The conventional approach to the history of LRRP, LRP, and Ranger unit employment in Vietnam is first to acknowledge the three chronological periods of their existence: LRRP from late 1965 to December 1967, LRP from late September 1967 to February 1969, and Ranger thereafter to the end of the war. The first period began in December 1965, with the creation of a provisional LRRP platoon by the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.1 The 1st Infantry Division and 173d Airborne Brigade both formed provisional LRRP units in April and the 25th Infantry Division in June 1966.2 General William C. Westmoreland, commander of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), officially authorized the creation of provisional LRRP units on 8 July 1966.3 Other divisions and brigades stood up provisional LRRP units during the ensuing months: the 4th and 9th Infantry Divisions in November 1966, 196th Light Infantry Brigade in January 1967, and 1st Air Cavalry Division in February 1967.4 The 9th Infantry Division LRRP Platoon came into being in the fall of 1966 while the division was still at Fort Riley, Kansas, and deployed to Vietnam in January 1967. This unit was expanded to a company in July 1967.5 The 101st Airborne Division “main body,” while still at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, converted its divisional Recondo School into a provisional LRRP unit in the summer of 1967, before the division deployed to Vietnam. This provisional company arrived in Vietnam in late November 1967.6
The second period began in late June 1967, when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Earle G. Wheeler, authorized the formation of two long-range patrol companies for I and II Field Forces.7 Company E (Long Range Patrol), 20th Infantry (Airborne) was activated on 25 September 1967 and assigned to I Field Force with station at Phan Rang. The nucleus of this unit came from the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division LRRP Platoon, along with soldiers from the replacement stream. Company F (Long Range Patrol), 51st Infantry (Airborne) was activated on 25 September 1967 and assigned to II Field Force with station at Bien Hoa. Its nucleus came from the LRRP platoon of the 173d Airborne Brigade, along with soldiers from the replacement stream.8 Each of the two field force LRP companies had an authorized strength of 230, and was commanded by a major.9
In an apparent response to division commanders’ tactical requirements, and bolstered by the proven combat effectiveness of the provisional LRRP units, in the fall of 1967 the Army authorized separate company designations for LRRP units in divisions and detachments in separate brigades.10 The divisional LRP companies were authorized 118 men and the brigade detachments 61 men. The wholesale renaming of existing divisional LRRP units occurred on 20 December 1967 in the 23d (Americal), 1st Air Cavalry, 1st Infantry, 4th Infantry, 9th Infantry, and 25th Infantry Divisions.11 LRP detachments were created in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade on 10 January 1968, in the 173d Airborne Brigade on 5 February 1968, and in the 3d Brigade 82d Airborne Division and 1st Brigade 5th Mechanized Division on 15 December 1968.12
On 1 February 1969, the final period of the existence of these units began when the Department of the Army re-designated the LRP companies and detachments as lettered Ranger companies of the 75th Infantry Regiment under the combined arms regimental system (CARS). All of the LRP companies and detachments were “re-flagged” as Ranger companies on that date, except Company D (Ranger), which was formed on 20 November 1969 upon the rotation of the Company D (Ranger), Indiana National Guard back to its home state.13 The third period ended when the Ranger companies were inactivated as their parent units were withdrawn from the war between November 1969 (Company O of 3d Brigade 82d Airborne Division), and 15 August 1972 (Company H of 1st Air Cavalry Division).14
Doctrinal and TOE Baseline
When the first US Army conventional forces (173d Airborne Brigade) entered Vietnam in May 1965, Field Manual (FM) 31-18, Infantry Long Range Patrol Company, was in its second edition.15 The Army had a well-established, somewhat concise doctrine for the employment of long-range patrols. It was based on several years of experience in Europe, where both V Corps and VII Corps had organized, trained, and fielded LRP companies as early as 1960. The doctrine emphasized reconnaissance of specific routes, areas, or locations, and did not emphasize general reconnaissance of an area of operations (AO). While the LRP company had sufficient wheeled-vehicle transportation to move itself from the garrison to the field, it could only insert its own patrols by walking. Any other means of delivering a patrol to an operations area required external support. The G2/S2 staff exercised the greatest influence over LRP operations, followed closely by the G3/S3 staff. Finally, while higher headquarters exercised continuous control of a LRP operation, this control was accomplished through the LRP company commander, who also was responsible for the recovery of his patrols.
The US Army made modest revisions to this doctrine and published a new FM 31-18, Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol Company, in August 1968.16 The title was modified slightly to Long-Range Reconnaissance Ranger Company in a change published in March 1969, a logical step after the re-designation of all the existing LRP companies as Ranger companies.17 While the 1968 manual with 1969 changes contained many subtle alterations, the more significant ones deserve specific mention.
When reading the mission list provided in the new manual, one is struck by the fact that “execute combat raids on a limited basis as required,” which was the last item on the 1965 mission list, does not appear at all in the 1968 mission list, despite that in late 1968 LRRP teams in Vietnam were regularly assigned this type of mission. Two missions were added to the 1968 manual: “Deploy on periphery of area of operation (AO) to detect enemy’s attempts to break contact and evade friendly forces,” (screen mission) and “maintain surveillance over suspected infiltration routes and avenues of approach.”18 Both of these missions were regularly assigned to LRRP teams in Vietnam. On the subject of training, the 1968 doctrinal time standard for an “effectively trained and reliable LRRP unit” remained at eight months.19
Whereas in 1965 continuous control during LRP operations was to be exercised by higher HQ, in 1969 “operational control” of LRRP company operations was further delegated to the G2/S2 staff section of that higher HQ.20 The 1968 manual contains a new paragraph titled “Combat Support.”21 It discusses the responsibilities of the controlling HQ in providing combat support, the use of Army aviation for mobility, and the attachment of specially trained persons (linguists, indigenous guides, scout dog teams, and tracker teams) and equipment (long-range surveillance systems) to LRRP units for specific missions. This paragraph also strongly reflects Vietnam experience accumulated up to that time.
FM 31-18, 1968 contains another new section titled “Security.”22 Curiously, this section belies the common employment of ambush tactics by LRRPs in the combat theater by stating that patrols possess “no offensive capability” and use weapons “only for self-defense or to break enemy contact.” This language strongly suggests that the manual’s authors did not advocate the offensive employment of LRRP patrols, a practice that was, in fact, widespread and growing in the combat theater in late 1968. While it is difficult to assess the pervasiveness of the use of the administrative security measures advocated here, all of the tactical security and deception measures listed are readily visible in the Vietnam LRRP/Ranger memoir literature of the period.
