After a year in Vietnam, Douglas Smith was going home, and the Army interviewed him as part of a program to find out what worked and what didn't. Smith had first served on the staff of 9th Infantry Division, then spent six months commanding a mechanized infantry battalion. Mechanized infantry had different strengths and weaknesses than regular 'leg' infantry or airmobile troops, and Smith used different tactics to both minimize his risks and get the most from his men and equipment.
He also talks a great deal about how he tried to develop the junior leaders in his unit. He is somewhat reticent to criticize the Rules of Engagement, although his answer doesn't seem to add up completely. His accounts also show how units had to work alongside the pacification programs and talks about how it affected his operations. He comments on working with the ARVN (comments very different than those of Captain Kinzer, who fought alongside elite AVRN troops) and his perceptions of how American soldiers thought and fought. It's worth remembering that this interview was before the worst disillusionment set in amongst American troops.
DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY U. S. ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY
EXIT INTERVIEW WITH LTC DOUGLAS S. SMITH COMMANDER, 2d BATTALION, 47th INFANTRY, 9th INFANTRY DIVISION VNIT 457
Interview conducted 1 July 1969 at Bien Phuoc, Republic of Vietnam
Interviewing Officer: MAJ Robert L. Keeley, Commander, 19th Military History Detachment
Oral History of Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Smith
MAJ KEELEY: The following will be an exit interview with LTC Smith, Commanding Officer of the 2d Battalion, 47th Infantry (Mechanized), 1 July 1969, Bien Phuoc, RVN [Republic of Vietnam].
Sir, could you please state your name, rank, service number and duty position please.
LTC SMITH: My name is Lieutenant, er, God damn it! Douglas S. Smith, Lieutenant Colonel, O*******, Battalion Commander, 2d Battalion, 47th Infantry.
MAJ KEELEY: Sir, what was your assignment prior to assuming command of the 2d of the 47th?
LTC SMITH: For a period of four months prior to coming here I was the Acting Inspector General of the 9th Infantry Division.
MAJ KEELEY: Sir, what assignments and prior training have you had that you feel helped you during your tour as battalion commander.
LTC SMITH: In addition to the normal lieutenant and captain assignments as platoon leader and company commander, I feel the key assignments, for me, were the job I had in Europe as a battalion S-3, which was followed immediately by an assignment in the G-3 section of a division in Europe and the training that I had at the Command and General Staff College, which I completed in June of 1967 prior to coming here to Viet Nam. I would say that these were the key assignments in that the understanding of operations at battalion level , the operations of a division at the higher level, and then of course the training that they give you at the Command and General Staff College.
MAJ KEELEY: Sir, during your tour as battalion commander, what were the more significant problems that you faced and how did you deal with them?
LTC SMITH: Well, we had a little different situation here, I think, than most battalions have. First, we were the only mechanized battalion in the 9th Division. As such, when I assumed command of the battalion I had the bulk of my unit assigned to static type missions, here in Long An Province. I had essentially, one company that I had to employ tactically on a day in and day out basis along with my scout platoon. This was a problem in terms of troop morale, troops feeling that they're part of the brigade, part of the division, that they're making a significant contribution to the success of the division in Viet Nam.
So when you have two-thirds of your battalion tied up in static missions where they're strictly in defensive positions and the VC or NVA would know where they were, so they were exposed to mortar fire, attacks by fire, mostly standoff attacks, and incurred casualties and were not able to pursue the VC since they were pretty much tied to the static mission.
We were very fortunate in that the brigade commander decided that during the dry season he would like to turn loose the mechanized battalion to conduct offensive operations. So this was a case where the brigade commander gave me an assist by permitting me to come off the static missions, put the battalion out on offensive operations, and keep them busy. The troops began to make more contacts, the casualties went down, the VC eliminated went up, their morale went up and the battalion functioned better than they had in the previous six months when they had the static missions.
The other problem I faced, I guess, would be the maintenance problem, which was resolved as a result of being offered the opportunity turn in tracks that had many, many miles on them and had become maintenance problems and being given replacement equipment so that we were able to conduct these operations.
But essentially, I think the significant problem was the missions that we were assigned at the time I took over and the status of the equipment that we were using for the personnel carrier. In both cases the brigade gave me a big assist in giving us the opportunity to conduct offensive operations and Division G-4 gave me a big assist by getting my tracks washed out and turned in and getting me newer equipment, rebuilt equipment with which to conduct this offense.
MAJ KEELEY: Sir, did your concept on how to defeat the VC change during this tour of duty? Did you use tactics and strategy that you expected to use? If the tactics and strategy were different, how were they different?
LTC SMITH: I don't really believe that my concept on how to defeat the VC changed at all. I had the definite opinion that the only way we're going to get him and really damage his capability to conduct war was to go after him and not to sit out and wait for him to come to us. So in that respect my concept did not change at all.
The tactics and strategy I wouldn't say were different. I think some of our procedures and techniques were a little different. For example, as we gained experience in the conduct of offensive operations using our tracks and the foot-mobile soldier, we had to come up with techniques whereby we could move into an area, and if the VC or NVA saw us coming and tried to depart the area, to get away from us, we had somebody who would block their withdrawal routes and cut them off and force them to stay and engage us. And of course this came in then procedures for map studies prior to going out on the operation and good visual reconnaissance by helicopter. Knowing the terrain here in Long An Province, knowing where we could take the tracks, where we couldn't take the tracks, how to cut them off, where to cut them off.
