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The Historian's Corner

The Moron Battalion

No, not the Mormon Battalion, which was formed for the Mexican-American War and holds the distinction of having completed the longest military march on record, the Moron Battalion was a unit formed during the height of the Vietnam War and holds military distinctions of an entirely different caliber.

To be sure, the name of the unit would not pass muster in today's "politically correct" environment, and it certainly wasn't the official name of the unit. The unit was properly known as the 267th Infantry Battalion (Experimental) and its existence has been kept under wraps since its formation in late 1967. Zzzptm historical researchers have uncovered this unit's history through the Freedom of Information Act, and even then, some aspects of this unit's past remain classified.

As American involvement in Vietnam escalated, the LBJ administration was faced with a shortfall in recruits they could place in combat situations. With most of the bluebloods in National Guard units stateside and the middle classes in college and people in border states slipping across to Canada or Mexico, the government had to turn to people previously thought unfit for military service.

Defense Secretary Robert McNamara suggested lowering the intelligence requirements for both enlisted men and officers. Where officers used to have to have an IQ of 120 and enlisted men an IQ of 100, McNamara cut both by 20 points, allowing for an additional 100,000 recruits. These soldiers, known as "McNamara's 100,000", bore the brunt of the combat duties in Vietnam.

Pleased with how he was able to beef up the rosters with recruits formerly considered sub-par, McNamara authorized the creation of the 267th to investigate "potential combat readiness of soldiers two standard deviations or more below average." Aware of how such a unit might be interpreted by the press and antiwar movement, McNamara assigned a top secret classification to the project and placed one of the Army's most trusted officers in charge: Lt. Colonel Edgar "Ripper" Gulbranson.

Lt. Col. Gulbranson wasn't too happy with his posting, as he had been bucking for promotion and wanted a combat assignment, but when he was fully briefed on the nature of his assignment, he realized it was a plum position and would open many doors for him in the armed services if he performed well in these duties. He assembled his cadre of staff officers and NCO's and began culling through young men who were about to be rejected by their local draft boards due to mental incompetence.

The group he selected had more than a few surprises. Where he had expected several hundred inductees with severe mental limitations, he was faced with a full battalion of people who had deliberately done poorly on aptitude tests in order to evade military service. Not one of the people he met in the ranks had any intellectual deficiency whatsoever. All of them assumed they had not done badly enough on the tests to get out of service and were grudingly inducted.

So, the 267th was made up of competent, bright individuals who were mistakenly classified as unfit. "Ripper" Gulbranson realized the incredible potential this presented him. The highly secretive nature of the unit meant he could control the flow of information to and from it and thereby leverage the situation to his great benefit.

Gulbranson reported to his superiors that he was attempting to prepare the substandard minds for military duties, but had turned to the recruits with a harsh blackmailing proposition. He knew they were attempting to dodge the draft and told them to either play along with his scheme or he would see them shipped off to Leavenworth.

None of the recruits opted for Leavenworth, so "Ripper" had a captive population to work his "magic." His deal was simple. They drill and train like normal soldiers for two years. They also fudge testing results throughout, so as to appear as though they were improving. By the end of the two-year period, they re-enlist as fully competent soldiers. Gulbranson would see to it they not get any combat assignments.

And so, Gulbranson began a "miracle project", feeding data back to his superiors that his recruits were improving by leaps and bounds. By the end of the project, Gulbranson was promoted to a full Colonel and assigned to Army Intelligence. The recruits re-enlisted, as per prior agreement, and landed cushy spots stateside. Gulbranson justified those deployments citing, "although unfit for combat pressures, these soldiers can fill in for less demanding duties, thereby freeing up other soldiers more capable for combat action."

Others tried to repeat Gulbranson's formula for success, but were not clever enough to figure out how to not report all their recruits were competent draft dodgers and request a new batch. Gulbranson was able to keep a tight lid on things internally until 1976, when one of his soldiers, now a sergeant, let slip his tidy arrangement during a Christmas party. When it rose all the way to the top, the brass hats wanted Gulbranson's hide.

They would not have the satisfaction. Gulbranson got wind of the manhunt for him and skipped town, eventually turning up in a mercenary band that overthrew the government of the Comoros Islands. His reputation as the army's best educator shattered, the 267th "Moron" Battalion was quickly swept into the dustbin of history, where only a full revelation under the Freedom of Information Act would let it see light of day.

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