Paragraph 4-2, “Reconnaissance and Surveillance,” mirrors the same-titled section in the 1965 manual with one exception: the words “or may accomplish the [surveillance] mission using reconnaissance by movement” were added in 1968, both here and at the front of the manual where the LRRP was defined.23 In the 1968 version, paragraph 4-6, “Methods of Patrol Delivery,” contains a new subparagraph on the employment of the helicopter for LRRP insertions.24 It also contains a new paragraph titled “Debriefing,” which requires the debriefing of patrols as soon as possible upon return from mission and charges the responsibility to conduct this debriefing to the LRP company operations section.25
The most significant change to FM 31-18 was the addition of Chapter 5, titled “Stability Operations.” It appears to have been included in this manual to acknowledge the extensive employment of provisional LRP units in Vietnam. While the base 1968 manual continued to maintain the reconnaissance nature of the LRRP mission in this chapter, the March 1969 change added the following sentence to paragraph 5-2, “Planning Concepts”: “A secondary mission for LRRP is to conduct small-scale offensive actions, i.e., ambushes of small enemy patrols or units.”26 More than any other portion of the manual, chapter 5 clearly describes the responsibilities of various parties for the conduct of a LRP mission, from the controlling HQ to the LRRP company commander, operations officer, communications officer, platoon leader, platoon sergeant, and patrol leader.
In tacit recognition of what had already occurred in Vietnam some two years before this manual’s publication, chapter 5 contains a paragraph titled “Provisional LRRP.”27 According to the manual, delineating command-and-staff responsibilities for LRRP activities is key in the following areas:
• identifying and recruiting leaders and soldiers
• logistical support
• planning, preparing, and conducting operations
• other support actions
New to this manual are two appendices: patrol steps (one page) and a rudimentary LRRP SOP (two pages). A section later in this study will compare LRRP and Ranger employment in Vietnam to the doctrine contained in these two field manuals.
Doctrine of Employment
Depending on how one counts, two field-army (or corps-level) companies, eight divisional companies, and five brigade detachments were employed in Vietnam in the four-year period before their re-designation as Ranger companies. Eventually 13 Ranger companies were formed. Given the geographical variance of the field force, division, and brigade operational areas, the average field force command-tour lengths of 15 months (I Field Force) and 10 months (II Field Force), division command-tour length of approximately nine-10 months, and the changing tactical and operational situation over the course of the war, characterizing the employment doctrine of any single LRRP/LRP/Ranger unit in Vietnam is problematic, let alone the doctrine of more than a dozen such units. But through examining both the primary and secondary sources, one can identify missions assigned to LRRP/LRP/Ranger teams and from that draw conclusions about their doctrinal employment.
Here, for example, is a list of missions assigned to LRRP teams of 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, by the brigade S2 during the period from June 1966 to November 1967: confirm enemy control of specific terrain, determine if enemy has moved back into an area vacated by brigade maneuver battalion, obtain intelligence on enemy re-supply activity, confirm sightings of enemy troops and identify unit, capture enemy prisoner, conduct reconnaissance in zone to find enemy force (several iterations), support civil-affairs project, conduct road checkpoint, confirm intelligence information obtained from a PW interrogation, reconnoiter an area and establish ambush, provide extended-range listening post/observation post (LP/OP) for forward fire-support base, and establish blocking position for advancing infantry unit. One can also add to this a number of routine close-in ambush patrols around the brigade base camp, which were required of all combat units but also were used by LRRP units to train new personnel in patrol procedures.28 Two trends can be observed in this list: the brigade intelligence officer was assigning the missions, and the preponderance of LRP activity was intelligence-driven and not intended to result in combat.
The main body of the 101st Airborne Division deployed to Vietnam in November 1967. The division formed F Company (LRP), 58th Infantry (Airborne) in January 1968 by combining the forces of 1st Brigade’s provisional LRRP platoon with the divisional Recondo School-based unit from Fort Campbell and soldiers from the replacement stream. The 101st Airborne Division used this LRP company for a variety of defensive missions in southern and northern South Vietnam through the late spring of 1968, when the division commander finally released it to the control of the division intelligence staff.29 Here is a list of missions assigned to this LRP unit’s teams from late March through November 1968: conduct area reconnaissance to update intelligence information on enemy base camps and units (secondary-interdict and destroy rocket teams or sites), monitor junction of three high-speed trails (secondary-look for regimental base camp), deliver and install seismic-intrusion devices in remote area (multiple occasions), conduct area reconnaissance for suspected enemy base camp, find radar-controlled antiaircraft heavy machine gun, conduct saturation patrols of a border area (multiple teams inserted), find and eliminate rocket teams, observe enemy troop movement in zone (secondary-locate and destroy enemy radio transmitter), find and ambush small parties of enemy soldiers, and attempt to capture a prisoner.30
It is clear from the memoirs of soldiers who served in the 101st Airborne Division’s LRP unit that the division G2 assigned missions and members of the G2 staff briefed LRP teams before departure on missions, debriefing them upon their return.31 An officer of this unit informed the USARV Long Range Patrol Conference in August 1968 that “the LRP company receives its missions directly from the division G2, the Commanding General authorizes each mission, and the G3 provides the assets.”32 Of course, many of these patrols resulted in enemy contact, some of it initiated by patrols and more of it by the enemy upon their discovery of LRP teams in their midst. Many brave soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division were killed and wounded in these actions. But the mission analysis alone leads to the conclusion that, in this division, LRP teams were employed more as an intelligence asset than a combat asset.
Like other LRP companies, the 101st Airborne Division’s F Company, 58th Infantry was re-designated to a Ranger company (L Company) in early February 1969. Despite this change in designation, the unit continued to maintain an intelligence-gathering focus. In February 1969, for example, patrols were sent out to identify and call in indirect fire on enemy rocket-firing sites, implant remote sensors, monitor NVA infiltration routes, verify enemy activity in a particular area using saturation patrols, and monitor enemy sampan traffic on a river.33 In March 1969, missions included search and rescue for downed helicopter crewmen, location of rocket-firing sites, and reconnaissance around a firebase. The latter resulted in the detection of a large enemy dismounted force’s approach to the firebase. The ensuing warning from the Ranger patrol gave the firebase defenders approximately 2 hours to prepare for the ground assault, which resulted in a successful defense of the position.34 In October 1969, this unit inserted a four-man reconnaissance team into an area to confirm “people sniffer” sensor reports of enemy presence for the division G2.35 In September 1970, a four-man team from this Ranger company successfully installed a wiretap on an enemy land-line in the A Shau Valley.36
Indications of offensive, direct-action missions planned or conducted by this Ranger company include the insertion of a team to destroy suspected bridges in late March 1970, the forming and insertion of a heavy team (11 men, equipped with an M60 machine gun) in early April with the mission to hunt and kill, and the reinforcing of a team with both a sniper rifle and M60 machine gun in later April.37 Meanwhile, in July and August 1970, a special cadre team from L Company (Ranger), comprised of one officer and four enlisted men, performed duty as instructors for an eight-day “ranger strike operations course” taught to the reconnaissance company of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) 1st Infantry Division. This team provided instruction at the Screaming Eagle Replacement Center and also followed the ARVN soldiers into the field for the field-exercise portion of the training.38