These techniques we developed, but I would say the basic tactics of mechanized operations, strategy at the level we're talking about here didn't change particularly. We did not pursue the enemy in tracks. We used the tracks to get us to the area of operations, we used the tracks then as a means of transportation, we used them for protection while bringing in artillery and airstrikes, and protecting ourselves from sniper fire. We used them for the fire power of their .50 caliber machine guns, and we used them to cover open areas. So if the VC attempted to escape from wood lines they would come under the fire of the .50 calibers mounted on the PCs [Personnel Carrier]. So I would say just our techniques that we used for engaging the VC, we improved upon as we gained experience in offensive operations.
MAJ KEELEY: Sir, would you comment on the Rules of Engagement. Have they hindered us or helped us and are they realistic?
LTC SMITH: The most difficult part, I guess, of the battle is deciding when you're going to win an engagement with the enemy and what price you're going to pay to do it. By this, I mean, the small village that the VC infiltrate during the night, occupy the village, fire at you from the village and when you return fire, you realize that you're also going to end up destroying the village if he becomes a very persistent enemy and refuses to get out of the homes that he is firing from.
I think the Rules of Engagement are realistic because the pacification programs that they have in effect here in the province can just be dashed aside as a result of one heavy engagement where you move into a town and totally and completely destroy the town through artillery, through air strikes and your own fire and maneuver in the town. The soldier, I think, feels a little differently about the Rules of Engagement because he's concerned with his own welfare, his own safety and he doesn't like any restriction imposed upon him as to where he can fire. If someone fires at him, he wants the authority to fire right back at them. The weapon he has, he pretty much has permission to do so assuming it's contact, it's controlled by the platoon leader, by the company commander, by the battalion commander. But I think we had to ... in my case, in every time that we had an engagement in what we would call a built-up area or small village or just where two or three houses, you had to think and remind yourself that as a result of this you may eliminate the VC you're fighting, but you also may eliminate two, three, four, five, ten civilians who are not VC, who are just afraid and who are being held hostages or who are trying to hide and became victims of the war. Their families and their relatives when they see their loved ones killed, of course that sets back our pacification program and they feel that the fighters or the allies whether they be their own ARVN forces, the RF forces or U. S. are not taking into consideration their safety. So you reach that point as a commander of how much are you going to permit them to occupy and fire from a village and just forget about it versus are you going to go in and get them at any cost to the civilian population regardless of how large or small the population may be in this small town. I would say that they hinder us from a battalion commanders point of view in that you can't do what you would like to do to the enemy. They help us in that by having these Rules of Engagement, I think twice before I just up and destroy a village and so I consider they are realistic, that they do remind me that we have more of a job than just killing VC, we have a pacification program too, and maybe I'll have to forego closing wood and destroying enemy at that particular time and wait until I get them at a better time. But I do think they are realistic, yes.
MAJ KEELEY: Sir, did your experience as a Battalion Commander cause you to change any of your ideas on training for a counterinsurgency war?
LTC SMITH: I don't think they changed any of my ideas on training. I had the feeling at times that this must be some sort of an exotic war going on over here that you threw the rule book out the window, and all you training manuals out the window and you started a totally and completely new program for conducting the war. But for the individual soldier, I think the training he gets in the jungle school in Panama is outstanding and those that go through it, particularly my officers, have found it most helpful. So therefore if the program, in effect, and what I've been exposed to prior to coming over here was valid. I think you then must look at the level of the majority of your battles. Many battles are platoon-sized engagements others are company-sized engagements and very, very, very few of them are battalion-sized operations, at least in mechanized aspects of this war. So therefore, my ideas on training were changed only in areas where we talked about what the platoon leaders should know.
There's so many occasions where the platoon leader went out and he was by himself on an ambush patrol at night, on an airmobile operation during the day, on a mechanized operation during the day, and what we call the "checkerboard" or "bushmaster" and he doesn't have a big daddy to turn to, to touch in the form of a company commander to get any immediate guidance from. He has to rely on a radio, he had to rely on a battalion commander and a helicopter, perhaps even an brigade commander flying overhead in a helicopter for instructions in case he's at a loss as to what to do or where to go.
So I think that any of my ideas on training would be that the lieutenant that goes through the basic training back in the States and is sent to the company with the idea of causing or charging the company commander with the responsibility to train this lieutenant that over here, in the type of warfare, we fight the lieutenant's job is quite large. A great deal of the burden falls upon his shoulders to conduct the war as a small independent force if for only a matter of thirty minutes to an hour until someone else can get there, but in the meantime he's in charge. He's the field marshal. He makes the decisions. So he can't turn to the company commander and say 'you're charged with training me and I've never been exposed to this situation before, so what am I supposed to do', because he's out there and has to do it right now.
So our short training course in the States for the ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps] graduate where he goes to school for eight weeks or nine weeks prior to coming over really puts a burden on this young man's back to be able to produce in a very short time length. He arrives in the battalion, he has one day to get himself settled, he reports to his company and he goes out with that company virtually the next day, ready to go.
So I found that though I knew that I was responsible for the training of my company commanders and platoon leaders, as spread out as we were in search of the enemy to make a contact but you can't be everywhere at once. Your lieutenants hopefully have been pretty solidly trained so that they can take over and do the job for you.
MAJ KEELEY: Sir, would you care to comment on the sniper program and its effect on a counterinsurgency conflict?
