Special Forces


Sergeant Major
MI.Net Member
May 31, 2004
After my return from the Playground of the Orient (my recruiter had a warped sense of humor) I spent some time in an Armored Cav Regt until I ran into a guy I had gone through basic with who was a CPT in the Special Forces, this was in 1974 so we are still talking about the Army Green Berets. He talked me into coming over so I made some connections and joined what was then called "the other Army".

Airborne qualification was the only major requirement at the time although you would have to pass rigorous courses to complete qualification.

The "Q", or qualification course was nothing like airborne or Ranger school, none of the loud harassment, but it alternated between strong academics and hands on exercises all designed to stretch your limits. I think most of the reason for this was that the lowest ranking EM was an E-4.

We earned our berets at the end of Q course and then began our individual training. Probably the most intense individual training was for Special Forces medic. The course was a year long at Ft. Sam Houston and involved the famous (or infamous) dog ward, where a medic was assigned a stray dog about to be put down, the dog was gunshot and the medic had to save its life. We had great confidence in our medics, they could perform an appendectomy if need be.

The force structure of Special Forces was unique and generated much criticism and suspicion from regular officers. Initially officers were rotated into a Special Forces detachment for a two year tour, but these officers rarely got into the assigment and simply kept afloat until their tiem was up and they could move on. By the time I joined this had changed and officers were qualified as Special Forces almost becoming a separate branch.

In a regular infantry unit the smallest combat unit that can operate for long periods independantly is a battalion. In Special Forces the smallest unit that existed was designed to operate independantly for long periods of time, this was the "A" team.

An "A" team had either 12 or 14 men, depending on the mission and was designed to be split without restricting its capabilities. There were two officers, a CPT and a 1LT, a team sergeant, an E-8, and assistant team segeant, E-7, two light weapons experts, two heavy weapons experts, two radio men, and two engineers. Where there were two specialists, the senior one would be an E-7 and the other would be an E-6. In this fashion the team could be split in half and function as effectively as a whole team. Crosstraining was required, each NCO would have to be proficient at two jobs so talent depth was guaranteed. The team sergeant functioned in the capacity of an operations officer, being responsible for training and planning the ops when in the field. The assistant team sergeant functioned as the intelligence expert on the team. Each of these sergeants were crosstrained in another job. In this original organization it is easy to see why officers felt they had no function, they really didn't. When officers began to be assigned permantly to SF structure this changed and officers began to function as team managers.

Noticable in this description is a complete lack of support organization. No organic equipment was assigned other then personnel gear and weaons so a higher level unit, called a "B" team was created. This unit had admin and logistical support capability for several "A" teams, was usually the equivelant of a company HQ and was commanded by a senior CPT or MAJ. Each "B" team had a functioning S-1, S-2, S-3 and S-4.

A "C" team was created to function as a battalion level unit, again providing logistical and admin support. A quirk of the SF emerged here, neither the "B" or "C" team had organic equipment assigned. For vehicles or anything else they needed, they had the authority to draw on higher commands.

"C" teams were organized under a Group, a regimental HQ sized unit that functioned like a regular army brigade HQ.

In the late 70's a requirement began to arise requiring more specialists for a mission then an "A" team could provide, so specialists would be borrowed from several teams and grouped together for a specific mission. When they began looking for a name for this organization that consisted of only a HQ with no obvious ongoing function and only a permanant force consisting of staff functions, some wag suggested "D" team and so Delta force was created. Later, specialists would be called from other services for short term missions. When someone says they belonged to Delta Force for two years, you can legitimately raise your eyebrows. At least in the early days, things may have changed since I left.

If this is interesting to anyone I can continue in another installment. Thanks for your indulgence.