In the 18 months from May 1970 until its deactivation in November 1971, teams of the 101st Airborne Division Ranger Company were employed for long-range reconnaissance of the jungle-covered mountains of northern South Vietnam adjacent to Laos. These patrols frequently relied on remotely sited radio-relay stations operated by other Ranger teams. Although the overarching purpose of these patrols was to acquire intelligence information on the enemy, the mission was often accompanied by contact with enemy forces and ensuing Ranger casualties. The Ranger company was also tasked on occasion to conduct raids, such as three unsuccessful platoon-size efforts in April 1971 to ambush an enemy motorized convoy in the A Shau Valley.39 Another company-size mission was launched in July 1971 to locate a suspected enemy hospital, but was suspended after a night in the woods amid heavy enemy rocket fire.40
In this late period of the war, the pendulum in 101st Airborne Division was clearly swinging from the intelligence mission to the combat-raid mission. As to why this was so, here is one explanation from a veteran of the 101st Airborne Division LRP Company:
In Vietnam, Rangers worked best in the capacity of their Long Range Patrol predecessors. Trained to operate in six- to 12-man teams, they were poorly tasked to perform offensive operations. Their successes in small ambushes and in defending themselves even when heavily outnumbered by enemy forces often misled brigade and division commanders into believing they were capable of conducting large, more complex offensive combat operations.41
Major General William R. Peers’ 4th Infantry Division had four LRRP platoons in 1967, one assigned to each of three maneuver brigades and the fourth to a cavalry squadron for use by the division G2.42 The platoons at brigade level were assigned to the headquarters and headquarters company (HHC) but took their instructions directly from the brigade S2. These platoons had 40 assigned LRRP soldiers in eight teams of five men each, plus three “Hawkeye” teams of two US and two indigenous personnel each. Supporting each platoon were two officers, an intelligence sergeant, operations sergeant, and six communicators, for a total of 56 US and six indigenous personnel in each platoon.43
The primary mission of these LRRP teams was observation. Negative observation reports-the absence of sightings of enemy units-were also considered important. LRRP teams were also used extensively to reconnoiter helicopter landing zones in preparation for combat assaults by larger units. The LRRP teams were inserted into an area three to five kilometers from a landing zone (LZ) two to three days ahead of a planned operation and would then walk into the LZ. The LRRP team would remain in position observing the LZ until the assault was executed. This practice saved large amounts of artillery ammunition that would have been expended firing preparations on undefended LZs, and gave infantry units greater confidence in the ground situation as they approached an LZ. This pathfinder-like mission came directly out of LRRP doctrine developed in USAREUR and published in 1962 and 1965.44
Because the enemy in the 4th Infantry Division AO was aware of the use of LRRP teams, he frequently reacted quickly against them upon or shortly after insertion. The LRRP team thus functioned as a lure, and was quickly extracted and replaced by a much larger infantry force. LRRP teams were also employed as screening forces to detect enemy infiltration into specific areas.45
A soldier assigned to the LRRP platoon of 2d Brigade, 4th Infantry Division during the first half of 1967 lists the following activities of his unit: combat and raid missions, special reaction teams to brigade headquarters for downed helicopters, rapid reinforcement of outposts, OP/LP outside of forward operating bases for early warning, local ambush patrols, reconnaissance of an LZ, search of a border area for an enemy base camp or headquarters, provision of security for a sniper team, and service as a radio-relay team for other deployed teams.46 Peers’ successor, Major General Charles P. Stone (January through November 1968), maintained the organization and mission of the division’s LRP company as it had been developed by General Peers.47
Major General Donn R. Pepke, who commanded this division from 30 November 1968 to 14 November 1969, on 6 October 1969 directed the consolidation of all the brigade LRRP platoons into the division Ranger company. Up to this time, LRP activities in the division had been divided between the brigade LRRP platoons and the division-controlled Ranger company. Here is Major General Pepke’s description of the division Ranger company’s mission:
The mission of Company K (Ranger), 75th Infantry is to provide a long range reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition capability to the 4th Infantry Division; provide personnel and equipment to train, administer, plan for, and employ LRPs as directed; and conduct limited harassing activities.48
Upon this re-organization of division LRP assets, Pepke gave the division G3 responsibility for staff supervision of this asset and charged the G2 to recommend missions to the G3 according to weekly intelligence reports.49 The overall focus of 4th Infantry Division LRP and Ranger operations appears to have trended more toward combat actions.
The 9th Infantry Division LRRP units, deployed in the lowlands south of Saigon, had an entirely different problem-terrain that teemed in civilian population and lacked in concealment. Helicopter insertions were problematic due to the high likelihood of compromise of patrols. Regardless of the insertion method, patrols frequently had to be extracted after 24 to 48 hours on the ground. The missions performed by 9th Infantry Division LRRP units included general surveillance of enemy infiltration routes and suspected base-camp areas, terrain analysis of the many waterways and canals in their AO, providing security for underwater demolition teams (UDT) and explosive ordnance detachments (EDT) while they removed enemy-placed ordnance, and point reconnaissance of designated locations.50
Upon the activation of the 9th Division’s long-range patrol company in December 1967, LRP teams continued to conduct both area- and point-reconnaissance missions east and south of Saigon. In January 1968, some 9th Division teams joined with US Navy SEAL teams to conduct ambushes and attacks in the waterways of the Mekong Delta, while others continued the reconnaissance of this water-logged terrain. The description of the LRP company’s operations through 1968 contains both reconnaissance and combat actions, performed by single LRP teams or in concert with US Navy SEALS, Provincial Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) personnel, ARVN marine units advised by US Marines, and sniper trainers from the US Army Marksmanship Training Unit.51 The division commander from February 1968 to April 1969, Major General Julian J. Ewell, cryptically characterized the employment of his Rangers with the words “Rangers (LRRP) as hunter-killers (or as recon parties)” in his post-command debriefing report.52
The period from 1 February 1969 to mid-September 1970, during which the 9th Infantry Division LRP unit carried the designation of Company E (Ranger), 75th Infantry, is characterized by a mix of reconnaissance and offensive combat operations. When the 3d Brigade of 9th Infantry Division was selected in June 1969 to stay in Vietnam while the remainder of the division redeployed back to the United States, the Ranger company was transferred to that brigade and prepared for brigade-level reconnaissance tasks in the province southwest of Saigon.53 Even though the 3d Brigade itself moved north to the Tay Ninh area for the invasion of Cambodia in May and June 1970, the Ranger company remained in or near the former 9th Infantry Division base camp at Dong Tam or Tan An, both due south of Saigon. There, the Ranger company continued to conduct ambush patrols and, later in the summer, responded to reports from unattended electronic-surveillance and manned ground-surveillance radar systems. The Rangers’ mission was “to reconnoiter the exact nature of as many potential targets as possible.”54 Given the nature of the terrain south of Saigon, many of this unit’s activities were water-borne. During March through July 1970, for example, Ranger teams used engineer-crewed small boats to conduct ambushes in the canals and tributaries of the area.55 In sum, 9th Infantry Division LRRP/LRP/Ranger teams conducted a combination of reconnaissance and combat missions, with a tendency toward the latter, that were influenced heavily by the densely populated terrain lacking means of concealment for inserted teams.