LTC SMITH: The sniper program for this battalion has not been any more outstanding than any other individual battalion in the division, but I find that it played a definite role in improving the caliber of night ambush that we employed here in Long An Province with the Mech[anized] unit. I found that when I detailed a company to provide me with personnel to go to sniper school, I didn't get a very good product. When I went to the company commanders and told them of my interest in the sniper program, plus I published a document for them to read regarding my views on how snipers should be employed, and soliciting comments from them on how they should be employed, and giving them an idea what qualifications I felt a man should have before he became a sniper, the program started to blossom. In a period of some four or five months before I came, they had five sniper kills in the battalion. Since I've been here we've gotten about 50 in almost the same time period. Now the individual sniper now is not a better shot than the one was eight months ago or nine months ago, it's just that the companies have more interest in them. The platoon leaders have more interest in them. The men have more interest in these people. They have seen the sniper in operation, they've seen him engage a man at 300 meters, one round and kill him. This is fantastic, this gives them a degree of security that they know that sniper is awake, they know he's looking in the Starlight [night vision device], they know he's there near him. if anybody attempts to approach their position they've got a good solid killer-night killer, laying there right next to him doing a tremendous job.
I think it has caused the innocent civilian to abide by curfews imposed, at least in our district down here in [Bien Phuoc]. So that those that move about at night are VC and NVA and the civilian farmer is well aware that we're out in the area someplace. If he wants to take a chance of running around at 11 o'clock or 12 o'clock at night that he is subject to being killed by one shot ringing out during in the night.
So we've been very fortunate on our sniper kills. We have not engaged and killed one innocent civilian by sniper yet. He's been able to make a positive identification of his target, engaged the target and killed him. Now we've had snipers that missed, don't get me wrong, we weren't perfect but the person that they fired at was still an enemy and the fact that he missed is attributed to many things perhaps. But I think the program was very effective, I think the division handled it very well, and once I personally was involved in it and my company commanders became personally interested in it then it seemed to improve and the program came off much better than it had in the past.
MAJ KEELEY: Sir, would you care to define your concept of "body count" and how does that definition compare with others with which you are familiar?
LTC SMITH: Well, I'd like to answer this little bit in two parts. Part one, prior to arrival in the battalion, I considered "body count" as the number of enemy you killed in any given operation. Since I've been in the battalion, I've discovered that a live prisoner is much more valuable to you than a dead one. Therefore my "body count" and my own concept of it becomes one of how many people did we eliminate. You have the VC and the VCI that you pick up on a cordon and search operation. These people are alive, they're captured, they're interrogated and the information is passed on and you use it for continued cordon and search operations or other offensive operations. The prisoner is most valuable and if you want to get a prisoner and you want to get all the information from him then you have to encourage your people to take prisoners.
So if you harp on "body count" as being number killed, then the company commander, who strives to get results, to get recognition for his company and for the good job that they do then he just looks for "body count". All success is measured in "body count".
So my approach to this was "body count" was the number of enemy that you eliminate. You can eliminate them by having them Chieu Hoi [open arms, an amnesty program] to you, you can eliminate them by capturing them on a cordon and search, you can eliminate them by taking prisoners, by using a CS [riot control agent] grenade in a bunker instead of a hand grenade in a bunker and the man comes out and you have a prisoner and the prisoner gives you information and the information may help you to find more enemy. So my concept now of "body count" is how many enemy we have eliminated and I put into the category number killed, the number captured, and the number that surrendered under the Chieu Hoi program. I think the cold, hard definition used by most other people is strictly how many you kill and I don't think it gives a true picture of what a unit has done. I think you have to put all three categories together-killed, captured, Chieu Hoi.
MAJ KEELEY: Sir, please discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a mechanized infantry battalion operating in Long An Province as compared with a standard infantry battalion operating in a similar area.
LTC SMITH: The standard infantry battalion in Long An Province is pretty much restricted to operating in an area where they have transportation assets. Most of them, that is the other two-well now three-battalions that are working in the Province operate from the helicopter or from the Navy ships, the PBRs and this type of thing. We have the capability in the mechanized battalion in Long An of operating as mechanized infantry or parking the tracks and going airmobile or parking the tracks and going on the Navy PBRs.
Additionally, with the requirements of weather in the case of a severe thunderstorm and aircraft are grounded, I can use my tracks to go and pick up my people. I can insert by any means and I can extract by any means. I can be operating in an area during the day and the helicopters cannot fly or we run out of blade time and we have to release the helicopters, or for other units they are immediately faced with a resupply problem or the transportation, how to get to them or how to get them back home to you and I have my tracks that can go after them.
Additionally, the helicopter is only available during certain hours of the day to a standard infantry battalion for the ships-the Navy ships-during certain hours of the day. My tracks are available 24 hours a day. At night when we normally do not have helicopters physically on station at the infantry battalion, should any emergency arise my battalion can be alerted and on the road in ten minutes. So that we are a ready reaction force for the entire division and can immediately put three companies and a scout platoon on the road to go to any area in the Province.
Now we are restricted by the rivers. We do not swim the tracks. So we use the available bridges. There are many canals and rice paddies in the area and there we have two restrictions by season. When the rice fields are first planted we may cause crop damage by running through them if we just run through the Province without regard for the fields. And again the second time when the rice fields are being harvested, if we just ramble through the area disregarding the property of others then we cause damage, crop damage, in the fields just prior to harvest. The rice paddy does not interfere that much with our ability to move in the Province, it's only the damage you cause which again reflects upon the pacification program and your RD cadre and your S-5 work and the MAT teams that work in the area with the special action forces and all these people that are trying to aid the Vietnamese people as well as, of course, the U.S., RF, PF and RVN troops. All these efforts go down the drain when I take a company and run them through a hamlet's rice fields and cause all sorts of damage. So during the rainy season, I am particularly careful in where we go and if we have a target and the enemy is there we have to disregard the fields and employ the unit so we can best meet the enemy and we can't sacrifice U.S. casualties for the good of the rice crop. But in just routine operations where we have not made contact, I do attempt to keep down crop damage. So this you would say is a disadvantage of the mechanized unit operating in Long An in the rice paddies.
