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Interview with 75th Ranger Regiment Commander Col. Christopher Vanek, USA

John D. Gresham: Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where were you born and where did you grow up? What is your civilian and military education and Army/SOF career prior to taking over at the 75th Ranger Regiment?

Col. Christopher Vanek: I graduated from the Arizona State University in 1989 and was commissioned as an infantry officer. My first assignment was with the 1/14th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division. From there I served as a platoon leader with 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. I served with 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment from 1998 to 2004; I was the battalion logistics officer, rifle company commander, battalion liaison officer, operations and executive officer and deployed multiple times in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. I was fortunate enough to serve at the regimental headquarters from 2004 to 2006 as the regimental operations officer and deputy commanding officer while also serving as the joint task force operations officer during Operation Enduring Freedom. After serving with 10th Mountain Division, I returned to the Ranger Regiment in 2009 to serve as the regiment’s deputy commanding officer. I left the regiment in 2011 and assumed command of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th ID and from there attended the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. I assumed command of the 75th Ranger Regiment July 2013. I hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Arizona State University and two Masters Degrees.

The regiment has participated in combat operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan continuously for more than 12 years, executing the most complex and dangerous operations in support of our national objectives and interests. It has not come without a significant cost. To date, 64 Rangers have made the ultimate sacrifice and the regiment has sustained 672 wounded in action personnel since 2001.

Col. Christopher S. Vanek

Col. Christopher S. Vanek

After more than a dozen years in continuous combat, what is the state of the regiment as of spring 2014?

The 75th Ranger Regiment represents the best in our nation. It is composed of five-time volunteers of the highest caliber and degree of selfless service. The regiment continues to be the standard bearer for our nation’s Army and is held to the highest standards of performance and discipline. The regiment has participated in combat operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan continuously for more than 12 years, executing the most complex and dangerous operations in support of our national objectives and interests. It has not come without a significant cost. To date, 64 Rangers have made the ultimate sacrifice and the regiment has sustained 672 wounded in action personnel since 2001. But we are also a force in transition. As the conflict in Afghanistan draws to a close, the regiment remains at the highest state of readiness prepared to answer our nation’s call to service in combat. We are chartered by the United States Army Special Operations Commanding General to conduct special operations and specifically forced entry into a complex environment and special operations surgical raids. Finally, I would say that more than a dozen years in combat has given us the most experienced and tested force in the history of the Ranger Regiment. We have literally grown a generation of leaders through more than a decade of combat against one of the most resilient enemies our country has ever faced. Our ranks today are filled with an understanding of what it takes to survive and win on the battlefield. As an example, our platoon sergeants have participated in an average of 500-700 special operations combat raids and the majority of them have been wounded on multiple occasions while also performing valorously on the field of battle. We are also more capable than ever before. The 75th Ranger Regiment has added specialties, technologies and programs that make us an even more lethal force than we were in 2001.

Before 9/11, the Ranger Regiment was known for quick strikes into hostile territory to accomplish a specific mission and then redeploying when the mission was completed. You could say the regiment was Expeditionary like. Missions like Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada and Operation Just Cause in Panama are examples of the types of missions the modern Rangers were known for. Afghanistan and Iraq changed all of that. Now we are known as a special operations force that can operate in sustained combat indefinitely for years.

Is it correct to say that the 75th Ranger Regiment has had a continuous presence in Afghanistan since the famous parachute jump onto Objective Rhino on Oct. 19, 2001?

The 75th Ranger Regiment has been operating in Afghanistan since our forcible entry on Objective Rhino in October 2001. That airfield seizure started more than 12 years of continuous combat in that country in support of the Global War on Terror. While the scope of the regiment’s participation in Operation Enduring Freedom has fluctuated from a Ranger rifle company to the majority of the regiment at times, we were there when the war began and expect to remain in Afghanistan until directed to withdraw.

Ranger Regiment 2

A U.S. Army Ranger from B Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, fires an M4 carbine during close quarter marksmanship training on a range in Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif., Jan. 25, 2014. U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Rashene Mincy

Like other units in USASOC, the 75th Ranger Regiment has evolved and grown since 2001. Can you please explain the current structure and organization of the regiment? How has the regiment evolved in that time?

Over the past thirteen years of conflict, the Ranger Regiment has evolved to not only meet requirements identified through its experience in OEF and OIF but also to meet the challenges of the future. The first major changes came with the implementation of Ranger Regiment XXI in 2006, which included the establishment of the Regimental Special Troops Battalion, or RSTB, and Echo Companies, which provides an organic support company to each of the Ranger Rifle Battalions. In 2007, a fourth Ranger rifle company was added to each of the numbered Ranger battalions as the requirement for additional combat power evolved from the nation’s involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan. These companies were designated as Delta Companies. The Regimental Special Troops Battalion (RSTB) established the formerly detachment-level formations into full-fledged companies. Specifically, this created the Regimental Reconnaissance Company, the Regimental Communications Company, the Regimental Military Intelligence Company, and the Regimental Selection and Training Company. Intelligence capabilities have also grown over the years to include the addition of 89 military intelligence soldiers. The RSTB received an organic Shadow UAS platoon in 2012. The regiment has also added unique enabler functions to include multi-purpose canines, sniper platoons and additional reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA) capabilities. Based on the effects of the Budget Control Act legislation, the regiment is losing 369 positions in the future and we are currently conducting a Force Design Update (FDU) to better adjust to our nation’s evolving priorities.

Before 9/11, the regiment already had a fearsome reputation and history of combat operations. How has that reputation grown since 9/11?

Before 9/11, the Ranger Regiment was known for quick strikes into hostile territory to accomplish a specific mission and then redeploying when the mission was completed. You could say the regiment was Expeditionary like. Missions like Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada and Operation Just Cause in Panama are examples of the types of missions the modern Rangers were known for. Afghanistan and Iraq changed all of that. Now we are known as a special operations force that can operate in sustained combat indefinitely for years. I firmly believe that the regiment’s participation in continuous combat operations in Iraq from 2003-2010 turned the tide against the insurgency as the terrorist networks simply could not sustain themselves under the continuous pressure applied by USSOF and a counter-insurgency campaign. Maybe more important, we’ve developed our methods of operation to support conventional forces on the battlefield within their battlespace so we are truly an enabling mechanism to allow them to execute their lines of operation.

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John D. Gresham lives in Fairfax, Va. He is an author, researcher, game designer, photographer,...