When it was stood up in February 1967, the 1st Cavalry Division LRRP unit was comprised of two six-man teams and a HQ element.56 For operations in the field, these teams were placed under the operational control of maneuver brigades, where the brigade S2 designated their missions.57 These missions emphasized reconnaissance over contact.58 A veteran of this unit cites the following accomplishments early in the unit’s history: correcting maps; finding numerous high-speed trails, bunker complexes, base camps, cache sites, and jungle hospitals; and monitoring movement of enemy units.59
From its designation as the 1st Cavalry Division Long Range Patrol Detachment in April 1967 through re-designation as Company E (Long Range Patrol), 52d Infantry in December 1967 until October 1968, the 1st Cavalry Division LRRP teams remained parceled out to maneuver brigades, who used them in a variety of missions. These missions included close-in reconnaissance for maneuver infantry units and LP/OP duties around forward fire-support bases.60
In late October 1968, the 1st Cavalry Division was shifted from I to II Field Force and headquartered at Phuoc Vinh, north of Saigon. The division’s AO extended along the Cambodian border in Tay Ninh, Binh Long, and Phuoc Long provinces. These areas contained significant routes for enemy infiltration into the Saigon area from Cambodia. In this new AO, Company E’s patrol teams continued to be tasked by the division G2 or brigade S2s.61 In an effort to ensure the proper use of his personnel, the E Company Commander communicated directly, in writing, with the division commander when he felt his teams were being improperly tasked.62 Another indication of the company commander’s intelligence focus is his maintenance of an enemy order of battle (OB) file in the company area, which was updated by every patrol upon its return from a mission.63 However, while missions may have had an intelligence or reconnaissance purpose, many of them resulted in contact with small and large enemy elements.
Examination of 1st Cavalry Division’s H Company (Ranger) mission activities after its re-designation in February 1969 suggests that its repertoire included both reconnaissance and direct-action activities. The unit’s two Ranger platoons were organized in five-man teams, and the available literature does not reference heavy teams (combined teams) for raids, strikes, or other small-unit offensive actions. However, Ranger patrols were sent out with instructions to conduct ambushes of small enemy elements, reconnoiter roads and trails that came out of Cambodia, employ anti-vehicular mines, search for enemy base camps, conduct bomb-damage assessment, search for enemy “rocket teams” proximate to US Army base camps, recover bodies and equipment from crashed helicopters, and capture enemy soldiers. In the summer of 1969, Rangers from four teams trained for a POW-camp raid into Cambodia, but the mission was cancelled.64 The early reporting of a large enemy ground infiltration by a Ranger team in early November 1969 is credited with saving a 1st Cavalry Division forward fire-support base from being overrun.65
During the period from December 1969 to April 1970, as part of the larger program of “Vietnamization” of the war, the Ranger company formed two joint teams with South Vietnamese paratroopers, three Americans and three Vietnamese on each team.66 H Company Rangers were employed extensively for ground reconnaissance during the incursion into Cambodia that occurred in May and June 1970.67 As some American combat units were sent home from Vietnam, those that remained were repositioned and drawn in closer to protect strategic assets. The 1st Cavalry Division Ranger Company, reduced in size when large portions of the division departed Vietnam in April 1971, was re-assigned to the remaining 3d Brigade and moved to the Bien Hoa area. Here it continued to conduct surveillance missions northeast of the capital area and later to conduct combat missions to interdict enemy rocket teams firing into the capital area. These missions frequently were reactions to enemy activity brought to light by SLAR (side-looking airborne radar), infra-red, “sniffer,” or agent reports. If enemy activity was confirmed by a Ranger patrol, some type of offensive combat action was enjoined: an infantry assault, artillery fire, airstrikes, or combinations of these three actions.68
The difficulty of characterizing LRRP and Ranger missions in Vietnam as either “intelligence/reconnaissance” or “direct-action combat” in nature is driven home by the example of the 25th Infantry Division. Major General Harris W. Hollis, shortly after assuming command in September 1969, changed the mission of the Ranger company from intelligence gathering to offensive combat:
Beginning in October 1969 our Rangers’ method of employment was oriented primarily to ambush and reconnaissance, to “snatch”
missions, and “sniff” operations, and air rescue missions with sniper teams.69
To facilitate this mission shift, General Hollis gave responsibility for staff supervision of Ranger employment to the division G3 and placed a Ranger platoon in direct support of each maneuver brigade in the division. Further evidence of these teams’ offensive mission is the arming of each one with an M60 machine gun and the inclusion of at least one sniper-qualified team member.
Just six months later, Major General Edward Bautz, Jr., the new division commander, about five weeks after assuming command, changed the division Ranger company’s mission back to acquisition of intelligence. This mission change was accompanied by the division intelligence staff’s increased reliance on electronic sensor fields and ground-surveillance radar acquisitions.70
Finally, Brigadier General Hubert S. Cunningham, commander of the 173d Airborne Brigade from August 1969 to August 1970, used his Ranger teams “primarily as an intelligence gathering source and to further develop intelligence based on sonar readouts, Airborne Personnel Detector (Snoopy) readouts, and agent reports.”71 His immediate successor, Brigadier General Elmer R. Ochs, while acknowledging that the Ranger company’s mission was surveillance and reconnaissance, also ascribed to it the capability of “conducting small unit ambushes, limited raids, POW snatches, and pathfinder operations for heliborne and parachute operations.72
The general conclusion one can draw from this overview of LRRP/LRP/Ranger employment by several maneuver divisions and a few separate brigades in Vietnam is that there was no single, standard approach to the issue. These units were employed for a variety of reconnaissance and combat missions, based on the terrain and enemy situation in a given division or brigade’s AO, the density of the civilian population, the tactical and operational imperatives of the division or brigade, and the desires of the controlling-unit commander and his G2/G3. One can also posit that the writers of LRRP doctrine in 1965 and 1968 probably did not envision the amount of combat these units would engage in, given the reconnaissance focus of both fielded editions of FM 31-18.
