Recondo

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MACV Recondo patch
Recondo refers to both the Army's now-defunct advanced infantry training course and the graduates of the course. During the Vietnam War, the course's graduation exercise was an actual patrol against real enemies, earning Recondo school the nickname "the deadliest school on Earth."

Contents

Pre-Vietnam

101st Airborne Recondo students rappeling
In 1958 Maj. Gen. William C. Westmoreland, the Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division, noticed a failing of proficiency and initiative in squad, fireteam, and patrol leaders during an exercise codenamed WHITE CLOUD.[1] Gen. Westmoreland was a veteran of the Normandy invasion and realized the importance of small-unit leaders and individuals who had been separated from their parent units to take action against superior enemy forces. Westmoreland wanted a school that was shorter than the eight-week Ranger School, but included the same fundamentals. 2LT Donald I. Bernstein suggested that some of the 101st's Ranger-trained personnel start a school for the entire division in Ranger tactics.[2] When the idea was brought to Gen. Westmoreland he chose Maj. Lewis L. Millett, a veteran of World War II and Korea and Medal of Honor recipient, to command the two-week school.

On a rotating basis, battle groups selected 45 members to form a class. Anyone who quit for reasons other than medical were transferred from the 101st.[1] To emphasize reconnaissance and doughboy (standard infantry) skills, the school was called "Recondo" - a combination of RECONaissance and DOughboy.[3] The Recondo insignia of the graduates of the school would be an Indian arrowhead pointing downwards to symbolize assault from the sky to the ground in the colors of black and white for operation by day and night.

In 1960, General Westmoreland became Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point where he created a Recondo school for the cadets.[4]

Curriculum

Prior to Vietnam, the two-week (day and night) course covered the following areas:[5]

  • Physical training
  • Leadership
  • Mountaineering
  • Knot tying
  • First aid
  • Stream crossing
  • Aerial resupply
  • Forward observation (artillery)
  • Survival
  • Evasion and escape
  • Confidence course
  • Ambush and counterambush
  • Map reading and land navigation
  • Hand-to-hand combat
  • Guerilla and counter-guerilla warfare
  • Combat intelligence
  • Demolitions
  • Expedient weapons
  • Patrolling
  • Patrol problems, including reconnaissance, combat (with and without parachute entry), ambush, and raid

The total instruction time for the two-week course was 338 hours, which left very little time for sleep.[5]

A February 1960 article in Army magazine described Recondo tactics as "dedicated to the domination of certain areas of the battlefield by small aggressive roving patrols of opportunity which have not been assigned a definite reconnaissance or combat mission".[6]

Among the innovations from the 101st Recondo school was a patrol of opportunity, called the Recondo patrol. This patrol would allow the patrol leader to raise as much havoc in an assigned enemy sector as possible, hitting any targets of opportunity. The Recondo patrol could be used:

  • immediately after the seizure of an objective when the enemy was disorganized
  • as a screen for retrograde operations
  • to eliminate guerrilla activity
  • to develop a situation in front of a rapidly advancing larger force
  • to conduct feints[1]

Impressed by the concept and results of the 101st's Recondo program, other U.S. Army divisions created their own Recondo schools, including the 25th Infantry Division and the 82d Airborne Division, which was later restructured under the XVIII Airborne Corps.

Vietnam War

After Gen. Westmoreland became commander of the American forces in the Vietnam War, he ordered the creation of a Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) Recondo school to teach Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol tactics.[7] The school was run by instructors from the 5th Special Forces Group in Nha Trang, South Vietnam. Students ranged from U.S. soldiers and Marines as well as members of the Free World Military Assistance Forces (FWMAF): South Vietnamese, Korean, Australian, Thai, and Republic of the Philippines in The course required a high level of physical fitness and concluded with an actual combat patrol prior to completion of the course to demonstrate the students' knowledge and capabilities, dubbed "You Bet Your Life."[8]

The inspiration for the MACV Recondo school was the Project Delta reconnaissance course which stemmed from the joint Special Forces/CIA operation called LEAPING LENA. The LRRP training program was established in May 1964 and administered by members of Detachment B-52 from the 5th Special Forces Group. The effectiveness of the it's techniques quickly led to student application requests from regular Army units. By August 1966 soldiers from conventional units accounted for 52% of each class.[7]

Na Trang and Hon Tre Island
With the success of Project Delta course, Gen. Westmoreland directed that Special Forces organize and conduct a three-week course of instruction on LRRP techniques for selected personnel from U.S and FWMAF units. Gen. Westmoreland established the MACV Recondo School in Nha Trang on 16 September 1966. Instructors were members of the 5th Special Forces Group, many on their second or third tours in Vietnam.[9] The first Recondo class graduated on 1 October 1966.