But I think the big advantage is the 24 hour reaction capability you have in the battalion to pack up, to get on the road, to go to My Tho, to go to Dong Tam, to go to Saigon, to go to Tan Am, any of the key areas. We are not dependent on air, we're not dependent on someone else bringing us trucks, we're not dependent upon the Navy bringing us ships, we can just move on our own. Most other battalions in the division at night would have to rely upon the foot mobile soldier walking. But I think this is a distinct advantage and the big advantage that we have here in the Province.
MAJ KEELEY: Sir, what is your impression of the ARVN units with which you have become familiar?
LTC SMITH: The Vietnamese units that I work most closely with is the Regional forces here in the Province. We have worked with, and very successfully, the 3d Battalion of the 50th ARVN [Regiment] and I find that their soldiers, by our standards, are fairly good, pretty good soldiers. They have some companies that are better than others, but they do a decent job. The RF companies we work with offer to us much more of a challenge to get with them and to help them. I am impressed with their desire to do a good job, their aggressive spirit. I think they are a little weak in their tactics, but they improve and I've noticed a great deal of improvement here in this Province with these district forces here in Bien Phuoc.
We now have five companies operating in the district. Three of them are doing quite well and the other two are relatively new. I've been out with each of the two new companies on only one operation with each. They alright. We didn't have any contact, however so I can't say how they would react in a firefight. The other three companies have done well, but it's dependent upon their leader.
We have a young lieutenant who is exceptionally strong, who runs one of the companies and when he's out with us they do a very good job and I'm very pleased with their performance. I would go out with them any day of the week on an operation. I feel that strongly about him.
On one occasion when he was out he received minor wounds and he turned it over to a second in command and they couldn't react well at all. They just became so dependent upon a single leader.
As long as he was in the field with them they did whatever they were told to do and they tried to do it to the very best of their ability. When the leader wasn't there, you just couldn't get them to hardly move in the proper direction. There was a definite, loss of control without the leader.
So the ARVN units, it's hard to really nail down what it is. I have come up with the impression that the unit is as good as its commander there, in the RF. Although they lack the professional training, they make up for a lot of it with their aggressiveness and they're eager to please and they're eager to do a good Job. So you have to coax, you have to assist, you have to give constructive criticism, you have to help them wherever you possibly can, you have to provide them with support in the form of artillery, air strikes and gunships. And when you do this, plus, as we do, include them as part of a combined tactical operations center in the field, we get what I consider to be good results from our combined operations with them. But I cannot overemphasize the fact that it's the leader that is key to the RF unit in my opinion.
MAJ KEELEY: Sir, what planning, and management, and leadership techniques did you find most effective in the accomplishment of your job as Battalion Commander?
LTC SMITH: I probably have all sorts of disagreement with my response to a question like this. But the majority of my officers are young officers on their first tour, they have limited background and experience in the Army, they're either fresh out of OCS [Officer Candidate School] or ROTC and most of them are OCS graduates, who had up to a year enlisted service before they were commissioned.
I think the thing you have to do is make them do their job. Now, I know this may sound silly, but in the case of the staff officer, the S-1-all the S positions-you are only in command six months. And the tendency is don't make a mistake and in order not to make a mistake you try to do everything yourself or you approve of everything they do themselves. When the S-1 goes to a meeting at higher headquarters you tell him 'make sure you do this, make sure you do that, make sure you do this, report back to me when it's over.' You tell him how he will do everything. I think probably, at the end of your tour, the results on paper look beautiful and you've been an outstanding commander. But the young officer hasn't gained a thing. He's been a mechanical man, he's done what he's been told to do, and he hasn't had a chance to express himself.
So I would say the technique that I employed was you are assigned this job, tell me what you think your responsibilities are and what you think the job consists of and let me tell you what I think it consists of and what I think you are responsible for and areas you should concentrate on and then I let him go. Realizing that he may make a mistake, unless the mistake costs us U. S. casualties or serious equipment losses or something like this-this nature-I think you have to let him run a little bit, get his feet wet. He learns and then just go ahead and tell him to do his job.
This puts a big load on the executive officer who coordinates the staff actions, who serves to be their teacher and provide guidance and assist them in items of coordination. In the long run, I found that this helped me tremendously in getting the battalion to function regardless of the circumstances. I feel confidant if I had to leave the battalion to go off somewhere for any period of time that it would Just continue to function as though I was still there and there would be no lost motion involved because the people were called upon to do their job and were held responsible to do their job.
The second category of personnel that you rely upon, of course, are your non-commissioned officers. Here I found that in the line platoon, the strain placed on the older E-7 platoon sergeant was tremendous. They're the old hardened battle veteran, but over here wading through the water and the muck and the mud and the conduct of operations at their age it got a lot of them down. It was just difficult for them to keep up day in and day out. I discovered very rapidly that the key to my whole operation was the E-6 in his early 20's who had the stamina to wade for hours through mud up to their waist as they pursued in the conduct of offensive operations. This was something I hadn't expected to encounter and we learned and learned very rapidly that we had to conserve some of the strength in some of our older E-7's and permit a E-6 who is younger and stronger to shoulder a lot of the responsibility for moving the platoon. And though the E-7 was there, many of the troops looked to that young E-6 who led them as really being their platoon sergeant, though they had respect for "the old man" and they were really following that E-6.
