eral, Fleet Marine Force Pacific, to prepare Regimental Landing Team (RLT) 27 for deployment to Vietnam by the afternoon of 14 February.94
Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/27, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John E. Greenwood, normally stationed in Hawaii, was already at sea, having embarked on board amphibious shipping for a four-month training deployment on 10 and 12 February. On 13 February, General Krulak simply canceled the training exercise and directed the battalion to steam directly to Da Nang. The change in destination caught the BLT unprepared. Not only was the BLT seriously understrength, with only an average of 119 Marines present in the rifle companies, but nearly 400 embarked Marines and sailors did not meet the criteria for assignment to Vietnam.
The first element of BLT 1/27, consisting of Companies C, D, and elements of Headquarters and Service Company, embarked on board the USS Vancouver (LPD 2), arrived in Da Nang on 23 February. Although the Joint Chiefs of Staff had directed the entire regiment to be in Vietnam by 26 February, the rest of BLT 1/27 could only move as fast as its ships could steam. Companies A, B, and other portions of Headquarters and Service Company, on board the USS Bexar (APA 237), arrived a day late on 27 February, while the last of Headquarters and Service Company arrived the next day on board the USS Washbum (AKA 108).* Upon arrival, the battalion immediately had to transfer all non-deployable Marines and sailors out of Vietnam. On 28 February, after this transfer, the rifle companies averaged just 87 Marines. This situation quickly improved as 400 replacements flown out from Camp Pendleton with the rest of RLT 27 joined the battalion.
The rest of the 27th Marines also had a difficult time. Colonel Adolph G. Schwenk, the commanding officer of the 27th Marines, received a verbal warning order on 12 February, but the official message ordering the regiment to deploy did not arrive until the next day. After some initial confusion over the deployabili-ty criteria, the regiment learned that 17-year olds, sole surviving sons, Marines returned from Vietnam under the twice/thrice wounded policy, officers and corporals and below within four months of their discharge date, enlisted Marines already ordered to WestPac, and officers in receipt of transfer orders would not deploy to Vietnam. Marines with one year or more of duty in the United States since their last tour in Southeast Asia were deployable, a major departure from the policy mandating two years between Vietnam tours.?'"
Even with the reduction of the time between tours from two years to one, only 33 officers and 660 enlisted men out of a regiment of 2,160 met the deployment criteria. After combing the 5th Marine Division for every deployable Marine, the regiment still had a shortfall of 900 infantrymen. Lieutenant General Krulak cut this shortfall to 600 by administratively reducing the regiment's personnel strength objective from fully combat ready to marginally combat ready. He then decided that some 400 infantry billets could be filled by Marines with other specialties. Nearly 100 infantrymen waived a disqualifying factor and volunteered to deploy with the regiment, while 100 infantry replacements from Staging Battalion rounded out the units leaving from California. Another 200 replacements from Staging Battalion and 200 Marines culled from FMFPac security forces, headquarters, and 9th MAB went to fill the 400-man shortfall in BLT 1/27. In just over a week, the regiment transferred out nearly 1,500 non-deployable Marines and sailors while simultaneously joining over l ,900 others to bring it up to strength. Units attached to the regiment to form an RLT added another 840 Marines and sailors.***
*During the Vietnam War, BLT Headquarters and Service Companies included Marines and sailors attached from other units.
**Colonel Thomas P. O'Callaghan, who was the 5th Marine Division assistant operations officer at the time, remembered that the initial request for the 27th Marines came "from FMFPac in the clear over the phone. I pointed out to go to secure line and I would get G-3 and CG when they called back! This was done." Colonel O'Callaghan related that the criteria for deployment created "a mess, but the 5th Div couldn't make the move in time if we sorted everyone out before they left." Col Thomas P. O'Callaghan, Comments on draft, n.d. (Jan95] (Vietnam Comment File).
***Lieutenanr Colonel Louis J. Bacher, who commanded the 2d Battalion, 27th Marines, remembered that on 12 February, Colonel Schwenk, the 27th Marines commander, called a conference and announced that the regiment was deploying to Vietnam with the 2d and 3d Battalions departing by air and with BLT 1/27 arriving by ship. Bacher recalled that the "first plane was scheduled to leave Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro at noon" on the 14th. He stated that the 5th Marine Division staff "did an incredible task of transferring our over 850 officers and men . . . not qualified for deployment and replacing them with those that were, in the two days prior to mount-out." Lieutenant Colonel Bacher had a new executive officer, S-1, S-2, S-3, and S-A and three new company commanders. Lt Col Louis J. Bacher, Comments on draft, dtd 7May95 (Vietnam Comment File), hereafter Bacher Comments. Colonel Tullis J. Woodham.Jr., who commanded the 3d Battalion, 27th Marines, recalled that the priority for transfers of infantrymen into the 27th Marines went to the 2d Battalion which was scheduled to depart first. According to Woodham, "by the time it came to filling out 3/27, ... it became necessary to assign non-infantry MOS's [military occupational specialty) in large numbers. This resulted in a 'cooks, bakers, and candlestick makers' label to be tagged to the battalion. In reality this 'hardship' worked to the battalion's advantage and in Vietnam, the large numbers of cooks, mechanics, communicators, engineers, tankers, etc. with specialized skills other than infantry, paid off in tight places more than once. The old adage 'Every Marine a rifle man, first' never was more true." Col Tullis J. Wood-ham, Jr., Comments on draft, dtd 7Dec94 (Vietnam Comment File).