Rotorwash :cool:
This is good stuff! I may be getting things a bit wrong here but if there was a lot of problems (or bad guys etc) that an A Team couldn't deal with, then they'd call in the B Team? Is that right? So you could end up with a situation of an attacking force of 12 - 14 bodies with a support gang of 100's. Is this correct? I'm not sure I've got my head around all the numbers and designations! :oops: More please!
Yes Yes Yes more more more PLEASE sal;
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Typically, an "A" team expected no support. They operated autonamously (sp?) but had the authority to arrange support from other units around them. Available support was catagorized as operational as opposed to organizational. When a team started an operation the first thing they did was establish exits for escape and evasion (good ole E & E) because they operated in areas with a lot of unknowns, for instance, the actual allegiance of the locals. During training much more emphasis was placed on techniques for avoiding and breaking contact then on things like fire and maneuver. Special Forces tried to maintain a low key approach to everything they did, in fact, on Smoke Bomb Hill at Fort Bragg, one of the earliest training centers for SF, a big sign hung over the gate that said, "Through these gates walk the quietest men in the world."
Publicity to the SF was anathma, and most were dismayed when things like Robin Moore's book, the John Wayne movie or Barry Sadler's song saw daylight. The Sf community liked it just fine when they were often confused with Special Services, the entertainment organization of the Army.

In Vietnam "A" teams were sent out to win the hearts and minds of the mountain tribes on the border. They would set up and become part of the tribe for all practical purposes. The tribes had no love for the Vietnamese or the Viet Cong so it became a daunting task to turn their allegiance to our side. The "A" teams would be seperated by several miles making mutual support impossible. If a team operated in an AO of an American unit, the unit was obligated to support the team indirectly, usually artillery or helicopters. In the area around Duc Pho, the southern part of the I Corps area in Vietnam, there were about 3 or 4 SF camps in the mountains on the border. These camps were established to collect and train locals into CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group) units - a nice name for militia - with the SF as advisors. Typically, Sf troops worked as counterparts to local leaders, the team leader counterpart to the company commander and sergeants counterpart to platoon leaders. As the aviation company responsible for the AO the SF camps fell under our umbrella, but supporting them was not burdensome. Occasionally when they were attacked we responded with flareships and gunships, but only as they needed us. When they were on patrol they would only call for support if they were desperate, helicopters were a dead giveaway of their presence. We enjoyed working with them because there was never a dull moment and they seemed to have unlimited resources. Their reputation as scroungers is unparalleled. I personally was present on one mission that traded captured AK-47's for refrigerators and fans from the Air Force, a generator, small jeep of the type designed for the ARVN, a pallet of beer and a .50 cal machine gun. After I joined SF, I understood why, they had nothing in the TOE but what they carried. Instead they turned captured war material into the largest cottage industry known to man. I know of at least one SF camp that had 8" pine beams supporting the command bunker roof and those don't grow in Vietnam.

The "B" team would work in a corresponding fashion with the local battalion, as counterparts to the battalion staff and the "C" team would work with the district or regional headquarters. The group would scoot up and down the length of Vietnam wherever the tight spots were and where they could be most useful. When a higher headquarter's function is not command and control, but support, it puts a whole different spin on the war.

Occasionally the NVA just got tired of an SF camp and simply overran it, most SF camps existed because they had not made themselves a big enough nuisance to attract attention. Early on, (1964) the SF camp in the Ashau Valley was overran and not taken back until the 101 and Cav moved in. I was present when we were chased out of Kam Duc and during TET 68, the camp at Lang Vei was overran, when the Cav moved in and took it back, it was deserted, the body of an SF medic still sitting in the jeep where he died. However, for the NVA to take this step they understood the casualties would be terrible, the camps were small fortresses and could call upon AC-47 gunships, artillery or helicopter gunships. Occasionally, the 101 or the 1st Cav that were more "have gun, will travel" type units were sent in to rescue an SF camp under siege.

Out of breath, more later. Keep the questions coming.

Guys, I owe you an apology. I made it sound like the "Q" course was a walk in the woods, so to speak. As I sat reading what I had written I realized some of the more significant points about the course that made it interesting. Looking back on that time must be like my wife looking back on the birth of our children, if the memory stayed long there wouldn't be any more. I obviously have blocked the more painful parts out.

