Elite Warriors: 300 Years of America's Best Fighting Troops
Author: Lance Q. Zedric, Michael F. Dilley
Publisher: Pathfinder Publishing (1999)
Binding: Hardcover, 272 pages
Elite Warriors: 300 Years of America’s Best Fighting Troops presents a sweeping overview of the history of U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF). The authors begin in the mid-1600’s, and use an “all-services, all-wars, broad-brush” approach to provide a useful reference tool for historians while giving general readers an entertaining and informative account of the origins and operations of America’s elite forces. The book excels in describing early SOF history, and as such it serves as an excellent “pre-history” to supplement the official history published by US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).
As a 26-year veteran of Special Forces, I especially appreciate the analysis presented in parts of the book which makes it possible to trace contemporary special operations (SPECOPS) tactics, techniques, and procedures to their earliest roots and to understand why certain standard operating procedures have subsequently been enshrined as doctrine.
Zedric and Dilley also manage to introduce a few unifying themes throughout the book, making this more than just a history book. There has always been a strong correlation between SPECOPS and technological innovation – a point the authors clearly articulate in some places. For instance, they mention that early Ranger-type units of the early 1700’s used “coordinated teamwork and precision marksmanship [and] set the standard for America’s special operations units for centuries to come.” Considering that the standard issue weapon of the day was the smoothbore flintlock musket, precision marksmanship was highly difficult. Therefore, one assumes that the authors meant that the unit incorporated the Kentucky Long Rifle into their operations. Use of the Long Rifle had its own set of requirements and going into some detail about how the early SOF units “adapted, adopted, and overcame” these obstacles would have enhanced the analysis presented elsewhere.
The SOF community has gone through monumental changes in the last twenty years, and 9-11 has fundamentally changed the force. The beginning of the Afghan War in particular was a picture perfect doctrinal execution of an Army Special Forces (Green Beret) Unconventional Warfare Mission – while no book on SPECOPS can be considered complete without mentioning the Navy SEAL raid on bin-Laden.
The authors set out to paint with a broad brush - they have accomplished their mission, ensuring that they include all the unclassified units that have conducted special operations and putting their activities in the proper context of SOF history. Moreover, their historical coverage prior to 1960 is especially well done and the book is highly recommended for Army Rangers, who would greatly appreciate the wealth of information on early Ranger activities.
Reviewed by: Robert Schaeffer (2013)