So you had to then capitalize on the good E-6's you had and try to make sure that you had a good E-6 with all of your older E-7's and your younger E-7's you didn't need to have that many strong E-6's. So this is something you learn only by operating with the companies yourself and watching the platoon leaders and watching the platoons, and getting down with the men and talking to the company commanders. In our conduct of our operations I developed the technique where we brought in the platoon leaders, the platoon sergeants, for the briefing prior to the operation and the critique of the operation when it was over. We gave them freedom to speak out if they thought we had given them a bad area of operations, if they thought we had given them improper instructions. We talked about it. We talked about it to make sure everybody understood what the mission was, how well I thought they performed it from where I was standing, how well they thought they performed it. A critique by virtually every member that participated; the platoon sergeant's critique of himself, of another platoon; the platoon leader's critique of himself, of the company operation or of the battalion operation; a critique by the company commander and then I had my S-2/3 critique and my own. Using this technique for both planning and conducting operations, I tried to point out to each of them that they played a vital role in our successes. That I was willing to listen to any recommendations they had on how to improve our operations to get better results for the number of hours we spent in the field. This technique was very successful for me.
So, I guess I've given you two areas that is: giving a man a job, making sure he understands what his job is and then making sure he does his job and that the commander doesn't do if for him. The second area is keeping them informed and soliciting their ideas on how to improve your operations so that everyone feels that he is contributing to the overall success of the battalion and that they've had a chance to speak out and say what they think without being hit over the head, without being muffled in any way. You put the two together and I got, I feel, a top performance out of some mediocre people who, had I shackled them at all, I would have gotten little or nothing out of them, they would have gotten little or nothing out of their tour.
MAJ KEELEY: Sir, what problems did you encounter in the area of administration and logistics? How were these problems dealt with?
LTC SMITH: The problems I encountered that I didn't expect to encounter were of course the amount of paperwork that must transpire on an day-to-day basis between the company and the battalion and higher headquarters. In the administrative end, of course, the big one was personnel. Keeping track of your personnel; the losses you had through wounds in combat, getting replacements for them, making sure you had qualified personnel in the various key positions. I find that when I had people that had been wounded several times, people who had been out, as they say, 'in the paddies', in the field, humping the paddies for nine or ten months and they wanted to get out of the field and they'd done a good job. So I had positions here in the base camp. I have to run my own little PX. It's not anything elaborate, but it is PX. It's open certain hours of the day. I had to provide for the men an EM club that they could go to and buy a beer or soda at night. But I had to run it out of my own hide. I had to have security guards around the base camp to check the people that come onto and depart the base camp. This is mainly Vietnamese people that worked here, provided services here in the barber shop, gift shop, laundry. You had to have people to do this and they had to come out of your hide. So you had to try and look for the man who had earned the right or earned the job of coming back into the base camp to have what is considered a rear area job where he's away from the rigors of combat. So this was an administrative problem because sometimes I had so many people that I should have brought off the line back here to help me run it and other times everything went quite well and I had plenty of people out in the paddies and I was running low on who I could have in base camp. I had to try and search out and find someone who was qualified to run a club for instance or control my money in the PX.
Logistical problems were not too bad. During my tour the division support command instituted a new arrangement for delivering my ammunition and fuel on a regular basis by helicopter. This reduced the number of trucks I had to put on the road. It aided me tremendously in establishing a logistical system here in the battalion, My logistic problems went down to construction basically, construction and maintenance of the base camp. The base camp is made right out of the paddies. All this is is paddy clay that's been pushed up from out in the fields and sure they got it a couple feet above the water line and that's it. We had to build the roads, the drainage ditches, the buildings to support a battalion sized unit, getting adequate lumber, providing protection for my people from enemy mortar attacks, providing them an area that they could dry out in, trying to get them out of the mud has been a big logistics problem ever since I've been here.
We've made some headway ... I'm not satisfied, here on the eve of my departure, that we've completed all that I've wanted to complete. I feel that I left my replacement a pretty big job still in the area of the engineer construction and the logistical requirements to support that construction. That's a problem he's going to have to deal with.
The administrative problem is not unique to this battalion. I think everyone goes through the same thing. We have these forms we have to fill out, reports we have to make reports about reports. The paper work sometimes gets you down because if you have a weak sister in your S-1 chain you suffer for it because the brigade and the division still judges a battalion by the battalion headquarters and not just necessarily the companies. So if your typing is bad, if your reports are late you get the reputation of being a rather crummy battalion; or your body count or number of VC eliminated is way up high. So you have to try and make sure you've got good people that are holding down these administrative jobs so that they keep you "out of jail" with higher headquarters. It's not the easiest thing in the world to do and many times the man that can keep you on top administratively, is the same guy that keeps you on top by being your key company commander, your S-3 or your S-2 or one of these jobs and you have to weigh whether or not you want him as an operational operator or whether you want him as an administrative or logistics operator.
So I can't give you any real solution to what is right. Right now I am probably weaker in administration than I am in the logistics and operations or intelligence fields. It's something I knew was going to suffer and you had to pick one area where you'd have to take your lumps and I took a chance with the staff that I had and the S-1 shop would be adequate to get the job done, which they do, but they don't do it, maybe, well with finesse and expertise that some of the other battalions have. Likewise, by accepting that, I have not had the problems in the logistical field and the intelligence field or in the operations field. So one commander's going to tell you one thing and I felt I could live with this the way it is now and achieve more success with the battalion and division overall.
MAJ KEELEY: Sir, what is your appraisal of the average 9th Infantry Division soldier, his strengths, his weaknesses, and his performances in a combat role against the Viet Cong? To what factor do you attribute his strong points, and weaknesses, and his performances?
LTC SMITH: Well this becomes a real big question obviously. I think the average 9th Infantry Division soldier is called upon to perform a tremendous task. The Division has been oriented on offensive action now since early 1968 when the TET offensive hit.
They worked long hours, and I know other divisions and other soldiers worked long hours but as you look at where they make their contacts, their strength is their ability to go after and pursue relentlessly the enemy. We do not have that many attacks here in the 9th Division where we pile up great, huge numbers of bodies on our wire around a night location or around a base camp.
