LRP/LRRP IN VIETNAM

 

        The 196th Infantry Brigade (Separate) was on Caribbean peace keeping duty when the brigade was ordered and diverted in August 1966 to combat in Vietnam. This move was a permanent change of station (PCS). The new duty station was Tay Ninh, II. Corps, Vietnam, under the command of Brigadier General Richard T. Knowles.

 

 

       It became apparent in the coming months that the Brigade needed a far-ranging ground reconnaissance element to gather needed intelligence on the enemy. General Knowles, on 1st November 1966, tasked the Commander of F Troop, 17th Calvary to form a (Provisional) far ranging reconnaissance detachment "strictly from volunteers". On 1st December 1966, First Lieutenant (1LT) John Maxwell volunteered to command the detachment. 1LT Maxwell was Airborne and Pathfinder qualified. 1LT Maxwell needed a Detachment First Sergeant (1SG) and chose a volunteer who was a Special Forces (SF) qualified Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Staff Sergeant (SSG) Earl Toomey. These two leaders started a procurement effort which lead to the interview of two hundred plus applicants. After exhausting interviews with all volunteers on 2nd January 1967, only 13 were accepted for training and service.

 

 

        These handpicked men would be the cornerstones of the 196th Infantry Brigade's Provisional Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) (pronounced "Lurp") Detachment and trainers for its units' future soldiers called "Lurps". By modus operandi, the detachment was authorized by army regulation as an (Airborne) unit. The detachment's authorized strength started at 42 and shortly changed to 65 personnel. However, the detachment never quite achieved that number and stayed around the average of 42 volunteers. As the seven (7) man teams filled, the teams were sent to 5th Special Forces MACV Recondo School for training. The only other training at the detachment level was on-the-job-training "OJT" under the guiding hand of the Detachment First Sergeant.

 

 

    

         Just as the detachment's operational teams got themselves to the point of rotation in and out of the battlefield (with all the training requirements, trying to rest and returning to patrolling) the tum around time gave little to no sleep. 1LT Maxwell was promoted to Captain (CPT) and departed the detachment in July l967. 1LT Frank G. Pratt Jr. assumed command of the detachment. 1LT Pratt was a graduate of Airborne and Ranger School and was cadre at the Ranger Course.

 

 

 

        When the unit was at its largest patrolling size, eight (8) full teams were operational. The need of equipment and uniforms was a nightmare through official channels due to the non-TO&E status of LRRPS. Therefore, procurement of equipment was derived from different sources. French tiger fatigues and Colt Commando AR15s were acquired from the canny efforts of Sergeant Victor Valeriano. As more equipment was needed, Specialist Garver became the unofficial Supply Specialist which lead to the temporary receipt of vehicles and other items of interest through his procurement efforts. The Detachment participated in Operations Attleboro, Wheeler, Wallowa and Junction City penetrating and patrolling into War Zone C of I Corps. Teams were constantly looking for the Viet Cong (VC) guerrillas and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops. By finding routes, camps, caches of food and equipment during their mission, the team would report real time intelligence information to the Brigade. Many of the patrol members either dressed in VC clothing or took the clothing with them on patrols. Dressing as VC gave advantage in performing enemy prisoner snatches or to avoid standing out as Americans in an all oriental environment. The problem with that, however, was if caught they could be shot for spying.

 

 

    

         The detachment was credited with the identification of the 271st Peoples Liberation Front Regiment, "VC Guerrillas", and the destruction of a platoon of the 271st Regiment. Teams of the detachment were further credited with numerous Long Range Recon Patrols within their operational sectors which encompassed Quang Tin and Tay Ninh Province, specifically Que Son and Son Re Valleys. The teams performed numerous wire tap, ambush, tunnel exploration, bomb damage assessment, artillery/air strikes, surveillance, stay-behind and combat patrol missions.

 

 

 

 

 

        The unit gained entry into the battlefield by foot, vehicle, rubber boat, and aircraft. By air, they used false insertion techniques and rappelled in by mountaineering equipment. For extractions, they used the UH-1D Helicopter. The field rations available to the Lurps were freeze dried Long-range patrol rations, C-rations or the Vietnamese indigenous rations. On 12th August 1967 the 196th Infantry Brigade became a part of a unit consolidation and dubbed "Task Force Oregon". On 25th September 1967, General William Westmoreland Jr. ordered Task Force Oregon be replaced by the 23rd Infantry Division (Americal) and thereon the 196th Infantry Brigade was absorbed into the newly activated division. The 196th LRRP Detachment continued to operate as the Brigade's reconnaissance force.