The three-week course consisted of 260 hours of classroom and field instruction. The first week was conducted in a classroom on the school compound. The second week was spent outside the compound on 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 U.S. and enemy personnel.[10]

The new Recondos returned to their parent units and were often assigned to LRRP units. Out of 5,626 students, including 296 Koreans, 193 Thais, 130 Vietnamese, 22 Filipinos and 18 Australians, only 3,515 graduated the course. [7] According to Green Beret magazine, only two students died in training (as of April 1968).[9] The MACV school was officially closed on 19 December 1970 when Gen. Westmoreland was replaced by Gen. Creighton W. Abrams. Prospective students had to have at least one month in country and over six months left in order to be selected for the school. Due to the short window and limited number of slots, only about one in five soldiers in a typical LRRP team were Recondos.

Curriculum

Physical Training: Students were given a standard airborne physical training test on the second day of the course and had to demonstrate their helicopter extraction aptitude by climbing and descending a forty-foot knotted rope. At 4:30 each morning, students would perform pushups, situps, and pullups. Forced marches started at 5 kilometers, with a rifle, web gear, four canteens, and a rucksack holding a 45 pound sandbag which instructors could weigh at any time to discourage cheating. Instructors added one km each day to the march, finishing at 19km. Running started at 5km, working up to 9 km.[11] A swimming test was also administered.

Map Reading: When the school was first opened students took a map reading examination and those that failed were returned to their units. Unfortunately the failure was so high that a 15-hour map course ad to be added to the itinerary. Students that failed after this course received additional instruction on the material after scheduled training during the second week. All students were tested again in the final examination.

Medical: Basic first aid, survival drugs and medicines, life saving techniques, the treatment of special wounds and the use of the Ringers Lactate Unit were taught as part of the course. All students were also instructed on how to give muscular and intravenous injections.

Communications: Students were taught how to use the AN/PRC-25, HT-1 and URC-10 radios as well as receiving instruction on field expedient and aircraft antennas and the use of signal operating instructions and message writing.

Clockwise from top left: 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, 101st Airborne Division, and 25th Infantry Division.
Intelligence: Intelligence training consisted of the principles of combat intelligence, terrain analysis, basic photography, handling of Prisoners of War, captured documents and equipment plus the Viet Cong organization, operations and tactics.

Patrol Training: The school delivered instruction on patrol preparation, organization and security, special equipment, helicopter extraction and infiltration techniques, tracking and immediate action drills.

Weapons Training: Students zeroed their weapons and participated in jungle lane and instinctive fire exercises in addition to using the M-79 grenade launcher and common VC and NVA firearms. Two hours was devoted to mines and booby-traps and four hours to the adjustment of artillery and mortar fire.

Air Operations: During the air operations segment of instruction, students learnt the limitations and capabilities of the UH-1 helicopter including: loading and unloading procedures, rigging of the helicopter, landing zone selection plus infiltration and extraction methods using rappelling ropes, rope ladders and the STABO rig.

Students were also schooled in Forward Air Control (FAC) procedures and were required to direct an airborne FAC to an actual target. The use of helicopter gunships and Shadow and Stinger Aircraft was also part of the course.

Combat Operations: For those students who had achieved the required academic points and had demonstrated overall proficiency the course culminated in a three- to five-day range reconnaissance patrol in the mountains west of Nha Trang or on Hon Tre Island. Accompanied by a cadre advisor, this phase of the program forced students to apply all the skills acquired during the first two-weeks of training.

Upon graduation, students would receive a Recondo patch, which was worn on the right front blouse pocket and a certificate with their assigned Recondo number, which went into their permanent record. The honor graduate received an engraved knife and lighter.

References

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