The process takes about six months and is in three parts. The first part is really a selection process and is the hardest. How well I remember (when I clear away the fog) of stepping off the bus and standing at attention being outnumbered by fierce looking Green Berets making comments about every detail of your life they could see or imagine. The setting for this picturesque ordeal is a run down WW II base called Camp McCall. From here there is no escape and none can hear your cries. We could live in a WW II surplus barracks in late stages of decay or we could select a nice new - tent. The HQ was a delapidated tarpaper shack. The latrine - oh the latrine - fit comfortably in the picture and was christened the John Wayne Memorial Sh***er. But to get from where the buses dropped the poor souls to this luxurious haven the potential SF's picked up their duffle bags and ran - uphill - to camp carrying said duffle bag. I now don't have a problem with the North Carolina heat and humidity, but back then I remember it differently. Upon arrival we found our group smaller then when we climbed off the bus. Run. Run some more. Not just run, but run with a rucksack. Not an empty rucksack, it had a sandbag in it. And not just a five mile run before breakfast, we would start running and go from point A to point B and then maybe to point C and then back to B. Nobody knew how far we would run when we started, we just ran. Like Forrest Gump "stupid is as stupid does." I do believe Camp McCall is the only place on earth where a person can run from point A to point B and back uphill both ways. After the first month the wannabe's were weeded out and we could get down to serious training.

Oh the pain.

RW, hurting again

Some interesting stuff. How long did you stay in? When you went SF, was that on your first enlistment? If so, did you have to re-up to get it? How old were you? What was your individual training in?

Why I ask: When I talked to a recruiter and signed all the pertinate paperwork just before Christmas '65, I told him that I wanted to join SF. He, being the professional liar that they are, told me "No problem. Since you have to be jump qualified, we'll sign you up 'Airborne, Unassigned'. When you're in Basic or AIT, an SF representative will come looking for recruits. You sign up with him".

I waited until after the holidays to actually join. I raised my hand and took the oath 10JAN66, 10 days before my 19th b'day. I went to Ft. Ord, CA, for BCT. Somewhere around the 5th or 6th week, sure enough, an SF NCO comes to talk to our company. He gave his spiel about SF and when he dismissed us, he said anybody interested stay behind. There was maybe 6 of us. I was the first one he talked to. The first question he asked was how old I was. I told him I had just turned 19. He told me "Sorry", but I was too young. He said you had to be 21 or 20 with a waiver. I asked him what kind of waiver, and he said that I would have to be recommended by my 1st Sargeant or CO as an exceptional soldier. He also said that any recruit would have to extend their enlistment by, I think, another 3yrs.. They wanted to get their money back for all that training. He also said that the lowest rank in the Green Berets was E-5 [at that time]. He said the promotions would come as you progressed through the training. That wouldn't start until after AIT and Jump School. I was disappointed and walked away cursing the recruiter.

I found your description of the unit structure interesting. In '66 I think it was just A and B teams. That's all I remember hearing mentioned, anyway. I think it was the same during the 7 mos. I was at Bragg with the 82nd [JUL67-FEB68].

While I was with the 101st, we were the "Cavalry" coming to the rescue a couple of times for SF camps. One was at Toumarong, just north of Dak To in the Highlands. This was just before I got to the 101st, but we were still operating there when I joined up. Dak To was a DANGEROUS place. The SF camp had been overrun. We came in and took it back. We also took over an ARVN firebase that was under seige. The ARVNs were pulled out after we secured it and the 320th Arty and the 326th Engineers occupied it. The NVA almost overran them. It was hand to hand at times before the NVA finally broke contact. Just before I got in-country, my company was overrun. The CO, Cpt. Bill Carpenter, finally got so desperate, he called in an airstrike to try to make them break contact. The nearest planes happened to be carrying napalm. Lucky for everybody, the strike was a success. The NVA broke contact, and the company losses to the napalm was just a few troopers [forget exactly how many]. They were able to secure an LZ to get the dead and wounded out, and replacements in [A co, 1/327]. By the time I joined the company [about 3wks. later], the survivors of the airstrike were calling themselves "Carpenter's Crispy Critters". Some bad sh*t. We moved out of there late JUL66. I think the 4th ID and 1st Cav moved in. This AO would remain a DANGEROUS place. In NOV67 the 173rd Abn. Bde. would have 3 companies overrun on Hill 875, just east of Dak To.

The other one that I recall was around Di Linh or Bao Loc, in the Highlands east of Phan Rang. I think this was around APR67. The SF camp was mostly CIDG Montagnards and, I think, some ARVN Airborne. They reported a big build up of NVA around them. We CA'd in and spent about 10 days running patrols in the mountains. I think just seeing us show up scared them off, because contact was pretty minimal.

