Page 056

Page 56(The Bitter End)




reinforced rifle company meant that more than just a routine mission was expected for this evacuation.


Operational and political considerations in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific dictated that the unit providing ground security for the Cambodian refugee extraction would have to be airlifted to Phnom Penh. Then if circumstances required, the rifle company would become the advance echelon of a larger security force. Equipment and supplies included trucks, jeeps, even an ambulance jeep, and seven days of ammunition, again an indicator of the level of combat anticipated. General Ryan tasked the 3d Marine Division to provide as a backup, an identically structured and equipped rifle company.2


On 17 April 1973, Colonel Thomas *'TJ" Stevens, the commanding officer of the 31st MAU, reported to the Commanding General, III MAF that the designated company had completed a mount-out exercise. Having demonstrated its readiness, Stevens stated that his company was immediately deployable.3 General Ryan, in turn, notified Lieutenant General Louis H. Wilson, Jr., [he commanding general of Fleet Marine Force, Pacific (FMFPac), and Vice Admiral George P. Steele, commander of the Seventh Fleet, that the designated companies from BLT 1/4 and the 3d Marine Division's air contingency battalion landing team, 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Parker, were ready to deploy. On 20 April, General Ryan directed a change of principal players, Company G (reinforced) from BLT 2/9 would now be the primary ground security force to support USSAG, and Company B (reinforced) from BLT 1/4 would assume the back-up role. The entire 31st MAU remained on notice to be prepared to support the operation.4


This was the first of several instances during the 1973 to 1975 period that the MAF commanding general was faced with a dilemma. Given the uncertainty of the situation, he had to decide whether to divide his ready force to meet the initial requirement, opening the possibility of piecemeal commitment, or leave the forward force intact, and use another force to make the first contact. As indicated by his directive to Colonel Stevens on 20 April, General Ryan opted for the second choice.


On 26 June 1973, USSAG made General Ryan's choice slightly more difficult. It upped the ante by requesting the commitment of a second rifle company and a command group to augment the Operation Eagle Pull ground security force. To accommodate the growing estimate of evacuees. General John W. Vogt, Jr., had added another helicopter landing zone, thereby necessitating additional forces to secure it, Again, General Ryan handed the task to the air contingency battalion-2d Battalion, 9th Marines-now commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Robert M. Stauffer, Stauffer designated Companies F and G as the Eagle Pull forces.5


As far as the Okinawa-based air contingency battalion was concerned, the assumption of Eagle Pull responsibilities did not alter its normal readiness posture. Two of its reinforced rifle companies and a command group were placed in an increased alert and deployability status. The command group, consisting of a security force commander and his small staff of an air liaison officer (ALO) and two communication officers, were on call at all times. The air contingency battalion, a rotational assignment among the 3d Marine Division's six infantry battalions, was drilled more extensively and more often in air movement exercises. Battalions assumed this mission during the post-deployment phase of their life cycles. Regularly scheduled loading drills and joint air movement and transportability exercises with the Air Force not only tested the battalions, but, equally important, they also improved the efficiency of the division's embarkation and movement control agencies. Starring with command post training drills and culminating in air-ground field exercises, the 3d Marine Division's infantry battalions and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing's squadrons became increasingly proficient in emergency evacuation procedures.


The 3d Marine Division held Eagle Pull practice sessions on a monthly basis. Each drill involved all of the III MAF units required to function in the final operation: the designated companies and command group;


the motor transport elements taking the security force to Kadena; and the embarkation units controlling the movement to Kadena.


From an operational point of view, the planners' gravest concern was the movement of the forces from their base camps to Kadena. It was difficult from a transportation aspect; many alerts, oddly, took place on weekends when motor transport personnel were on liberty and Okinawa highway traffic was in a snarl. In terms of operational security, 400 fully armed Marines could not move on Okinawa without being noticed, even when transported by air, because that many helicopters landing at Kadena at short, regular intervals was a highly conspicuous event.








Page 56(The Bitter End)