It’s odd; regardless of how much war changes, some things just stay the same. I recently read Robert Roger’s 28 Rules of Ranging. These rules were written by Major Robert Rogers in 1757 during the French-Indian War.
Robert Rogers was a fascinating character. He led men with ease and created innovative tactics to fight a non-traditional enemy. His rules mix tactics with leadership and served as sound tactical advice.
To this day, Robert Rogers’ Rules of Ranging influence America’s modern Army Rangers: Lt. Colonel William Darby read the rules to the 1st Ranger Battalion prior to their actions during World War II, and the 75th Ranger Regiment follows a modified version of these rules today.
The rules of ranging
All of Rogers’ 28 rules provide sound advice, but not all align with modern military applications. However, there is wisdom in each rule and it can loosely be applied to modern tactics. Nevertheless, in this article, I won’t do that for all 28 rules. Instead, I’ve chosen seven of the most valuable rules for modern military members.
Initially, I aimed to find the five most applicable, but even that was tough. I ended up with seven because I simply couldn’t cut two final choices. The advice found here provides value to every Soldier, Marine, Sailor, or Airman as both an individual and a leader.
A selection of the Rules of Ranging
- All Rangers are to be subject to the rules and articles of war; to appear at roll-call every evening, on their own parade, equipped, each with a Firelock, sixty rounds of powder and ball, and a hatchet, at which time an officer from each company is to inspect the same, to see they are in order, so as to be ready on any emergency to march at a minute’s warning; and before they are dismissed, the necessary guards are to be draughted, and scouts for the next day appointed.
The first rule is all about accountability. Ensure you and your troopers are ready for combat with the proper equipment. Gear and personnel checks like this ensure everyone is accounted for and their gear ready for operations.
There is a reason this rule is number one in the Rules for Rangering. Failures in accountability of troops, gear, and readiness directly relate to mission failure as Rogers knew.
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- Whenever you are ordered out to the enemies’ forts or frontiers for discoveries, if your number be small, march in a single file, keeping at such a distance from each other as to prevent one shot from killing two men, sending one man, or more, forward, and the like on each side, at the distance of twenty yards from the main body, if the ground you march over will admit of it, to give the signal to the officer of the approach of an enemy, and of their number,
This is solid patrolling advice. It addresses stealth when behind enemy lines and deploying a vanguard to project fires to the front like a wedge formation. Roger advises placing distance between the men to avoid multiple men being taken down by one shot. Today we call this dispersion and do it to keep a machine gun or grenade from killing multiple troops. Plus, in the end, it’s all about communication with the leader. The point man’s role is invaluable in relaying information to the squad leader in multiple ways.
- If you have the good fortune to take any prisoners, keep them separate, till they are examined, and in your return take a different route from that in which you went out, that you may the better discover any party in your rear, and have an opportunity, if their strength be superior to yours, to alter your course, or disperse, as circumstances may require.
That first line is the number one rule of prisoner handling in the GWOT. Do not let them communicate because they might plan an escape or try to hurt your troops. Keep them separated and quiet. It also offers more patrolling advice by recommending taking a different route to avoid the enemy, thereby making you unpredictable. The Rules for Rangering amaze me by how valid they can be despite their age.
- If you are obliged to receive the enemy’s fire, fall, or squat down till it is over; then rise and discharge at them……
This is just an excerpt from rule 7 because the rule is quite long and goes into detail regarding tactics from the days of rows of men with muzzleloaders firing at each other. We don’t do warfare that way anymore. However, the idea that you fall or squat down when under fire is sound advice.
When bullets are coming at you, the best thing you can do is duck and get low.
- If you determine to rally after a retreat, in order to make a fresh stand against the enemy, by all means, endeavour to do it on the most rising ground you come at, which will give you greatly the advantage in point of situation, and enable you to repulse superior numbers.
After two decades of being the dominant force in the GWOT, I doubt a proper retreat is thought of these days. However, even without the need to retreat, the Rules of Ranging point out the value of having a superior position in combat. The high ground presents you with an opportunity to defeat a superior force by mere positioning.
Keep Your Guard Up
- When you stop for refreshment, choose some spring or rivulet if you can, and dispose your party so as not to be surprised, posting proper guards and sentries at a due distance, and let a small party waylay the path you came in, lest the enemy should be pursuing.
Ahh, yes, never let your guard down. The fact that someone ever would let their guard down blows my mind. Anytime we stopped to check maps, refill water, or do any task that was not moving, we posted security and rotated for quick rests, refills, and the like. A pursuing enemy will try and take you when you are vulnerable, so never be vulnerable.
- If, in your return, you have to cross rivers, avoid the usual fords as much as possible, lest the enemy should have discovered [them], and be there expecting you.
This is one of those rules for rangering that can be taken literally, and as someone who crossed many rivers in Afghanistan, you never want to be predictable. If you get attacked, the squad could be separated by a river. This rule applies to any open danger area, including roads, open fields, and similar locations. Don’t be predictable when approaching these areas, as they are fitting places for ambushes.
I was never a Ranger, but anyone in the combat arms could find value in these rules. They were written for a specific time period and a specific war but translate well into the current global conflicts. I believe these rules should be required reading, and as such, you can find the full list here.
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