LANG VEI: I remember hearing about this when I first returned with the 82nd. I seem to remember that the most significant thing about this attack was that the NVA used some Soviet tanks in the assault. I had never heard of NVA armor before or after this. I thank God that I never encountered any.

CW, thanks for a good read and some great info.
When I joined SF I was an E-6 over five with at least three years left. This was exactly what they wanted. You had to be a triple volunteer, for the army, for airborne and for the forces.

In 1964 the washout rate was 90%. Because of pressure from above the washout rate was gradually reduced to about 30% by the time I joined. Most old timers felt this was bad for the forces and I agree. However, I probably would not have made it back in the good old days.

A group consisted of about 1500 men made up of 36 A teams, 9 B teams and 3 C teams. Unlike the regular army where the battalions are the front piece, in SF the C teams were there simply to support the A teams. They would consist of an HQ, a staff, supply and admin. By choice they usually occupied a run down old building on the bad side of the base with no signs, no whitewashed rocks and no fanfare.

A C team could be augmented with virtually anything the mission needed. I have seen augmentations of psy ops, civil affairs, civil engineers, preventive medical detachments, vetrinary detachments, MI detachments and in one case an MP detachment. The MP's HATED to be assigned to SF. Its no wonder, the SF have no organic equipment on the TOE, none. Everything was "borrowed". Whenever anything went missing short of shoplifiting at the PX, the first place the MP's looked was at the nearest SF unit. Each group was assigned an ASA unit with goodies in the way of electronic intelligence.

My individual training initially was as an engineer and I gleefully became an expert in boobytraps. Some of those guys were so good they could cut a steel girder with explosives and make it look like a torch did it. For my second specialty I looked around and saw what everyone was carrying and quickly chose intelligence. All that guy carried was a map and a notebook.

The lowest rank on the TOE was E-5, but by the time (1974) I joined they were taking promising young troops right out of AIT so I ran into some E-4's just joining teams. This was after Q course and the first trade school. Usually by the time they had finished cross training they had made E-5.

Your'e right, in early 1967, if you took the road from Pleiku west through An Khe to the Cambod border, it was all Indian country from there to the DMZ. With the exception of the Cav, the Marines in I Corps and the newly arrived 4th Inf, our helicopter battalion based at Qui Nhon was the only aviation unit in all of the northern Vietnam. We had a company at Pleiku helping the 4th Inf get it together and a company at Da Nang with SF. Those were exciting days, several of our crews "crossed the fence" into Laos and some even went across the DMZ. Dak Seang was the bad place for SF. As one old timer put it, "it started out bad and went downhill from there." It was in close proximity to hill 875, a place that was infamous as early as 1963. SF lost a lot of people around Dak To. Most of the SF that became POW were captured around Dak To.

Yeh, tanks were first used by the NVA at Lang Vei and nobody could figure out why. I knew some of the people at Lang Vei and that battle goes down as the epitome of inter service rivalry at its worst. The place was a fortress and could hae been held even against tanks - 2 106 recoiless rifles and a hundred LAWs - if the preplanned artillery suport supposed to have been provided by the Marines on Khe Sanh had been forthcoming. Instead the Marine commander refused to believe there were tanks in the wire and withheld fire. The camp commander called in B-57's right on the camp, two PT-76 tanks were destroyed right outside the command bunker. NVA losses were so heavy they hauled the bodies away with elephants. The place remained deserted with a curse hanging over it until we reoccupied it. I have more to say about Lang Vei but it is hard to tell the story without acrimony.

Setting out to win hearts and minds is a very important part of SF duties so I've read but are these the same people who were doing the Phoenix programme?
There were a few books printed (and a film made I believe) on the CIA actions during the war, Air America being a case in point. To what extent, if any, were you involved in this activity or was this after you rotated out?

From your vantage point, did the CIA actions help or hinder the soldier (be he SF or otherwise) during the war?
The Phoenix program is a fine example of the old military adage that the higher up a plan is devised the more likely it is to be a failure.

I can't think of a soldier alive that would prefer to tap a guy with a silenced .22 pistol then, say a 175 at twelve miles.

It was a mediocre success, not well supported in the field. When reports of people previously dispatched revealed those people alive and well photographic proof was then required of the dispatchee duly dispatched. And if the South Vietnamese had done the dispatching there often wasn't much left to photograph. Most SF were not comfortable with the program simply because some of the designated targets seemed pretty non-combatant.