Two additional LRP units in Vietnam bear examination-the LRP companies of the two corps-level headquarters, I and II Field Force. Both units were formed in the fall of 1967 by combining combat veterans from other LRRP units with soldiers recruited from the replacement stream. In the case of Company E (LRP), 20th Infantry (I Field Force), the combat veterans came from the 1st Brigade LRRP Platoon of the 101st Airborne Division.73 Company F (LRP), 51st Infantry (II Field Force) received the bulk of its combat veterans from the LRRP platoon of the 173d Airborne Brigade.74 Although the formation of these two companies was authorized in mid-September 1967, neither became fully operational until early December.75
On paper, the mission of Company E (LRP), 20th Infantry, I Field Force was long-range reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition in the corps-level AO.76 In fact, the unit performed a broad spectrum of reconnaissance, combat, and training missions in its four-year period of existence.77 Platoons and teams of this company operated as standard rifle units, as attachments to special forces-led units, as training cadre for ARVN infantry divisions and the ARVN Ranger Training Center, as reconnaissance support to the Republic of Korea 9th Division, and as LRP and Ranger forces for the 4th Infantry Division and 173d Airborne Brigade.78 General Peers, commander of I Field Force from March 1968 to March 1969, strongly supported the LRRP concept and used his own LRPs to train ARVN soldiers for both long-range and medium-range patrolling.79 The memoir by two of this unit’s veterans describes its activities in the period September 1969 to September 1970 as much more inclined toward direct-action “hunter-killer” activities than reconnaissance.80 Their characterization is supported by the words of Lieutenant General Charles A. Corcoran, who commanded I Field Force from 16 March 1969 to 23 February 1970:
The mission of the Corps Ranger Company . . . has also been modified. Rather than gathering intelligence by passive means, the Corps Ranger Company was employed in attacking small groups of enemy and in gaining intelligence by capturing personnel and documents. During the past calendar year, the Ranger Company achieved a 48:1 kill ratio, better than any of the other units in II Corps.81
The pattern of activities of F Company (LRP), 51st Infantry, II Field Force was somewhat more regular. This unit was stationed at Bien Hoa, near II Field Force HQ, and remained there except for an occasional foray to nearby Cu Chi or Phuoc Vinh, where it supported subordinate divisions or brigades.82 Whereas the I Field Force reconnaissance company spent its entire existence moving throughout the area of responsibility (AOR), performing a variety of reconnaissance, combat, and training missions for numerous allied and US Army divisions and brigades, the II Field Force reconnaissance company had one overriding mission from late 1967 to early 1969-to provide reconnaissance and intelligence necessary for the protection of the capital region. Despite its name and paper mission, F Company veterans paint a picture of a unit whose primary activity was seeking out and killing enemy soldiers, by ambush, indirect fire, or close-air and helicopter-gunship support.83 An officer who served in this unit recalls that it was subordinated to the higher HQ G3 (not G2) staff section.84
The II Field Force Commander during this early period was Lieutenant General Frederick C. Weyand. In his post-command debriefing report, he praised the effectiveness of his LRP company in “reconnoitering enemy base areas and lines of movement” and recommended the formation of more such units.85
F Company, 51st Infantry was inactivated in late December 1968, upon the arrival in Vietnam of its replacement, Company D (Long Range Patrol), 151st Infantry, Indiana National Guard.86 Through an administrative sleight of hand orchestrated between General William Westmoreland, Chief of Staff of the Army, and General Creighton Abrams, the MACV commander, Major George Heckman of F Company retained nominal command of the Indiana Rangers, as they came to be called, and combat operations continued as before with different faces in the patrol teams.
Upon the departure of the Indiana Rangers from Vietnam in November 1969, II Field Force quickly formed Company D (Ranger), 75th Infantry to replace it. Its mission for the brief period of its existence (November 1969-April 1970) was “to provide corps-level Ranger support to II Field Force Vietnam by collecting intelligence, interdicting supply routes, locating and destroying encampments, and uncovering cache sites.”87
It is clear from this broad overview of LRRP/LRP/Ranger unit missions in Vietnam that while high-level commanders may have been cognizant of the employment doctrine contained in FM 31-18, that knowledge certainly did not inhibit their use of these units for missions unrelated to reconnaissance. LRRP/LRP/Ranger soldiers engaged in a great deal of combat in support of their controlling HQ.
A 230-man LRP company, such as existed in I and II Field Forces in the fall of 1967, was a surprisingly large organization. Commanded by a major, this company had four line platoons plus headquarters, operations, communications, mess, and maintenance sections. The officer component included the commander, operations, intelligence, and communications officers, and platoon leaders. Each line platoon had up to seven patrols with six men in each patrol. In addition, the II Field force LRP Company had attached to it a dedicated Huey helicopter-lift platoon for insertions and extractions, a gunship platoon for fire support, a full ground-cavalry troop to act as a quick reaction force (QRF), a forward air controller (FAC) to coordinate and deliver air strikes, and artillery liaison officers to coordinate artillery support.88 This was a battalion-size force of up to 500 personnel, all focused on a single LRP company and its training and combat operations.
While the I Field Force LRP Company was similarly structured, it was more often dispersed throughout the II Corps Tactical Zone. In August 1968, for example, the company HQ with 2d Platoon was under the operational control (OPCON) of Company B, 5th Special Forces Group. The 1st Platoon was OPCON to 4-503d Infantry, 173d Airborne Brigade, the 3d Platoon was OPCON to 3-503d Infantry, 173d Airborne Brigade, and the 4th Platoon was OPCON to 3-506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division.89 Because this unit was often decentralized, it did not have dedicated helicopter support but instead received aviation support from the units for which it was operating.
Both field-force LRP companies had regular access to fixed-wing FAC support for teams in the field. These aircraft were used for radio relay and for directing close-air support in II Field Force, and also for managing deployed teams in I Field Force.90 An August 1968 description of the FAC support to the I Field Force LRP Company in that period uses the term “direct support” to describe the subordination of the FAC.91
The provisional LRRP units and their successor LRP companies at division were much smaller organizations. They typically had a captain commander and two or three lieutenants who served as operations officer and platoon leaders. The early 1st Air Cavalry Division LRRP unit had two six-man LRRP teams and a headquarters element comprised of two medics, a communications section, and an operations section.92 When this unit was enlarged to a company in the spring of 1967, it was authorized 16 teams of six men each.93 Additional officer, operations, and communications personnel in the company HQ would round out this unit to a full MACV-authorized strength of 118. This particular LRP unit was initially attached to the 191st Military Intelligence Detachment for logistical support, but remained under the operational control of the division G2.94 Later, the LRRP detachment was attached to 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry (Air) for logistic support, messing, and Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).95
F Company, 58th Infantry (LRP), 101st Airborne Division, when it was formed at Fort Campbell in the summer of 1967, had a headquarters element with a strong communications section, and two patrol platoons with four or five six-man patrols in each.96 When it arrived in Vietnam and until August 1968, this company was administratively assigned to the 326th Engineer Battalion.97 In August 1968, the company looked roughly the same: two line platoons, with six six-man teams in each. The company HQ section included the CO, XO, 1SG, two to three clerks, and a driver. The communications section consisted of a sergeant and eight to 10 communications specialists.98 The LRP company was collocated with and put under the operational control of 2d Squadron, 17th Cavalry (Air), which provided its lift and gunship helicopter support and QRF.99 Later, when this unit transitioned to a Ranger company, it had headquarters, supply, and communications sections and two field or line platoons.100
In the Americal Division in 1968, the LRP company HQ served as an administrative, logistical, and training base for LRP teams that were parceled out to the operational control of the division’s three brigades. The division HQ maintained control over the use of the teams by requiring the commanding general’s approval of the teams’ missions.101
When it was formed in April 1966, the LRRP detachment of the 1st Infantry Division had two officers-the commander and an XO/operations officer. The unit fielded six teams of five men each and was assigned to Troop D, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment for support (mess, barracks, supply, and QRF).102
When General Peers established the 4th Infantry Division Recondo Detachment in June 1967, it was administratively assigned to the 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry. This provided the LRRP unit with both helicopter support and a QRF from the aero-rifle platoon. This assignment was retained even when the detachment was a Ranger company in 1969.103 Similarly, the 25th Infantry Division’s LRRP Detachment, when it was formed in June 1966, was attached to the 3d Squadron, 4th Cavalry and collocated with that unit at Cu Chi for messing and UCMJ matters.104
An early example of the organization of a brigade-level LRRP detachment is provided by the 173d Airborne Brigade in late April 1966. This provisional platoon was commanded by a captain and had a lieutenant XO, intelligence and communications sergeants, two communications specialists, and a medic in the platoon HQ. The nine patrols each had six men: patrol leader and assistant, radioman, scout, and two assistant scouts. This particular platoon was attached to Troop E, 17th Cavalry (Armored).105 When the brigade formed the 74th Infantry Detachment (Airborne Long Range Patrol) in December 1967, its organization strength remained at two officers and 59 men.106 Two years later, the brigade commander, considering the operational commitments of his Ranger company, increased its strength from the authorized 61 to 115.107
In similar fashion, Company M (Ranger), formed from the 71st Infantry Detachment of 199th Light Infantry Brigade in February 1969, was paired closely with Troop D, 17th Cavalry (Armored).108 The 196th Infantry Brigade Long Range Patrol Detachment, when it was formed in January 1967, was assigned to the brigade intelligence section but placed under the administrative control of Troop F, 17th Cavalry (Armored).109 When the successor to this detachment in the 23d Infantry Division (Americal) was re-designated as Company G (Ranger), 75th Infantry two years later, the Ranger company was “satellited with the 16th Aviation Group for administration, helicopter transport, and aerial or ground assistance.”110
A clear pattern emerges from this overview: The bulk of LRRP/LRP/Ranger units in Vietnam were operationally controlled by, assigned to, attached to, or collocated with an air cavalry or ground cavalry unit. These were marriages both of necessity and convenience, since the requirements for helicopter lift, gunships, and QRFs were certainly met by many of these affiliations. The LRRP units also needed mess and logistic support, along with someone to administer their UCMJ needs. They frequently gave back, in return, detail support to the mess hall (kitchen police-KP), soldiers to perform perimeter bunker guard and ambush patrols, and for the air cavalrymen, additional QRFs for downed helicopter rescue and retrieval operations (combat search and rescue-CSAR).
