By Richard H Dick James
54 years ago, June 1967, I was the Staff Sergeant Demolition Sergeant, Heavy Weapons Leader and junior Radio Operator on Detachment A-422 (Vinh Gia), 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), in the western Mekong Delta (IV Corps) of South Vietnam, 2,000 meters from the Cambodian border. I was on my 6-month voluntary extension in Vietnam. 31 May officially ended the fourth of seventeen campaigns in the Vietnam War, that of the “Counteroffensive Campaign, Phase II.” The following day, 1 June, began the fifth campaign, known as the “Counteroffensive Campaign, Phase III.” I had now participated in three campaigns. Also on 1 June, COL Kelly was replaced by COL Jonathan F. Ladd as commander, 5th Special Forces Group. As with us grunts, the tour of duty for colonels in Vietnam was one year. In his debriefing report, dated 31 May, COL Kelly summarized the major missions assigned by MACV to the 5th SFG as: 1. Advise and assist VNSF (aka LLDB) in the CIDG program. 2. Execute the duties of sector and subsector advisers in those provinces designated by COMUSMACV. 3. Conduct special operations as directed. 4. Collect, process, and disseminate intelligence. 5. Conduct MACV Recondo School for the training of FWMAF (Free World Military Assistance Forces) personnel in long range reconnaissance techniques. Also included in the debriefing was the fact that 22 new CIDG camps had opened during the past year, while nine camps, in “pacified areas,” were closed. The amount of CIDG combat reconnaissance platoons also increased, from 34 to 73. The new camps were built as “fighting camps,” those in the Mekong Delta also being constructed as, and classified as “floating camps,” ready for flooding. That was a lesson learned from the flooding endured by IV Corps camps during the monsoon seasons of 1966. “Floating camps” consisted of buildings that were constructed a story-and-a-half high, with floors that floated as the water rose in flood prone areas. Medical and ammunition bunkers, as well as crew-served weapons positions, were erected on reinforced platforms that also floated. Last, but not least, floating helipads were erected, capable of supporting a loaded Huey UH-1D helicopter. “Fighting camps” were austere, functional, and easily defended, using the technique of defense in depth. They were designed as bases for extended operations in the camp area of operations (AO), and defendable by 25% of the camp’s assigned personnel. The basis of the camps was that they were to conduct aggressive combat operations, capable of quick reinforcement. The first official “fighting camp” was the new Plei Djereng (Detachment A-251 in II Corps), built in late 1966. All possible efforts were made to hold construction time, and costs, to a minimum. The camps were to be constructed, as much as possible, with locally procured materials and labor. The preferred labor was to be supplied by the camp assigned personnel. The permanence of the camp depended upon location. Those camps located within the interior of the country were designed to be moved out of as soon as the surrounding area was pacified. Camps along the border were usually more permanent, due to the mission of border surveillance. Of course, each camp was planned with small outposts in mind, to serve as early warning posts. MACV reported that 9,842 enemy were killed during the month of May, and 2,061 surrendered under the Chieu Hoi program. Allied losses totaled 2,205, of which 922 were Vietnamese, 1,177 American, and 106 from other free-world units. Personnel shortages in Special Forces became very serious in Vietnam by mid-1967. We were acutely aware of these shortages at Vinh Gia, many times not even being able to field half of an A-team in camp at any one time. Much of the problem stemmed from the fact that Special Forces in Vietnam was expanding its special operations role, thus leaving less men available for A-team assignments. Especially hard hit were the core skill areas of the A-Detachment. The shortages became so acute that the Department of the Army advised the 5th Group to assign non-Special Forces qualified personnel to their teams. The problem was caused by shortfalls in recruiting goals, as well as the Army not being able to reenlist as many experienced soldiers as usual. Almost 80% of all enlisted Special Forces had by this time served in Vietnam, and an unusually low 30% of the SF soldiers in country had volunteered for duty in South Vietnam. I was proud of having been one of those 30%, including the fact that I was currently on my voluntary 6 month extension in Vietnam, serving for 18 months instead of the usual year. From my book #4 (“SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences in Vietnam Book 4”), of my four-book set of “SLURP SENDS!” Books #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”), #2 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”), #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret in Vietnam Book 3”), and #4 are available on Amazon, or from me.PHOTOS: Various photos of Camp Vinh Gia.SLURP SENDS!