I am not sure there has ever been anything positively accurate produced about the CIA. By that I mean that only one side of the story has ever been told, and that not very well.

Most soldiers never saw a CIA man except maybe in their imaginations. The times I knew I was working with them involved putting in a platoon of mercs with Aussie advisors. Air America was vital to ops along the border. They didn't have rules or regs or HQ to answer to, they were like good neighbors, if you needed something all you had to do was ask. One fact must be remembered about the CIA, they singlehandedly conducted a war in Laos that was officially denied by everybody. They were often the only contact with the outside world that the Royal Lao Army had. And one more thing, they were often the only source for medicine and food that many tribal villages could count on.

Most B teams had a CIA contact attached and it could be good or bad. They could be an invaluable resource or they could be the bearer of ugly news if some other dumb idea had just rolled out the pipeline.

Hope that helps a little.

So contrary to a lot of the "publicity" they received, the CIA were actually the good guys then!
The war in Laos gets very little mention and now that you have put it forward I'll have a zip around the net and see what it comes up with. Thank you for that steer!
You mentioned putting a platoon of mercs in...this is somewhat unknown territory to me - mercs from where if that's not too delicate a question! Aussie advisors would be their SAS?

Who actually dreamed up the Phoenix prog then - Westmoreland or Stateside?

From what I can gather the Phoenix program was devised by a CIA "spook" (what SF guys called CIA types) named Nelson Brickham.

There has been a recent book written about the program and even though the writer did extensive research, I think he had an agenda before he started so the book is suspect in my opinion.

First use of Armor against US troops was in 69 at Ben Het. They lost one PT-76 when it hit a mine. I helped write a monograph for the Army after I got home called Armor in Viet Nam later published under Mounted Combat in Viet Nam
I've been reading today about the battle of Loc Ninh and it's the first time I've come across it. It seems to have been some huge fight involving tanks (PT 76) amongst others. The author, a major callsigned "Zippo" who seems to be outspoken on a lot of things gives a very graphic account of this fight. As far as I recall it took place in 1972 so where there any other huge tank battles - either tank/tank or tank/air?
Operation Lam Son 719 , Feb - April 71 , The ARVN invasion of Laos had Armored Divisions fighting each other - over 50 % ARVN casualities. We killed over 20,000 NVA
Elements of the North Vietnamese 304th Division attacked and overran the Lang Vei Special Forces Camp on 7 Feb 1968. The NVA used 11 Soviet made PT-76 amphibious tanks, approximately 400 dismounted infantry troops supported by 4 152mm artillery pieces and 4 82mm mortars. Enemy losses were estimated to have been seven tanks confirmed and two tanks probable along with 250 infantry soldiers killed. U.S. losses were 13 WIA and 10 KIA/MIA out of 24 Special Forces and MIKE force and CIDG advisors along with KIA's of 5 VNSF, 165 CIDG, 34 MIKE Force and 5 interpreters. Lang Vei was located a few miles west of Khe Sanh on Highway 9 about two miles from the Laos border.

Thanks for that rotorwash it was very interesting.
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Thanks Bombardier, Lang Vei has personal stuff for me.

Your right RW. Ben Het was the first tank vs. tank battle. Sorry for the misinformation , getting old ain't as easy as I had hoped :D
Tank vs tank? Man I would have loved to see that. What were we using M-48's? Somewhere in there Army aviation responded by shipping some old UH-1B's over with a TOW arrangement. Somewhere they caught some NVA tanks in the open and destroyed some. May have been during the Eastertide Offensive in 72. By the way, Lam Son 719, my old helicopter company was carrying ARVN's and got shot up so bad the company was disbanded shortly thereafter. On the company website there is some very good cockpit audio of the assault into LZ Lolo I believe.

Yep we had M-48's. 1st / 69th Armor I believe at Ben Het. I was a platoon leader with 3/5 Cav during LamSon 719.We drove out to the border of Laos then ARVN passed through us into Laos. Within two weeks they were running out and we fought a rear guard action. These were regular NVA Divisions we were facing with lots and lots of AA , the air crews got pounded. I could hear their Armor at night and they dropped us LAWS but thank goodness I never had to fight one. NVA Division 120 mm mortors were bad enough

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