At the team or patrol level, one can find patrols as small as three and four men under special circumstances, but the generally adopted LRRP team strength was five or six.111 Special attachments for a specific mission might enlarge a standard patrol team to seven or eight men. The 9th Infantry Division LRP unit, operating in the Mekong River Delta region in 1968, used eight men because they divided evenly into two boats.112 The 25th Infantry Division Ranger company in late 1969-early 1970 was also organized around eight-man teams.113 The duty positions were variously named but included a team leader and assistant team leader, one or two radio-telephone operators (RTO), and two or three scouts. Whatever the team size, someone with experience had to walk “point” (lead) and “trail” (last man in column) to provide the required movement security. While some units may have had a few MOS-qualified medics assigned to them, the typical patrol did not, and one of the team members performed this function. Those units that engaged in offensive combat actions on a regular basis frequently combined two “light” teams into a single “heavy team” on an ad hoc basis to provide more firepower and security.
Many LRRP, LRP, and Ranger units had indigenous soldiers assigned or attached to them, on a temporary or permanent basis. Indigenous soldiers came from three primary sources: the ARVN, Montagnard tribesmen, or former enemy soldiers from the Chieu Hoi program in the form of Kit Carson Scouts. In some units, such as the 1st Cavalry Division and 173d Airborne Brigade, indigenous personnel were recruited, trained, and embedded in LRRP teams.114 The 1st Cavalry Division, which first began using indigenous personnel in May 1967, suffered one of the drawbacks of employing indigenous personnel in early 1968. One of its Kit Carson Scouts, a former North Vietnamese Army (NVA) lieutenant, deserted the unit while on patrol. He took with him all the TTP learned while assigned to the LRRP unit.115
The 101st Airborne had extensive experience working with indigenous personnel. A platoon of ARVN Rangers was assigned to F Company (LRP) in July 1968 and for about a month, two of these soldiers deployed with each LRP team. The experiment was not well received by 101st LRRP soldiers due to the tactical incompetence of the ARVN troops.116 L Company (Ranger) began using Kit Carson Scouts in the fall of 1969 with better success.117 When L Company was again assigned a group of ARVN Rangers in the summer of 1970, the tactical ineptitude of the South Vietnamese contributed to the project’s demise.118
Other units that employed indigenous forces at some time during the war included the LRRP or Ranger units of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, 199th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, 173d Airborne Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, 4th Infantry Division, 9th Infantry Division, 25th Infantry Division, and 5th Infantry Division.119 General Peers strongly advocated for the use of indigenous forces when he was commander of I Field Force in 1968:
I have found here in this environment that it is very advantageous to utilize one or two indigenous personnel with each of the LRP teams. The reason for this is that they are natives of these areas and know the patterns, the markings, the life within the jungle. They can see and hear things that the ordinary American ear or eye is not accustomed to seeing or hearing. They have proved most satisfactory.120
Company E (LRP), 20th Infantry (I Field Force) not only trained South Vietnamese Rangers for several months in 1968 but also employed many of them in LRP operations, along with Kit Carson Scouts.121 Its successor unit, C Company (Ranger) also employed soldiers from the Republic of Korea Army in late 1970 and early 1971.122 Company F (LRP), 51st Infantry (II Field Force) also employed Kit Carson Scouts, as did its successor unit, Company D, 151st Infantry (Ranger) of the Indiana National Guard.123
The advantages of employing indigenous personnel were obvious: they had language and cultural knowledge, better understood the terrain, knew enemy TTP, and by their non-American appearance bought a few moments of precious time for the remainder of the patrol to react appropriately during a sudden encounter with the enemy on a jungle trail. The disadvantages of employing indigenous personnel were equally obvious: unit security was compromised, communication within teams was difficult, standards of training and conduct differed, and mutual trust and cohesiveness were hard to build. Examples of these problems occurred throughout the war and in several units.124
Training unit personnel was among the most difficult issues LRRP-unit commanders faced in Vietnam. The two primary methods employed, singly and in combination, were training in the LRRP unit and training at the MACV Recondo School in Nha Trang. In a few exceptional cases, such as the 9th Infantry Division in 1966, 101st Airborne Division in 1967, and Company D, 151st Infantry (Indiana National Guard) in 1968, units formed and trained before they arrived in Vietnam. But once in country, they were faced with training their own replacement soldiers like every other unit.
