to be working together to keep order. Clever men in tailored suits back in Washington cooked up this scheme, but they missed some rather important realities out among the dusty shanties of Haiti. It might sooner be expected that Marines and Imperial Japanese soldiers would cooperate in policing Iwo Jima in 1945. No, the Marines knew their enemy. They had always known. The Haitian gunmen knew, too. As they used to say in western movies, the town just wasn't big enough for the two of them.   It only made sense. After all, the Marines had been gearing up for months to storm ashore in Cap-Haitien, the island republic's second city, with orders to destroy the Forces Armées d'Haiti (FAd'H) and their police auxiliaries. Embarked aboard the amphibious assault carrier USS Wasp and the big landing ships USS Nashville and USS Ashland, the young riflemen prepared to go ashore via old, rattling CH-46E Frog helicopters and the ungainly, slab-sided, armored, clanking amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs, sometimes called amphibious tractors, or amtracs), which were capable of swimming in to the beaches fronting Cap-Haitien. Rehearsed, briefed, rerehearsed, rebriefed, definitely anxious to get going, the men waited for the traditional, fateful predawn command: "Land the landing force."   The order never came. Or, to be more precise, it came in an entirely different manner. Things changed. There would be no forced entry into Haiti, no Inchon, no Saipan, and, thank God, no Tarawa--not this time. The bad guys knuckled under, and they had the good form to do so in the nick of time.   Just as American Marine and Army assault forces moved into position to deliver an overwhelming blow, Haiti's Lt. Gen. Raoul Cédras and his junta cracked. Rather than take their chances trying to oppose U.S. firepower, the military clique agreed to step down without fighting and turn over authority to Haiti's elected president, a thoroughly unpredictable yet undeniably charismatic defrocked priest named Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Americans would land anyway, to ensure that Cédras and company kept their bargain.   Like attack dogs with leashes jerked tight just before they slipped from the cages, the American contingents responded to their masters in Washington, and they definitely showed some teeth. In full battle array, armed and dangerous, Marines and soldiers landed unopposed on 19-20 September 1994. Rather than destroy Haiti's armed forces and paramilitary echelons, now the Americans intended to cooperate with the FAd'H to keep a lid on things in the Haitian streets until Cédras and his associates departed and Aristide and his entourage arrived. Anywhere else, that handover would have happened within hours. But this was Haiti. Nothing ever moved that fast there, except bullets.   So for more than three weeks, Americans were expected to work with the inept Haitian FAd'H troops to keep the country functional--no mean task in Haiti, which barely functioned even in normal times. The bulk of the populace welcomed the American "intervasion" but chafed under the continued presence of hated FAd'H bullyboys.3 The FAd'H seemed like a supporting cast from a Marx brothers production--ill organized, sloppily attired, unloved, and incompetent. But they knew how to crack heads, and their ample suite of firearms was only too real.   In and around the sprawling capital of Port-au-Prince, U.S. soldiers tried to work with the FAd'H to keep a semblance of order, to make this shotgun marriage function for the short time it needed to do so. It wasn't easy. From their arrival, light infantrymen of the 10th Mountain Division found challenges aplenty. Made up of a good number of veterans of brutal city firefights in Somalia the year before, the 10th Mountain men faced an endless string of "incidents": wild mob scenes, beatings of Haitians by the FAd'H, bellicose confrontations with khaki-clad local police, random hostile gestures, and stray gunshots aplenty. Not surprisingly, the American soldiers and their erstwhile local partners spent as much time watching one another as quelling overly boisterous crowds.   The Marines faced a different, more difficult situation, if only because they wore the famous globe and anchor. The Corps had been to this party before, and neither side had much enjoyed it. In 1994, Marines landed with a reputation built on nineteen years of aggressive and successful counterinsurgent operations conducted throughout Haiti. Two generations of "Old Corps" Marines cut their teeth chasing the elusive, deadly Haitian cacos (guerrillas). Along with numerous superb sergeants and young officers who led the Corps across the Pacific in World War II, future generals, legends such as Smedley D. Butler, Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, Alexander A. Vandegrift, and Herman "Hard Head" Hanneken, all served in the restive republic.5 It happened in another lifetime, another era really, way back in 1915-34, in a thankless "banana war" ignored by the American public then and now. But the Haitians remembered.   