Section III - Lessons in Combat Service Support


Item: That the need exists to replace the metal canteen with the plastic canteen.

Discussion: The plastic canteen presently in the supply system has proven decidedly superior to the metal canteen. Lighter in weight, it reduces the overall individual load and completely eliminates metallic noises incident to the handling of the current canteen.

Observation: Expedite the issue of the plastic canteen to all units presently serving in combat areas.

Body Armor

Item: That body armor is unsuitable for strenuous activity in hot and humid climates.

Discussion: Body armor caused an unacceptable number of heat casualties when worn while undergoing even minimal physical activity. It does not permit circulation of air nor absorb sufficient moisture to support an efficient body cooling process. The weight and bulkiness hampered the freedom of movement required on patrol.

Observation: Body armor to be worn only while engaged in non-strenuous activity, i.e., helicopter reconnaissance, manning defensive positions and troop vehicular movement.

Head Gear

Item: That the current Army head gear, both the helmet and baseball cap have proven inadequate for extensive and intensive offensive type counterinsurgency operations in a tropical climate.

Discussion: The steel helmet generates and retains heat, impairs hearing and is uncomfortable. Similarly, the current fatigue cap offers no protection from the heat on the top or back of the head, neck or lower face. In the monsoon weather the present cover will not shed water properly, causing additional discomfort to the wearer. Wearing of either of the aforementioned head pieces during patrol operations resulted in a daily average of two heat casualties while during a local three week experiment with a brimmed hat, heat casualties were reduced by half, although the scope and intensity of patrols increased and the weather was appreciably warmer.

Observation: That a high crowned, broad-brimmed, well-ventilated hat be developed for combat operations in tropical climates.

Counterinsurgency Officer

Item: That the need exists for a special staff officer on the battalion and brigade levels designated as the Counterinsurgency Officer.

Discussion: Experience has shown that one staff officer should be given the additional duty as Counterinsurgency Officer. The functions of this officer fall within both the area of the S-2 and Legal/Civil Affairs Officer. The Counterinsurgency Officer's duties would include maintaining listings of the villages and hamlets and size of the Popular Force units in each village. The CI Officer acts as coordinator with village and district chiefs in such areas as intelligence from the local populace, coordinator of operations and security with Popular Forces and supervisor of the people to people program. Therefore he should have a working knowledge of the Vietnamese language. The Affairs Officer serves as an assistant to the CI Officer. This system has proven very effective in the area of control.

Observation: That the additional duty of counterinsurgency officer be assigned to each battalion and brigade S-2.

Medical/Civil Affairs

Item: The need for training of indigenous personnel for use as aid men by medical elements attached to Army units.

Discussion: When operating in an area with a civilian populace present and the need for a civic action arises, the doctor and his team are normally called upon for duty. The need for a doctor operating in a village is readily apparent but there is also a need for semi-trained personnel to help in the village on a daily basis. This can be accomplished by seeking the advice of the village chief and asking him for nominations of two or three people that can act as nurses or aid men. Classes can be held in Vietnamese for selected personnel from the surrounding villages. In this way, wounds can be cleansed, bandages changed, salves applied and prescribed medicines administered between visits by doctors. However, the real long range goal of this program is getting the people used to helping themselves by providing a means by which they can do so and to gain the respect and admiration of the people, in addition to obtaining valuable intelligence information.

Observation: That this be incorporated in the Field Medical training program that doctors and aid men receive prior to reporting to a field unit.

Personnel and Administration

Item: Unit strength must be maintained at near 100% to maintain efficiency in RVN.

Discussion: It is readily apparent that a unit must be up to TOE strength for commitment to extended operations. A unit which is initially short of personnel and which suffers normal losses through death, injury, and rotations will stay below an efficient operation level. A system is needed whereby committed units receive a rapid input of personnel. Personnel shortages are especially significant when a unit has to operate in unsecured areas, or when a unit is split between a primary and forward position and must provide security for both - as happens frequently in this area. In addition to rapid input, a rotation system most be developed which will keep pace with the personnel situation. In many instances, personnel rotate to CONUS without contact replacements. This is a critical situation for a unit, because many are specialists, and failure to replace an MOS skill with a contact relief can lead to breakdown in the system.

Observation: Replacements must be requisitioned far enough in advance to allow a break-in period.

Battery Life

Item: Reduced battery life.

Discussion: The extreme heat and the lack of refrigeration for dry cell batteries reduces their useful life significantly. A thirty-day supply may debilitate to ten or fifteen days.

Observation: Protect batteries from the weather. Where possible, use old batteries first.

Medical Evacuation

Item: Casualty evacuation must be expedited.

Discussion: The chain of evacuation for friendly casualties, as well as ARVN and civilian personnel must be promulgated to all concerned down to the aid man well in advance and reiterated on a timely basis. All ARVN and civilian casualties must be evacuated to Vietnamese medical facilities available. American casualties follow the normal evacuation chain.

Observation: Insure that the evacuation system for civilians as well as US military is understood by all medical personnel concerned with this function.


Item: Resupply in remote areas is a critical problem in RVN.

Discussion: Due to the lack of road or rail systems in most areas of Vietnam, the primary means of resupply is by air. All planning for operations in these areas must include plans for low Level Extraction (LOLEX) if helicopters or landing zones are not available. A Supply Demand Code to abbreviate resupply requests must also be developed and used since many initial requests must be transmitted over limited communication nets.

Observation: The problem of resupply during operations is a major one in RVN. Units must develop techniques for aerial resupply and insure that it is included in all operational planning.

Personal Effects

Item: Storage facilities are scarce in RVN

Discussion: Provisions must be made for the storage of non-essential uniforms and personal gear outside of the objective area. The maximum number of fatigues and other field equipment should be brought by each individual, however, only a minimum of summer service uniforms. Duffel bags which are exposed to the elements quickly mildew in this climate which is ruinous to uniform clothing, therefore provisions must be made for storage under cover.

Observation: Only those necessary items of clothing should accompany personnel to RVN.

Ammunition Exposure

Item: That unnecessary exposure of ammunition causes it to deteriorate rapidly in a tropical climate.

Discussion: It has been discovered that ammunition, particularly linked machine gun, corrodes rapidly with the links rusting overnight. Carrying belts of ammunition "Pancho Villa" style draped over the body accelerates the corroding process due to perspiration.

Observation: That proper ammunition storage techniques be practiced at all times in training and checked daily in the ordnance inspection within units in the combat area.

M-79 Marking Round

Item: That a requirement exists for an M-79 marking round, smoke and/or white phosphorus, to designate intermediate targets.

Discussions: To augment the organic mortars which mark targets beyond 1000 meters, and the grenade, rifle or hand, which mark "close in" targets, there is a need for a M-79 round to indicate intermediate targets, i.e., 500 meters, particularly for the rapid employment of UH-1B's as gunships in support of patrols.

Observation: Procurement of an M-79 marking round, smoke and/or white phosphorus.

Staging Areas

Item: The use of single staging areas and stereotyped flight patterns results in increasing risks to helicopters.

Discussion: In the areas of increased activity by VC forces, staging areas may become vulnerable to preplanned attacks. Multiple staging areas must be pre-planned and pre-stocked whenever possible. Flight patterns must vary sufficiently so as not to establish an operational pattern. Alternate routes must be selected for each LZ based on current intelligence, weather, terrain, etc.

Observation: Staging areas should be selected on the basis of accessibility to the area of tactical operations, logistics, and security.

Extract from Battlefield Reports. A Summary of Lessons Learned, Headquarters, US Army Vietnam. Volume 1. 30 August, 1965

Return to top of page