Several LRRP memoirs describe unit training in terms of a week to two weeks of classes, eight to 12 hours per day. In the 101st Airborne Division in the summer of 1968, this week of training included classes in noise and light discipline; hand signaling; escape and evasion; patrolling techniques; radio procedure; calling for fire missions and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC); land navigation; immediate action drills (IAD); emergency medical treatments for various wounds, injuries, and ailments; camouflage of person and equipment; load packing; and helicopter operations. This week of classroom training was followed by training patrols just outside the perimeter of the base camp.125
In the 1st Cavalry Division in 1967, this training included classes in map reading, identification of enemy weapons and equipment, marksmanship, terminal guidance of aircraft and helicopters, LZ selection, medical training, rudimentary language training, physical conditioning, ambush techniques, radio and communications procedures, combat-reaction drills (IAD by another name), and explosives and demolition.126 In 1968 this unit-training course lasted 10 to 12 days and was still at two weeks in length a year later, after the unit was converted to a Ranger company.127 In 1969 the unit training ran for two weeks and included map reading, rappelling, radio maintenance and operation, aerial-rocket and gunship coordination, medic training, ambush techniques, enemy weapons familiarization, enemy unit identification, and physical conditioning.128
In the 173d Airborne Brigade in 1968, unit training for individual soldiers lasted from one to two weeks and was followed by a trial mission.129 Another source describes training for the Ranger unit of the 173d Airborne Brigade as a minimum of 96 hours over the course of seven to 10 days.130 While the 173d Airborne Brigade used MACV Recondo School, it also made a concerted effort to send personnel to the Malaysian Tracking School.131 Soldiers selected for assignment to E Company (LRP), 20th Infantry, I Field Force attended a 15-day course taught at An Khe by Ranger-qualified instructors. Subjects included physical conditioning, rappelling, radio procedures, first aid, day and night land navigation, patrolling tactics, ambushes, weapons familiarization, MEDEVAC procedures, artillery and gunship terminal guidance, and helicopter operations.132
The capstone of all unit-training programs was actual combat patrolling. When conditions permitted, ambush patrols that most LRRP units were tasked to perform outside their base camp perimeters as a matter of routine were used as training opportunities.133 These were generally overnighters, for which a light (six-man) or heavy (12-man) patrol walked out the main gate before last light to the nearest area of concealment, established an ambush on a road or trail leading toward the base camp, and returned just after first light in the morning. When soldiers had mastered this task and their leaders felt they were prepared, they were assigned to “break-in” long-range patrol missions, normally no more than two “newbies” to a six-man team. At times, however, the operational tempo did not permit the use of these missions and new team members were committed to combat patrols without them.134
Because soldiers were rotating into and out of LRRP units singly and in cohorts, training was both episodic and continuous. On several occasions, due to large personnel turnover, a LRRP unit would have to stand down from combat operations for several weeks to conduct unit training. An example of this occurred in the 101st Airborne Division in December 1968 and January 1969.135
It is no coincidence that all these unit-training programs were remarkably similar in both content and length. The unit cadre who served as instructors were a somewhat homogeneous lot, being infantry NCOs with Ranger and special forces backgrounds. A second explanation for this commonality was the mission itself. While the terrain certainly varied between the central highlands and the delta, so much of what LRRP soldiers practiced and executed was the same in all places. A third reason for the similarity in unit training throughout Vietnam was the MACV Recondo School in Nha Trang.
MACV Recondo School
MACV Recondo School was a product of the 5th Special Forces Group, created expressly for the purpose of training soldiers from all the free-world forces in the art and science of long-range reconnaissance techniques.136 General William Westmoreland formally approved the school’s creation in a message to the 5th Special Forces Group commander of 4 September 1966. The facilities and instructor group in Nha Trang had previously been used to train reconnaissance teams for Project DELTA, a special forces and South Vietnamese Army enterprise that had conducted special operations in Viet Cong-controlled areas since late 1964.
The course taught at MACV Recondo School was three weeks in length, with 260 hours of classroom and field instruction. It was made available to all free-world forces, resulting in the attendance of Vietnamese, Korean, Australian, Thai, and Republic of the Philippines soldiers and airmen, along with personnel from all branches of the US Armed Forces. The typical class size was 60 students, with a new class intake every two weeks. Due to the high academic and physical demands of the course, the dropout rate over time was about 30 percent. Graduates returned to their parent units and were then subject to being re-assigned to a LRRP/LRP/Ranger unit for the remainder of their in-country time.
The prerequisites for attendance at MACV Recondo School were listed in USARV Regulation 350-2:
• Must be a volunteer and possess a combat-arms MOS.
• Must have been in country for one month and have six months’ retainability after graduation.
• Assignment to a LRRP unit is anticipated.
• Must be proficient in general military subjects.
Because non-graduates and graduates alike returned to their parent units, it was in the best interest of units to fill their quotas with carefully selected students. On the other hand, many LRRP soldiers were not afforded the opportunity to attend MACV Recondo School. General Peers, 4th Infantry Division commander, briefing other senior commanders on LRRP issues in September 1967, stated that “due to the quotas for the school and to the rapid turnover of personnel, only about one out of every five of our [4th Infantry Division] LRRP personnel ever attend the Recondo School.”137
Students arrived at the school with their personal assigned weapon and load-bearing equipment (LBE), and with a prescribed number of loaded magazines and hand grenades. The school provided a standard issue of required special equipment, along with a 30-pound sandbag. The sandbag was carried in the student’s rucksack at all times and was subject to being weighed by any instructor at any time. Students were formed into five-man teams and assigned an instructor/adviser, who advised and evaluated the team throughout the course.
Every morning began with physical conditioning before breakfast. In September 1967, this meant a modest period of calisthenics followed by conditioning marches in week one. The marches began at a distance of two miles on Monday and increased to seven miles on Saturday, with a required completion time of under 90 minutes for the 7-mile march. Students carried their rifles and wore all of their LBE with rucksack, four full 1-quart canteens, and their sandbag for these marches. Students who failed to make the grade physically were returned to their units after the first week. Physical conditioning during the second week employed a formation run in place of the forced march, and the weapons, LBE, and rucksacks with sandbags were left in the barracks.
MACV Recondo School’s curriculum contained the following major subject blocks and time allocation in the spring of 1967:
• Physical Training-14:20
• Patrol Training-62:40
• Weapons Training-15:10
• Air Operations-18:30
• Combat Operations-112:40
• Land Navigation-15:30
• Quizzes, examinations, and critiques-6:30
• Commandant’s Time-13:00
Of the total 288 hours, 45:30 was concurrent training in patrolling, weapons training, and air operations.138
The first week of formal instruction was conducted in a classroom on the school compound. The second week was spent in training areas outside the compound on practical subjects, such as weapons firing, tower and helicopter rappelling, and other field activities. The third week was spent in preparing and conducting an actual instructor-led combat patrol in a relatively safe jungle environment. These patrols occasionally made contact with enemy forces and resulted in the wounding and death of both US and enemy personnel.
Upon completion of MACV Recondo School, graduates were awarded a certificate with a Recondo number and a Recondo patch to wear on their right pocket while in country, then were sent back to their parent unit for possible assignment to a LRRP/LRP/Ranger unit.139
While the typical Recondo School class was comprised of enlisted and NCO personnel from all services and a few foreign armies, company-grade officers were also permitted to attend. The list of graduates by class shows on average two or three lieutenants and the occasional captain in a graduating class of 40-45 students.
All seating in the school was set aside in October and November 1967 to train personnel for the LRP companies of Company E (LRP), 20th Infantry (I Field Force) and Company F (LRP), 51st Infantry (II Field Force) in four truncated classes. A total of 333 personnel were trained, but did not complete all the requirements for graduation and therefore were not awarded Recondo numbers.