They don't come after our base camps. We're usually not in our base camps for them to come after us. We're out looking for them. We chase them as much as we can, we chase them with the helicopter, we chase them with the man on the ground, we chase them on the Navy ships. We get all over the Province in our tracks, we don't give him any area where we let him feel secure.
So I'd say the big strength of the 9th Infantry Division soldier is his ability to go after the enemy day after day after day and be successful in doing so.
As far as his weakness goes, his weakness would be his susceptibility to foot problems in the rainy season, which all American soldiers would find probably the same troubles. The Vietnamese have walked around in rice paddies for years. They're used to it, their bodies are accustomed to it, ours are not. We have a weakness in movement against a hostile force when the hostile force has a good fighting position and he's in a-I guess what we would call a well-fortified position.
It's been my experience both in observing prior to coming to this battalion and here in the battalion that without adequate artillery support, air strikes, gunships on stations, that the soldier's reluctant to march into these tree lines and go after the enemy. I don't want ... I say this is a weakness, actually it probably really shouldn't be described as a weakness of the soldier. But he desires, I feel, to know that he has immediately available to him, all the artillery, air and gunship support that he would ever need. If you get into a position where you don't have them available, I feel he becomes very cautious about how he's going to move through an area. Others may disagree with me on this point. His performance never ceases to amaze me. Of all the people that I've watched during this conduct of operations here in Viet Nam, and I'm wrapping up 18 months over here, if I had to pick a guy to fight against, the last guy I'd pick would be the American soldier. He may want to have long hair, he may want to grow sideburns, he may want to wear a peace emblem around his neck, have some individuality, something he can hold onto that associates him with his real world back home, but when it comes down to the real tough fight, he is fantastic and I can't get over his ability to move against an enemy and destroy him. By this I put together all those things that he wants and I can cite so many examples from our Battalion. We make contact, we set up, we pound it with artillery, we unload all the rockets and the mini-guns of the helicopters, we call in the air strikes and are on target and he's up on his feet and when those are completed and back moving through there and just policing up whatever remains of the aggressor force. In our case I find in a conduct of offensive operations that my casualties go down and the VC eliminated goes up. The only thing I can attribute it to is just the tenacity of the U. S. soldier. He may be terrible in a stand-down arrangement, walking around the base camp, and look terrible and everything else but when he gets into a fight, he's the one soldier that I would not want to get in a fight with because he's tough and he's hard to hold down.
Now the reason for these strong points, weaknesses of performances is not easy to put your finger on why he's this way.
I think the interest of his immediate supervisor, be it a sergeant, a lieutenant, whoever it happens to be, his immediate supervisor, the more interest they show in him and his welfare the better he responds. You see a soldier that fights hard and is decorated for valor out here in a spot awards ceremony and I can show you the platoon sergeant or the squad leader that he has who is admired by the other men. A platoon leader or a squad leader who can tell you a little bit about this guy, where his home is, what his job is, how well he performs, who knows him. You show me the man who is reluctant to fight, tries to stay away from the combat situation and I'll show you somebody that has a leader who doesn't take very much interest in his men. He doesn't work at finding out the strengths and weaknesses of his own platoon or of his own company or, in my case his own battalion.
The reason, I think, the soldier fights well is because we (that is the division, the brigade, the battalion) recognize him for what he can do. We try to provide for him all the services that we can. We try to get him a hot shower regularly, try to provide shows for him to see, movies to see, we pin awards on him, we send him to Vung Tau on R and R (rest and relaxation) when he's done a good job, we provide R and R quarters it, adequate numbers to give him the opportunity to get out of country and we promote him to the next higher grade either on the accelerated list or on the merit list.
So all of these strong points I attribute to what the leaders do to make sure they are giving their men something it, return for the job the men perform.
The weaknesses I think is, in my case, the weaknesses I've seen I attribute to what they have seen in the past. They've seen the artillery fire, they've seen the Air Force conduct air strikes, they've seen the gunships engage enemy in the tree line.
They have seen all this available fire power and strength, if they don't have it with them they feel we've forgotten them or they feel we've forgotten to provide them with something they're entitled to and so they are more cautious, more reluctant to close with the enemy.
A few months back I would have told you maybe one of the weaknesses was operating at night and his fear of the night, but I find now the bulk of our operations are conducted at night and that he doesn't feel afraid at night, he feels much more confident, he's had enough opportunity to engage in an ambush patrol effectively to see how well the snipers operate at night. I don't think night operations are any longer a weakness at least as far as the troops in this brigade and this division are concerned.
MAJ KEELEY: Sir, do you care to comment on the effectiveness of the intelligence system and the effect it had on your battalion's operations?
LTC SMITH: Well this happens to be the one area that I consider was the key to any success we've enjoyed in the past six months. The intelligence system, in effect, is tremendous and the information is there. Again, it was up to the individuals that we have available to us to develop this intelligence information and put it to good use. I discovered this when I brought it, a potential company commander who was a second tour officer and made him the S-2 to buck up my program. He instituted policies and procedures that increased the amount of intelligence received by the battalion from all the various sources we had available to us. And then he came up with his own evaluation of the intelligence and we used this in targeting so that our battalion operations becomes a matter of first going to the S-2 saying 'where is the enemy in your estimation and what should we find in this target you pick out and what's the basis for your selection?' After we have all the information that he can provide then we hand it to the S-3 and say 'come up with a recommended course of action on how we will operate to engage this target.' The effect it has had has been just fantastic. The S-2 has become, essentially, the key staff officer that we have on the battalion staff. In January, when I assumed command the S-2 was just the S-2. He took an INTSUM [intelligence summary] that he received daily from brigade and division and he posted it on a map and that's as far as we went in the S-2 operation. We did a lot of leg work, he did a lot of running around. His evaluation was not strong-did not have that much affect on the operation on the decision that I made or the S-3 made on where we should go. Then-this individual happened to be a young lieutenant who had done a fine job as a platoon leader, who had no background, no training or anything of this nature. A new officer came in, I sent him down to the division G-2 where he spent one week working with the G-2 staff, found out what happens to intelligence information, the process of gaining it, developing it, getting read out, getting word back to the unit, and the value of having timely intelligence. He came back, he moved in, he reorganized the office, he reorganized his schedule, he completely revamped our system in the battalion. He did it all with the approval of the executive officer and myself.