In the oral tradition that characterizes this illiterate land, every Haitian heard stories of the mighty U.S. Marines, the de facto rulers of their country from 1915 until 1934. When Haitian nationalists talked about American evils and gringo imperialism, they meant Marines, the awful bogeymen, the big men who stalked their grandfathers and great-grandfathers to their deaths in the hills, the relentless, pitiless Yankee Marines. Those same great warriors built the roads, taught sanitation, supervised elections, and, in the style of authoritarians everywhere, made the trains run on time. Indeed, anyone driving the crumbling Highway 100 from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haitien traveled thanks to Marine Corps construction efforts.6 Yet for all their prowess and achievements, the Marines weren't Haitians. They were interlopers, uninvited and unwanted self-appointed guardians in a proud, defiant island state that had thrown off its French overlords in 1804 and never looked back. The Marine occupation stood as a blemish on an otherwise clean record of independence. In a country without much else, that meant something.   And now, with a United Nations mandate in hand, the Marines were going back into the streets of ramshackle, seaside Cap-Haitien, just like old times. As in those bygone days, like their caco forefathers, a good number of armed Haitians didn't like it. Not all were happy to see Cédras and his FAd'H go away, especially in willful Cap-Haitien, where being different from Port-au-Prince sometimes became an end in itself. Whatever happened down south in the capital carried only so much weight. The people of Cap-Haitien, as usual, would choose their own way.   The crowds seemed happy enough as the Americans appeared, but anyone could sense a ripple of discontent, a potential for the lid to blow off. After all, this was Haiti, land of the machete. Knowledgeable U.S. Army civil affairs specialists summarized conditions without any sugar coating: "Jungle law in effect."7 In this lethal cauldron, this dark, cramped urban jungle known as Cap-Haitien, the FAd'H could stage one shocking event and play it out to the tune of a good number of dead gringos. Let that go down, especially on a live news camera feed, and all bets were off. It had happened that way in Somalia less than a year before, hadn't it?   Colonel Thomas S. Jones, the Marine commander, fully expected that brand of trouble. Given a populace of some 75,000 to placate, and facing some 400 to 500 FAd'H trigger pullers and an equal number of affiliated militia types none too happy about the turn of events, Jones brought ashore a task force totaling less than 1,900, built around the 2d Battalion, 2d Marine Regiment.8 With Port-au-Prince cooking away, Tom Jones anticipated no reinforcement from the 10th Mountain Division for at least a week, maybe longer.   With only a few hundred Marine riflemen at hand, Jones and his chain of command drew on the strong heritage of America's most traditional armed forces. The commander consciously built on the Corps' reputation in Haiti, including symbolic measures such as calling his task force's region of responsibility Area of Operations Hanneken, after the Medal of Honor winner. Jones took time to remind his young fighters of what their predecessors did back in 1915-34. As in that distant campaign, Colonel Jones and his task force emphasized gaining and maintaining popular support, just the way the Old Corps had done their business in Haiti, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere during the era of gunboat diplomacy. 10 These ideas resonated, both with the Marines and with their foes.   But Tom Jones went beyond tradition. He took a hard look at the Haiti of 1994. After a careful study of his mission and the situation, the Marine commander determined that the FAd'H in Cap-Haitien did not plan to respond to Cédras in the capital. "Reported to be led by one of the most disciplined, hard-line commanders," Jones wrote later, "these forces had discarded their uniforms, pledging to resist U.S. intervention." 11 You couldn't play nice with these characters, not if you wanted to retain the support of the citizenry, who had endured indignities, beatings, torture, and death from this pack of FAd'H hard cases. In the words of a Marine historian, the colonel explicitly "ruled out joint operations with the FAd'H."12 From the start, the Marines wore their war faces, making no secret that they considered the FAd'H as adversaries, unsavory thugs better dead than alive.   This tough approach manifested itself right from the start. After a delay of about a day to recock amphibious timetables and turn off preassault fires, the Marines prepared to land at 0700 on 20 September, using essentially the same scheme of maneuver rehearsed for the original invasion plan. In the only concession to the Cédras agreement, the Marines did not carry out their previously rehearsed slate of preemptive attacks on the Haitian military and police units. But everything else went just as the numerous practice runs had.   Teams of SEALs (Sea Air Land, Navy special operators) reconnoitered and marked the landing sites in the surf. Other reconnaissance elements marked helicopter landing zones near the Cap-Haitien airfield. Some also watched the FAd'H barracks, just in case that bunch elected to interfere. With all in readiness, and the tropical sun coming up, Colonel Jones's Marines went in.   Excerpted from Death Ground: Today's American Infantry in Battle by Daniel P. Bolger All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Prologue: A Few Good Menp. 1
1 Death From Abovep. 36
2 Stormbringersp. 75
3 Hell on Wheelsp. 118
4 Direct Actionp. 161
5 Brave Riflesp. 203
6 Africa Corpsp. 244
Epilogue: The Last Riflemenp. 296
Appendix Active Army and Marine Infantry Battalionsp. 335
Indexp. 345