After more than 70 years, Army deactivates its small-team reconnaissance units

((Sept. 1, 2016 at Fort Hood) A paratrooper with Delta Company, 52nd Infantry Regiment (Long Range Surveillance), exits a CH-47 Chinook during their company's last jump before deactivation. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Tomora Clark)

The US Army has quietly hammered the final nails in the coffin for its remaining Long-Range Surveillance (LRS) companies, setting out to deactivate all three remaining active units by the end of the month.

Nearly 300 soldiers assigned to the respective units based in Texas, North Carolina and Washington will be reassigned to other units at their posts, according to Army spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Christina Kretchman.

Meanwhile, National Guard LRS units in Alabama, Nebraska, Georgia and Indiana will be folding up their colors and reassigning their troops by summer of next year.

According to the Stars and Stripes, the units were first reported to be folding in July after a force structure program called Total Army Analysis determined LRS companies were not in demand by ground commanders and could be theoretically replaced by unmanned drones and satellites.

Defense analysts say that Army commanders have a growing aversion to risking American lives, often becoming more dependent on technology to replace the human element.

However, while the situation seems bleak for irate LRS members and veterans alike, some experts believe the new administration may relight the fire for small-team human recon units.

“A lot of force-structure decisions may be reopened and re-litigated in the next six months or so,” said Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.. “Now, the political environment seems to have shifted, and the Army might not be drawing down anymore. They may go in a different direction” with LRS units.

Harrison noted that human intelligence gathering units still have value in the face of more advanced enemies (such as the Russian military) with US forces having utilized LRS units to train many of America’s allies in the key skill of intelligence gathering.

“The new administration needs to think about what capabilities that allies do not have that the U.S. can provide,” Harrison said. “We have to have those capabilities ourselves.”

While Kretchman admitted the US Army made its decision based on computer models and simulations, she declined to mention exactly what kind of simulations were being run.

Senior NCO and LRS veteran Matt Pelak of the Texas National Guard criticized the move, saying a re-evaluation is more than welcome.

“I’d like a relook of capabilities we’re getting rid of and what common sense adjustments we can make,” Pelak said.

Following World War II and Vietnam, LRS-like units were deactivated, only to be re-activated when the military realized they needed them- resulting in a critical rebuilding period to regain the leadership and knowledge needed to be effective in combat.

“Why do we keep going through this when the Army has brought it back so many times?” Pelak asked.

Meanwhile, Fort Hood soldiers of the 52nd Infantry Regiment (LRS)’s Delta Company were solemn-faced to see their unit fold earlier this month.

Soldiers with Delta Company, 52nd Infantry Regiment (Long Range Surveillance) conduct their units deactivation ceremony Jan. 10, 2017 inside the III Corp building at Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jory Mathis, 3d Cavalry Regiment)
Soldiers with Delta Company, 52nd Infantry Regiment (Long Range Surveillance) conduct their units deactivation ceremony Jan. 10, 2017 inside the III Corp building at Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jory Mathis, 3d Cavalry Regiment)

“I will definitely miss being a part of this unit because I had the best leadership, Soldiers and training. Out of my three years here, we became close; everyone was a valued member of the team. We became like family” said Staff Sgt. Octavio Fuentes, a team leader with LRS.

While the future of LRS seems grim, it is fair to note that that future has done so before throughout American military history- if said history continues to repeat itself, recon units may once again return to active Army service.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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