I would say that the intelligence system currently in effect in Viet Nam and in the 9th Infantry Division has been the biggest single factor in our achieving as much success as we have in the past six months.
MAJ KEELEY: Sir, what would you consider your battalion's most significant accomplishments during your tour?
LTC SMITH: I would say the getting off of the static missions to conduct offensive operations and raise the morale of the individual soldier here in the battalion. It may be hard to visualize for many but that I would say is the most significant accomplishment. The division lives by statistics. Sometimes you can make numbers do what ever you want to do but in cold hard facts we analyzed what the battalion had done on the six months period 1 July through 31 December of 1968 and used this as a yardstick for what we were doing in 1969.
To give you an example: their body count for VC, and these were kills only not to include prisoners or Chu Hois but just VC killed, was 103 in a six month period. The U. S. losses during this time frame was 36 which was about a 3:1 ratio which was much higher than anyone wanted but again you have to understand they were in the static missions. As they sat on a bridge site defending a bridge they were subjected to mortar attacks, to 107 rockets, 122 mm rockets from a stand-off range and they couldn't run off and leave the bridge in order to go and pursue the enemy. So they were strictly nailed down to a ten digit coordinate and exposed to enemy fire as a result of it.
So this is one of the reasons why the statistics don't look as good as we would like them to look for that period. And then in the past almost six months now that I've had the battalion, we see almost a reversal. We see our body count in the same period of time nearing 750 and our losses down in the vicinity of 25 killed. So our casualties have gone down and the number of VC eliminated has gone up tremendously. And the reason for this is the fact we have been able to conduct offensive operations. Primarily company size operations and smaller. And so their accomplishments have been to get out and off the bridge where they were not a well-coordinated, finely honed unit and go on out into the field with a company commander and his show, the platoon leader and his platoon with the aid of his platoon sergeant and they worked hard at working together to try and become a very tight-knit, hard fighting organization. They did just that. All three of the letter companies-A, B, and C-that were my three line companies have had numerous outstanding company-sized actions.
In February, Alpha killed 31, had one man wounded, no one killed. Charlie Company in March, 36 killed in a single fight at night, three men slightly wounded. In April, A Company, operating up near Ah Kieng only had 40 men at this one location, engaged an NVA force, killed 44 had no one wounded and no one killed. Bravo and Charlie company working together in Bien Phuoc district engaged-we destroyed 63 enemy. We had on that particular occasion, two men killed. On another case up in north of Tan An, in between Tan An and Bien Loc, Bravo Company and Charlie Company, working together, engaged an NVA force. We killed 31, we had one killed, two wounded.
These type of operations built tremendous morale in the companies. They were able to see, visually, right before their very eyes, bodies of NVA soldiers out in front of them when they made their sweep. They collected so many rifles on one occasion that they had to have one of the tracks come down and follow them around. They threw all the AK-47s on top of the track. I built up their confidence in themselves and in their leaders to where they were proud to be in the unit. They didn't want to sit on a bridge, they didn't want to get in any static mission. And when I was required to provide security to someone for part of a day on a certain operation the company commanders would yell, the platoon leaders would yell, nobody wanted to do it. Everybody wanted to go out on the operation.
When we get a contact near-by Bien Phuoc we were having a pretty stiff fight and we have an attached (well not an attached) we have a non-divisional engineer company that's located here with us. Just the spirit that run through this battalion was such that the engineer company commander called me and said he was loading up two platoons on engineer dump trucks and he brought them to the field. This is just that spirit of the offensive that they had. This to me was-has been most significant accomplishment that we have made and that is getting on the offensive and being successful in combat. It's been a tremendous feeling for me, I know.
MAJ KEELEY: Sir, what was your working relationship with the 3d Brigade commanders, your subordinate commanders and your principal officers?
LTC SMITH: Well here was where I was very lucky. I worked the first five weeks under a brigade commander who was finishing up his tour. He was kind enough to more or less let me run, make my mistakes, tell me what he thought, lay it on the line. He worked with me not against me, he helped me and he got me off to a solid start.
In came a new brigade commander who felt I had been here then for five weeks and would be more familiar with the district than he was so he permitted me to plan and conduct my own operations with no interference on his part only of a normal request for information. He flew on his chopper and observed us operating. He didn't dictate to me where to move this platoon, where to move that squad, where to move this company. He let me run my own show. When the operation was over, if he wanted to make a comment, he would have done it differently, he would make that comment. He never interfered letting me run my battalion, direct the company commanders as I saw fit and make any corrections that I wanted to. This, I appreciate. I'm now on a third brigade commander and again, he has permitted us to run our own show. He helps us in targeting, he critiques us when we do things that he doesn't necessarily agree with, but he's never said 'you're wrong, you're wrong, you're wrong'. He said 'I would have done it differently, however, maybe I wouldn't have been as successful as you'. But each man runs his battalion according to his own personality and his own initiative and his own imagination. Only [INAUDIBLE] results. They don't want us to run our people all over the Province wear them out to a frazzle and never find any VC and therefore never contribute to the success of the brigade and division.