MACV Recondo School graduated 2,700 US students and also trained the 333 additional personnel mentioned above, for a total of about 3,000 US personnel between September 1966 and December 1970.140 But the school’s training impact was far greater than sheer numbers. The training conducted in LRRP units around the country was inextricably linked to MACV Recondo School training. Most units required their soldiers to have demonstrated aptitude and ability to conduct LRRP operations before they sent them to Recondo School. These units conducted training to qualify soldiers for LRRP duty and also to prepare them for success at Recondo School, based on their knowledge of its physical- and academic-training standards. This pre-screening provided the special forces instructors at Nha Trang with better students, and undoubtedly raised the standard of Recondo School graduates.
MACV Recondo School, in turn, with its comprehensive and detailed classroom and field curriculum and rigorous physical conditioning, defined a common set of TTP for all LRRP units in Vietnam, irrespective of their mission or operating terrain. The importance of this common set of standards cannot be overemphasized. Graduates left Nha Trang with their mental and physical rucksacks full of knowledge of the intimate details of LRRP activities. They took back to their units the paper handouts used by the school in academic instruction.141 They incorporated sandbags in their unit physical conditioning training.142 Primarily as a consequence of Recondo School training, every LRRP unit in Vietnam spoke a common language of long-range patrolling.
TOE 7-157E, the authorization document for a long-range patrol company during the Vietnam War, contains a list of all items of equipment that should have been present in both of the Field Force LRP companies. For the purposes of this study, this TOE serves as a guide to the general types of equipment one might find in any LRRP unit in Vietnam. The several memoirs written by LRRP veterans are a better source to determine what weapons and equipment units actually had access to and used in the performance of their combat mission.
Outside of the two Field Force LRP companies, few LRRP units had assigned vehicles. At most, a unit might have a jeep for the commander and first sergeant, a 3/4-ton truck for the supply sergeant, and perhaps one 2 1/2-ton truck to move personnel from the unit area to the helipad and return. Because provisional LRRP units were not established on authorized TOEs, these vehicles were normally borrowed but sometimes stolen from other units (with commensurate modification to data plates and bumper markings). The practice of “liberating” a vehicle from its owning unit and repainting its bumper markings was common in Vietnam and should not surprise anyone. When a unit was relocated from one area in country to another, these “stolen” vehicles were frequently abandoned in place or returned to their rightful owners.143
Another method of requisition commonly used in Vietnam was the trading of commodities between units. When the 1st Cavalry Division stood up its LRRP unit in late 1966, “horse-trading” was used to obtain exotic weapons, radios, generators, and rucksacks.144 In addition to standard supply items, LRRP-unit personnel frequently possessed enemy weapons and equipment that could be traded away in rear areas, with the full knowledge that more trophy items would be acquired on a re-occurring basis.
TOE 7-157E provided for a standard assortment of weapons: M14 rifles in large numbers, several M60 7.62mm and M2 .50-caliber machine guns, M1911A1 .45-caliber pistols, an M79 grenade launcher, and several 3.5-inch rocket launchers. Replace the M14 with variants of the M16 rifle, drop the .50-caliber machine guns, replace the 3.5-inch rocket launchers with the M72 LAW, add several additional M79 grenade launchers (and late in the war the XM203), and the result is a fairly standard list of armaments found in virtually every LRRP unit by the late-war period. But this list does not begin to describe the total weaponry possessed by LRRPs. Other weapons abounded, some military and some of civilian origin. Here is a list of these other weapons:
• “exotic” weapons (unspecified) in the 1st Cavalry Division145
• Silenced Sten guns in multiple units146
• assortment of modified, unauthorized, classified, stolen, silenced, and otherwise illegal weapons in the 101st Airborne Division147
• M2 (full-automatic capable) carbine in multiple units148
• M3 submachine gun in multiple units149
• Thompson .45-caliber submachine gun in 1st Infantry Division and Americal Division150
• 12-gauge shotgun in multiple units151
• AK47 (common in many units for use by point man, who may also have been wearing black pajamas to provide the patrol greater reaction time to sudden enemy contact)152
• Simonov semi-automatic carbine (SKS)153
• CZ58 rifle in the 173d Airborne Brigade154
• silenced/unsilenced Swedish K submachine gun in multiple units155
• M79 with cut-off barrel and stock in multiple units156
• M14 with and without scope in multiple units157
• Winchester Model 70 bolt-action rifle in the 101st Airborne Division158
• high standard .22-caliber pistol (government-issue) or Ruger .22-caliber pistol159
• numerous personal weapons160
Men carried personal weapons other than standard-issue M16 variants for many reasons as diverse as the list itself. Perhaps the best reason was expressed by a veteran of the 1st Infantry Division LRRP Detachment: “[We used] anything that made fire fights sound more like their weapons and gave no indication of the size of our force.”161 In general terms, these men understood that a non-standard weapon required them to carry their own irreplaceable ammunition supply. They also learned that silenced weapons were not always silent and that “sawed-off” weapons (M79, M14, even the M60 machine gun) did not perform to the same standard as an unmodified weapon of the same type. Any submachine gun that fired the .45-caliber round was exceptionally heavy in combination with its ammunition supply. And a black-pajama-clad point man carrying an AK47 did not want to be observed by a friendly patrol or helicopter. That could lead to a disastrous outcome.
Different units had various rationales for issuing and carrying the M72 LAW. In II Field Force, the M72 LAW was initially viewed as a psychological weapon, used to shock and stun enemy soldiers and also to confuse them as to the size and identity of the American unit they had engaged.162 But on occasion the weapon was actually fired for its destructive effect, in one case at an enemy sampan.163 Infrequent mention of the M72 LAW is made in 101st Airborne Division memoirs. In one case, the LRRP team’s mission was to find and destroy an enemy radio transmitter. In another mission, conducted in April 1969 in the A Shau Valley, a team carried a LAW because of rumors of NVA armor using the road through the valley. In the third example, in March and April 1971, Ranger teams equipped with claymores, shaped charges, and LAWs were inserted along a road to ambush and destroy enemy vehicular traffic.164 The LAW was occasionally used to break contact with the enemy in the 1st Cavalry Division LRRP company.165 The paucity of references to this weapon in memoir literature suggests that its use was not widespread.166
The list of standard-issue items for a LRRP soldier looks about the same across all units, plus or minus a garment here and there or the different number of canteens (reflecting seasonal weather and terrain variations). If one inspected the personal gear and rucksack of any LRP soldier in any LRP unit in 1968, one would likely find the following items:
• personal weapon (M16 or CAR15) with at least 18 to 20 20-round magazines (18 rounds per magazine with ball-to-tracer ratio as per unit SOP)
• fragmentation grenades (minimum four-six)
• smoke grenades (minimum 1)
• white phosphorus grenades (frequently 1)
• chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile (CS) grenades (frequently 1)
• claymore mine (minimum 1)
• map in protective plastic
• C4 or other explosive substance (1/4-pound block or more)
• detonation cord, non-electric blasting caps
• dehydrated rations (two per day for anticipated duration of patrol)