BABIL, Iraq – “Brave Rifles! Veterans! You have been baptized in fire and blood and come out steel.”
These were the words spoken by Gen. Winfield Scott at the sight of men of the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen after the bloody battle at Chapultepec in August 1847.
Adopted by the regiment’s troopers soon thereafter, Scott’s quote has endured for 165 years and has come to embody a unit that has repeatedly seen the outer limits of our Army’s frontiers. The regiment has undergone many changes over the years but has always passed on its traditions to the next generation.
July 1861 marked the official naming of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry; a name the unit would carry for many years through many conflicts.
“The regiment was originally designed to be able to fight on its own anywhere,” said Lt. Col. John Oliver, the 3rd ACR Regimental executive officer and a native of Fontana, Calif. “The cavalry requires a special type of person who can operate in a decentralized environment.”
The 3rd Cavalry spent many years in the western United States defending areas throughout the territories and providing route security across hundreds of miles, continually isolating itself further from support. During this time, many cavalry traditions began to shape the lasting image of the mounted trooper.
Men in horse cavalry units wore Stetsons and carried sabers and carbine rifles and the rest of their needed gear wherever they went. This light approach to fighting made for a soldier who could move quickly into battle and surprise his enemy with speed and stealth.
“Troopers in the regiment have always believed they are part of an elite unit,” said Oliver. “We act like an elite unit, train like an elite unit, and therefore, we are an elite unit.”
The 3rd ACR has been an evolving force over the course of its existence. Flexibility and adaptability are touted traits of the cavalry, and during the World War II era, troopers made one of the biggest changes in the unit’s history.
During that period warfare was advancing technologically and troopers of the 3rd Cavalry found themselves trading the horses that had so loyally carried them into battle for new, armored vehicles. Many troopers, including one of the most famous, saw irreplaceable value in the mounted cavalryman.
Gen. George S. Patton Jr. was quoted as saying that, in almost any conceivable theater of operations, situations arise where the presence of horse cavalry, in a ratio of a division to an army, will be vital.
Yet, the same man was responsible for much of the original doctrine regarding armored combat maneuver that the 3rd ACR uses to this day. As the cavalry took on its new mount, many of its tactics changed along with a uniform designed for armor crewman and new training. With these changes, however, the dash and dare of the cavalryman persevered, a unique brand of esprit-de-corps already 100 years old.
“The cavalry has always been motivated and aggressive,” said Oliver. “We find a problem and we doggedly attack it.”
Though the men gave up their horses and officially joined the battlefields of the 20th century, much of the heritage was kept and is still alive today. Cavalrymen still adorn the Stetson and spurs worn by the troopers a century before them.
“The Stetson is part of our heritage in the cavalry,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Jonathan J. Hunt, command sergeant major of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, originally from St. Louis. “It was adopted by men who were already accustomed to that style of hat. Men who had grown up as ranchers and worked with horses made up the ranks. That was the guy the cavalry sought out in those days.”
For 80 years now the cavalry has gone to war in heavily armored vehicles. They have developed comprehensive doctrine and war tactics honing the armored cavalry into one of the U.S. Army’s most lethal formations and they have proved a decisive factor in countless battles. And at the age of 165, the regiment will now give up its heavy armor and transform once again.
Just as the cavalry’s horses gave way to the armored trucks and tanks the latter will pass their duties on to the Stryker, a versatile and effective vehicle troopers will take into tomorrow’s battles.
Change in the 3rd ACR has been happening over the course of its existence in the equipment it uses, the uniforms troopers wear, and the missions it has undertaken. Throughout these changes the tradition and heritage has remained the same.
“The 3rd ACR, after its transformation this year, will continue to do what we’ve always done,” said Hunt. “The customs and traditions and heritage will not be going away.”