I've had tremendous support from the brigade commanders. I feel most fortunate because I know there are other brigades and there are other divisions where a one-star general or full colonel telling squads and platoons where to go and they bypass the whole chain of command, feel they've really done a tremendous job when they get back and in reality have usurped the prerogatives of the company commander and the battalion commander and have destroyed, in effect, their confidence in their own capabilities. Likewise, with my company commanders, I think I can best portray this by example.
When my company commanders have a contact, naturally they report to me but assuming I have it available, I'll switch a radio to their company command net and listen. I may be in a helicopter, however, I don't usually have one that much. I'm usually in a track or back here in the TOC (Tactical Operations Center). I usually put a radio on their net and listen and monitor. I listen so that I know what they told their platoon leaders to do and I know what action they're taking. I get into the act from the standpoint of informing them I plan to request a light-fire team, 'can you use it?' I even contact 'do you need my initials' etc. in order to get artillery on target and get air clearance, GVN clearances, U.S. clearances to fire on a certain target. This is part of the Rules of Engagement.
I try to get in to offer him assistance where he needs it and then he knows I'm there. He knows I'm listening on his company net, he knows I'm also on the battalion net. If he needs me for help, he can call. If he doesn't need me but he needs some other asset, he knows that I can get it for him quicker than he can get it for himself. He can run his show. When he gets in trouble and he needs help in the form of another company, or a scout platoon, or anything of this nature he just lets me know.
Then I make every attempt number one to keep from screaming and hollering over the net because I don't think you gain a thing and it gets me so mad to listen to other people do it that I become very much aware of it myself and try to make sure I don't do anything like that. Let him run his own show and then his platoon leaders and his platoon sergeants, and his men know that he's running his own show and they don't have to have a battalion commander there in order to be successful. That they don't have to have a brigade commander or an assistant division commander hovering over them in their helicopter in order for them to achieve success. They've done it on their own and they're very proud of their own accomplishments. They are very proud that the artillery was called for and adjusted by their FOs right there in the ground with them, a young lieutenant or a sergeant or in one case a company I had it was a Spec. 4. They are very proud. That's one of their own, they live with him, they sleep with him, they eat with him and they know that this guy can deliver for them and that's what makes them, successful.
On my principal staff officers, and I've commented on this earlier, I make them do their own job. I don't let the Exec do it for them and I won't do it for them, though many times it would be easier if I did it myself. But they never learn that way, they have no appreciation for the Army, they have no sense of accomplishment. Although it may be difficult for some who are a little weaker than others, to get the job done they still eventually do get it done and they can walk out with their head up high and when they get their decoration, be it an Army Commendation Medal for their work or a Bronze Star for their service over here, they don't have to feel that it was any automatic award. They earned it, proud of the job they did, they can see. They wrote that SOP. I didn't write it and say abide by this, they wrote it and submitted to the Exec or to myself and said do you approve this; yes, no, correct this, change that. But it's theirs, they feel they created it and the day they left that was what was in effect. The new guy may change it, but they made a contribution to the battalion. If you don't give them this feeling, if you don't let them run, you don't give them a job and tell them to do it, I do think you have to check on them or check with them to see how things are going. But to give them a job and then stand there and look over their shoulder while they do it, I think, is a complete waste and your not getting any mileage out of the young officer. I think 99 out of 100 of them get out of the Army because of it.
My relationship with them is to let them know that I am appointing them to this job because I feel confident that they can do it. If they can't do the job, then you just have to get rid of them that's all, you can't carry them. You're not doing anything for him, you're not doing anything for the unit, you're just living a big lie.
I haven't had to fire one. I attribute this to knowing the people in the battalion and when I had to make the replacement on the staff, I felt I knew what I was getting and what he could do in that particular specialty. So I was trying to pick the right man for the right job and fortunately I haven't made a mistake in the selection of my staff officers as yet.
MAJ KEELEY: Sir, do you care to open any new areas of discussion or amplify any remarks made thus far?
LTC SMITH: Yes. There was one area in the administrative field I overlooked in discussing that question earlier.
The 9th Division instituted a policy which, as I mentioned earlier I was the Acting Inspector General before I same here, instituted a policy of a weekly briefing for the division commander on strictly administrative and logistical matters. My immediate reaction to this was that this was a very elaborate affair with statistics that were of questionable value. But there were-there was one area that was particularly interesting to me that I attribute and credit to General [Julian] Ewell when he was Division Commander. This was in the area of personal services for the soldier. Now we have a goal in the Division on such things as hospital mail. When a man becomes a casualty and he's whipped off to the hospital, within six days his mail should be in the same flow as if he were in the battalion, going to that hospital. We work at this. We were virtually forced into working with this. This has a tremendous effect on the soldiers, particularly when you go the hospital to visit one of your men and you find out that he is getting his mail on time and how much he appreciates it and the fact that he still feels a part of the battalion because the battalion got him his personal belongings that he had to have, and they got him his mail from home which is so important to him.
The second item was an awards policy, in which they requested that we go back and review a man's record and what he has done from the time he joined us here in the battalion to the first phase of his tour, let's say four months to five months. We look at him. What kind of a job has he done? If he has done a good job, gotten promoted and you're proud to have him as a member of the unit then why don't we recognize him now. The fighting man, the clerk, it doesn't make any difference, and submit him for some sort of an achievement award to recognize him for his service during the first part of his tour. Then we have, in effect, provided this young man assurance that if he is ever injured for any reason or becomes ill and is off to the hospital he's not forgotten, he's not a number. That when he's done a good job, he's recognized because we've been forced-essentially we've been forced into looking at each individual in the battalion and saying this guy has done alright, he's done pretty well.