the divisions bore the brunt of the personnel shortage. The Force Logistic Command was only 227 Marines short of its authorized strength of 10,266, and the 1st MAW was only three Marines short of its authorized strength of 16,180.
Despite the large size of headquarters units, most Marines in Vietnam were "trigger-pullers." According to the MACV strength report for 31 July 1968, 44,522, or 53.7 percent, of the Marines in III MAF were assigned to infantry, artillery, tank, reconnaissance, amphibian tractor, or engineer battalions, battalion landing teams, or a Combined Action group.
At the end of July Lieutenant General Buse visited III MAF, devoting most of his time to the manpower problem. His visit convinced him that III MAF was taking vigorous steps to improve foxhole, flightline, and cockpit strength. Even so, he felt that III MAF needed more men, and recommended that Operation Kicker be reinstated at Staging Battalion to bring about an immediate improvement in the personnel readiness of III MAF.122 On l August, Staging Battalion complied with this request, maintaining the seven-day work week of Operation Kicker from l to 31 August. Between 20 August and 13 September, the battalion also reduced the schedule from 15 to 12 training days.123
In August, the strength of infantry battalions increased somewhat, with the average strength rising to 1,072 Marines. The short-term steps taken by III MAF and Staging Battalion undoubtedly helped, but things were bound to improve around this time as the unusually large number of recruits joined from January through May, including over 5,000 draftees called in April and May, finally worked their way through the training pipeline and arrived in Vietnam. The Return of RLT 27
RLT 27 left for Vietnam as an emergency measure, and was originally scheduled to spend only three months in country.124 This was quickly lengthened to six months, but the Defense Department realized that the Marine Corps could not sustain this force level and that an Army unit had to replace the regiment as soon as possible. On 13 March, President Johnson and his advisors set 15 July as the date for RLT 27 to begin returning to the United States.125 Twelve days later, the Army designated the 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized), located at Fort Carson, Colorado, to relieve the 27th Marines. After a schedule which included 13 training weeks, on 22 July, the first elements of the Army brigade departed for Vietnam. The last of the brigade arriving in country on 31 July.126 The brigade still needed a full month of in-country orientation training before it was ready to participate in major combat operations.
This meant that the 1st Brigade could not relieve the 27th Marines until the end of September, delaying the planned return of the regiment for over a month and creating serious manpower problems for the Marine Corps. On 15 June 1968, a key issue paper for the Commandant contained the estimate that if RLT 27 did not leave Vietnam by July, the Marine Corps could not sustain its forces in Vietnam without a Reserve call up, or a combination of shortening time between tours and increasing strength.127 About a week later, MACV informally asked III MAF exactly when the 27th Marines would leave Vietnam. General Cushman recommended that the 27th Marines not redeploy until after a relief in place could be effected. The 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized) would not be ready for combat until a month after its arrival in Vietnam. Since the proposed schedule actually involved having the brigade relieve the 1st Marines, which would in turn relieve the 27th Marines, General Cushman estimated that the earliest date the 27th Marines could leave Vietnam was 10 September.128
General Abrams, who had relieved General Westmoreland as Commander USMACV in June, concurred with this recommendation. The proposed two-month postponement for the return of the 27th Marines prompted Paul H. Nitze, Deputy Secretary of Defense, to note on 19 July that "this delay will have adverse personnel implications for the Marine Corps." Secretary Nitze politely tasked General Wheeler to ask General Abrams to review his relief plan, stating that "[I]f feasible, the 27th RLT should be returned to the U.S. by 15 August."12? General Cushman insisted that RLT 27 could not be withdrawn before the replacement Army brigade became combat ready without "unacceptable risk."130 On 10 August, the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved the redeployment of RLT 27 between 10 and 15 September.131*
"Charles F. Baird, Under Secretary of the Navy, noted that the delay in RLT 27's return resulted from the Army brigade's need for 30 days' training after arrival in Vietnam before it began combat operations. He unfavorably contrasted this with the record of RLT 27, which "took its place in the Da Nang TAOR a day after it arrived" when it deployed to Vietnam in February. Charles F. Baird, Memorandum for the Assistant Secretary of Defence (Systems Analyses), Subj: RLT 27;
return of, dtd 16Jul68, tabJJ, RLT Redeployment File.