 

 

 

        Under the command of Americal Division Commander, Major General Samuel W. Koster, the 196th LRRP Detachment was deactivated as a Brigade asset on 2nd November 1967. The unit was consolidated with the assets and soldiers of the deactivated 11th Infantry Brigade's 70th Infantry Long Range Patrol Detachment in December 1967, as Long Range Recon Patrol Detachment (Airborne) LRRP-D(A). The creation of LRRP-D(A) at this time was involved in refining their art of reconnaissance patrolling with the USMC I" Force Recon Company in Da Nang.

 

 

 

     On 20th December 1967 the Department of the Army (DA) ordered LRRP-D(A) absorbed and reconstituted as Company E (LRP) 51st Infantry (Airborne) as the "official" Long Range Patrol Company for the 23rd Infantry Division(Americal). SSG Toomey was still the 1SG and was promoted to Sergeant First Class (SFC E-7) and shortly afterward moved to a staff position in Division G2.

 

 

 

        When 1SG Allen Whitcomb reported in, 1SG Whitcomb became the new Company First Sergeant. Whitcomb was a Jungle Expert and attended Panama's Jungle Operation Training Course (JOTC); he was also Airborne qualified and rated as a Master Parachutist. The new Company Commander was Captain Gary F. Bjork a graduate of both Airborne and Ranger Schools. Under the new Tactical Operations and Equipment (TO&E), the unit strength went from 65 to 118 personnel. The consolidation of the Division LRRP assets was to give better support to the three different Infantry Brigades spread out within the Division Area of Operations (DAO). E 51st LRP Company's patrol area had also increased covering Quang Ngai, Quang Tin, and Quang Nam Provinces. This became the largest operating area for any LRP unit in Vietnam.

 

        In addition to this large area of responsiblity, the unit was short personnel due to rotations back to the Continental United States (CONUS), resulting in back-to-back patrols. With little sleep in between missions, as missions came, the patrols continued. Captain Bjork and 1SG Whitcomb instituted a fair rotation of teams to help teach training with the new Company Recondo School. Another team could pull a rear OP/LP surveillance mission close to the Division's perimeter guards on the beach, thus getting rest. Another patrol would be at the forward base with the Brigade Tactical Operations Center (TOC) as back up, and one patrol was out scouting the enemy's backyard. This method would buy time to start a procurement effort for volunteers from the Division.

 

       The black beret was another selling point. With verbal approval from the Division Commander, the Bancroft black beret became the headgear of distinction for the Lurps and an eye catcher for prospective LRP volunteers. In order to be an elite Lurp, one must volunteer and then pass the Company Recondo School. With recruiting fliers out to the remote outposts of the Infantry Brigades, Airborne qualified personnel could be attracted. Jump pay was authorized. For the soldiers wanting to be Lurps who were not airborne qualified, the first requirement was to have been on the battlefield at least two months before volunteering. They then had to take and pass the Airborne PT test , swim test; after which a records check was made to see if the soldier had a GT score of 100 or better. Finally, a check was performed to see if there was any disciplinary record.

 

 

       If all looked good, the volunteer qualified for training. The instructors of the Company Recondo School were the patrol-hardened MACV Recondo qualified Veterans of 196th LRRP Detachment and LRRP-Det (A). On a special note, Special Forces and Ranger personnel arriving into the unit were not required to attend Recondo training; however, they were required to help with training. Non-airborne and airborne personnel were required to attend training.

 

      During the school, physical training consisting of a seven mile "Recondo walk" with weapon, low bearing equipment (LBE) and 35 pound rucksack was performed. This was for a period of two weeks with classes on various duty related subjects, i.e. operations and techniques on waterborne, heliborne, mountaineering, intelligence reports, patrolling, special weapons, hand to hand fighting, communications, medical, quick reaction drill's, tracking, ambush, POW handling, artillery/naval/air call for fire, and orientation and survival. This was a condensed eight week Ranger Course. The doctrinal patrolling techniques that were passed to the new Lurps were lessons learned from 196th LRRP and LRRP-D(A) which made the new men either want to be in the Lurps or have nothing to do with them. Wanted posters, circulated and posted by the VC in Chu Lai, Tam Ky, and Duc Pho, also added to the mystic of the Lurps .

