cialists to provide local security forces and to operate "clubs, messes, special services, exchanges, laundries, etc."80 Marines who were wounded, sick, or on R&R constituted a further drain. During the last half of 1968, these commitments and losses drove the flight-line strength of helicopter groups down to less than 80 percent of the provisional T/O.81 In the opinion of a board of III MAF officers, the lack of men, particularly skilled helicopter maintenance Marines, pur helicopter maintenance "behind the power curve."82 Filling the Ranks in Vietnam: Too Many Billets, Too Few Marines
In the summer of 1967 the Department of Defense's manning level for Vietnam, Program 4, called for 80,500 Marines. At the time, 79,000 Marines were actually in Vietnam or in a Special Landing Force (SLF)"* On 10 August 1967, the Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara, tentatively approved Program 5, which set a goal of just over 82,000 Marines in Vietnam.84 McNamara officially approved Program 5 in October.85 If filled, this ceiling would still have left III MAF with over 6,000 unfilled billets.86 This point became moot as the Marine Corps could not even meet its authorized strength. The number of Marines in country declined from 79,337 on 30 April 1967 to 73,430 on 31 October 1967. This decline in strength largely resulted from a replacement shortage, administrative losses at the end of the year (particularly holiday leaves), and conversion from a tour lasting at least 13 full months in Vietnam to one lasting no more than 395 days from the day a Marine left the United States to the day he returned to the United States.87
In order to correct this manpower shortage, the Commandant directed the commanding generals of Marine Corps Bases Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton to retrain 1,000 non-infantry Marines a month in August and September as infantry replacements for Vietnam. Since these Marines received seven weeks of training, the first of them did not arrive in Vietnam until early October 1967.88 October also marked the beginning of the annual manpower surge. The Marine Corps normally experienced a recruit "surge" during the summer months, and the first of these summer recruits completed their mandatory four months initial training and became available for overseas assignment in early October.
On 10 November, Staging Battalion at Camp Pendleton went to a seven-day work week to handle the increased number of replacements. Five days later Headquarters, Marine Corps increased the normal replacement flow for the period from 23 November 1967 to 13 January 1968 by 3,135 Marines. This forced Staging Battalion to implement "Operation Kicker," shortening the number of training days from 15 to 12. On 6 January 1968, the last planeload of replacements trained under Operation Kicker left for Vietnam.8? With these added inputs, overall strength in Vietnam rose by over 4,500 through November and December.
Changes to Program 5 reduced the number of Marines authorized to be deployed to Vietnam for December 1967 and January 1968 to 81,500. According to the MACV strength report, by 31 December 1967, the total number of Marines in country or assigned to SLFs amounted to only 78,013. Still, III MAF found itself in the unusual situation of having 74,058 Marines on board to fill 72,526 authorized billets.
Unfortunately for III MAF the formal tables of organization did not provide for a number of vital billets, including the 1,097 Marines involved in the Combined Action Program." Despite the fact that III MAF was technically oversrrength, the 23,778 Marines assigned to the 3d Division still left the division 62 Marines short of the number authorized. The 1st Marine Division, with 23,209 Marines, was 1,251 Marines short of its authorized strength. The average strength for infantry battalions in Vietnam was 1,188, only five Marines short of the T/O allowance of 1,193, but the infantry battalions of the 1st Marine Division averaged only 1,175 Marines. The two SLFs combined were 424 Marines short of their authorized strength of 3,900. Force Logistics Command contained 9,397 Marines, only 307 Marines short of its authorized strength. The 1st MAW had 15,308 Marines in Vietnam, 1,869 Marines more than its manning level, but still remained critically short of pilots and aircraft mechanics.90
Total Marine Corps strength in Vietnam grew slightly in January 1968, reaching 78,436 by 28 Jan-
*Throughout this chapter, III MAF strength includes the SLFs unless specified otherwise.
^Provisional T/Os covered the Combined Action Program, additional personnel for the III MAF headquarters, and other billets needed in Vietnam. Although technically these billets should have been rilled, the Marine Corps' inability to man III MAF fully meant that these provisional billets were filled at the expense of other units. See Chapter 29 for further discussion about the manning of the Combined Action Program.