 

 

 

 

 
      

       Echo Company 51st was also accredited with training the Reconnaissance Element of the 2nd ARVN Division during 1968. The Division's AO was described as Military Region 5 of War Zone C, within I. Corps Vietnam. To the North were DaNang and the DMZ with mountains, rolling hills and coastal waterways. To the south were Cam Ranh Bay, coastal water ways, rice fields and triple canopy jungles. To the east were lowlands and the South China Sea. To the west were woodland triple canopy jungles, foot hills and steep mountains all the way into Laos. To make it worse, the I. Corps area was notorious for enemy booby traps. The enemy was the 2nd North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong Guerrillas of Communist Military/Political Region 5.

 

         The reconnaissance requirements of the forward Infantry Brigades were three teams at their locations. Our teams were distributed thusly:

 *    Three teams were at LZ Bronco at Duc Pho in support of the 11th Infantry Brigade.

 *    Three teams stationed at LZ Baldy at Tam Ky with 196th Infantry Brigade.

 *    Three teams were at LZ Bayonet at Binh Son with the 198th Infantry Brigade.

 *    Three teams at Chu Lai Beach Company Recondo School "Instructors".

 *    One team at MACV Recondo.

 *    One team on radio relay detail.

 *    Three teams at Chu Lai Beach Company E (LRP), 51st Infantry "at rest".

 *    Two "on-call" Dog Trackers.

 *    Three Para Riggers.

 *    Twelve men on R&R or one leave out of country.

 *    Twelve men in Company Headquarters and non-TO&E Attachments.

 *    Three Vietnamese Army Interpreters "Kit Carson Scouts".

 

 

 

        At the start, CPT Bjork, was informed that his Lurps would have to stand inspections and wear helmets in the field during LRP operations by Division Staff Officers above him. For awhile, the Lurps would wear helmets but removed them prior to insertion. Inspections, on the other hand, were performed in the company area. When the General had someone of importance show up at Headquarters, he would show off the spit and polish, camouflage fatigue clad, black beret wearing elite troops of his division, "The Lurps". The Company Commander did not take long to have all that rescinded to allow the Lurps to do their jobs. In addition, he allowed his troops to carry any weapon that they were comfortable with in the battlefield.

 

 

 

        CPT Bjork also had the largest rappelling tower in Vietnam built for their training - it was ninety feet high. It was said that when you reported to training on the first day, Bjork's Recondo Instructors would inform the students "You are Pukes, and we are here to break you and make you quit!!" Class size varied according to the number of volunteers during that period.

 

 

 

       E 51st LRP was involved in numerous long-range patrol (LRP) missions that required heavy hunter/killer combat teams in the field, and sniper missions were also performed as needed. The company survived the TET Counteroffensive 68 phases III, IV, V, and VI with minor damage to some of the companies barracks, "tin huts", as a result of the Division's ammunition dump exploding from enemy artillery and mortar attack in January 1968.

 

 

        Some of the unit's LRP Teams participated as a blocking force during Operation Muscatine. Also during this month, 18 ARC Light strikes were directed, numerous bomb damage assessments (BDA) were performed, and 50 air strikes on caves and bunkers yielding with secondary explosions underground occurred as a result of the Division's Lurp directed actions. During the following months, the unit lost several team members as a result of direct action battles. The unit was also at that stage of losing personnel from DEROS back to the United States and new volunteers were needed to fill the open slots. Between 1968 and 1969, Team Winston managed to photograph a T-55 Russian tank in the hedgerow northeast of Duc Pho close to the Laotian border. Another team, under the leadership of SGT Ben Dunham, reported the siting, in late 1968, of a 6-foot blonde-headed Caucasian male leading a VC patrol in the I Corps area. This same team captured a Chinese National with the rank of Colonel.

 

 

 

        The use of name brand cigarettes was used to identify the teams such as: Team Old Gold, Winston, Salem, Lucky Strike, Camel, Marlboro, etc. In July, CPT Bjork departed the company and CPT Philip Clark became the new Company Commander.

 

 

 

 

    

         Between January and September 1968, 15 LRPs were killed as a result of combat action. In December 1968, CPT James McWilliams took command of the company and 1SG Howard Slaughter took over the First Sereant duties from 1SG Whitcomb as he departed. In January 1969, E Company, 51st Inf. (LRP) was absorbed into the 75th (RANGER) Infantry Regiment. CPT McWilliams was informed that all LRP soldiers and units were now a part of the 75th Ranger Infantry (Combined Arms Regimental System) and the company would be realigned per DA Message No. 893755. While in Vietnam, E Company earned the Meritorious Unit Commendation Streamer embroidered "Vietnam 18th June 68 - 20th January 69". The Rangers were also told to remove the black beret until further notice.

 

 

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