Entrance to the MACV Recondo (Reconnaissance Commando Doughboy) School in Nha Trang.

Ron Hibbard

Feature: RECONDO

29 January 2007

One of the most prestigious qualifications that could be earned by soldiers during the Vietnam War was to graduate from the Recondo School.

The inspiration for the school was the successful Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) training program provided for personnel from Detachment B-52 of the 5th Special Forces Group (Project Delta). The Project Delta course was established in May 1964 and the effectiveness of its techniques quickly led to student application requests from regular Army units. By August 1966 soldiers from conventional units accounted for 52% of each class.

Cognisant of the success of Project Delta course, General William Westmoreland1 directed that Special Forces organize and conduct a three-week course of instruction on LRRP techniques for selected personnel from U.S and FWMAF2 units. The resulting MACV Recondo3 school was opened in Nha Trang by Westmoreland in September 1966 and Major Edward Rybat was named as its Assistant Commandant and Detachment Commander of the school staff4.

Student selection was deemed to be critical to the success of the LRRP program and a result the school implemented the following stringent selection criteria:

Each student must:Having been accepted each student was required to bring to the school three sets of Jungle Fatigues, three sets of underwear, three towels, two pairs of Jungle Boots and his M-16 or CAR-15 rifle. He was then issued with the following specialist equipment:

1 eachSTABO Harness
1 eachNavy KABAR Knife or
M-16 / CAR-15 Bayonet
1 eachFirst Aid Pack w/ Bandage
2 eachMorphine Injection
2 eachOne Quart Canteen w/Cover and one bottle of Water Purification Tablets
2 eachM-16 Ammo Pouches
2 eachFragmentation Grenades
1 eachSmoke Grenade
1 eachSmoke or CS Grenade
2 eachSnap link / D-Ring
1 each6-foot rope Swiss-Seat (for rappelling)
1 setCamouflage Jungle Uniform or Indigenous Tiger Stripe Uniform
1 eachCamouflage Jungle Hat
1 eachIndigenous Poncho
1 eachGround Sheet
1 pairHeavy Duty Leather Gloves
1 eachM18A1 Claymore Mine
eachRations: Indigenous (VN), LRP (US), C (US)
18 eachM-16 Magazines
1 eachIndigenous Rucksack
1 bottleInsect Repellent
1 eachMap with protective plastic wrapper
1 eachNotebook with protective plastic wrapper
1 eachPill Kit containing:
12 Tablets: DARVON
12 Tablets: Codeine
6 Tablets: Dextroamphetamine
12 Tablets: Cold
8 Tablets: Chloroquine-Primaquine, Anti-Malaria
12 Tablets: Polymagma
24 Tablets: Tetracycline
1 setPen Flare gun
1 eachSignal Mirror
1 setSOI (Signal Operation Instruction) with protective plastic wrapper
1 eachLensatic Compass

After being suitably equipped students began a gruelling course of instruction that lasted 20-days and encompassed 310.5 hours of training, as detailed below:

200Physical Training10.0
300Map Reading16.0
700Patrol Training94.0
900Air Operations20.0
1000Combat Operations118.0
1100 & 1200Examinations, Critiques and Spot Quizzes10.5
1300Commandant’s Time01.5
Total: 310.5

Physical Training
Students were given a standard airborne physical training test on the second day of the course and had to demonstrate their helicopter extraction aptitude by climbing and descending a forty-foot knotted rope. A swimming test was also administered as part of the program.

Map Reading
When the school was first opened students took a map reading examination and those that failed were returned to their units. Unfortunately the failure was so high that a 15-hour map course ad to be added to the itinerary. Students that failed after this course received additional instruction on the material after scheduled training during the second week4. All students were tested again in the final examination.
A RECONDO soldier's primary mission is intelligence gathering, reconnaissance, raids and ambushes

Medical Training
Basic first aid, survival drugs and medicines, life saving techniques, the treatment of special wounds and the use of the Ringers Lacytate Unit were taught as part of the course. All students were also instructed on how to give muscular and intravenous injections.

Students were taught how to use the AN / PRC-25, HT-1 and URC-10 radio’s as well as receiving instruction on field expedient and aircraft antennas and the use of SOI’s and message writing.

Intelligence training consisted of the principles of combat intelligence, terrain analysis, basic photography, handling of POWs, captured documents and equipment plus the VC organization, operations and tactics.

Patrol Training
The school delivered instruction on patrol preparation, organization and security, special equipment, helicopter extraction and infiltration techniques, tracking and immediate action drills.

Weapons Training
Students zeroed their weapons and participated in jungle lane and instinctive fire exercises in addition to using the M-79 grenade launcher and common VC and NVA firearms. Two hours was devoted to mines and booby-traps and four hours to the adjustment of artillery and mortar fire.

Air Operations
During the air operations segment of instruction, students learnt the limitations and capabilities of the UH-1 helicopter including: loading and unloading procedures, rigging of the helicopter, landing zone selection plus infiltration and extraction methods using rappelling ropes, rope ladders and the STABO rig.
Students were also schooled in Forward Air Control (FAC) procedures and were required to direct an airborne FAC to an actual target. The use of helicopter gunships and Shadow and Stinger Aircraft was also part of the course.

Combat Operations
For those students who had achieved the required academic points and had demonstrated overall proficiency the course climaxed in a three to four-day long range reconnaissance patrol in the mountains west of Nha Trang or on Hon Tre Island. Accompanied by a cadre advisor, this phase of the program forced students to apply all the skills acquired during the first two-weeks of training5.

A RECONDO is smart, skilled, tough, courageous and confident

The comprehensive nature of this program ensured that each graduate could return to his unit fully capable of providing his commander with the most accurate intelligence about the enemy and their area of operations.

Not all those who completed the Recondo course graduated and the failure rates varied from class to class. Some units consistently produced a higher number of graduates, whilst others regularly did poorly. This variance was attributed to student selection and the school constituently emphasised the need for units to enforce the criteria it had stipulated.

During the school’s 4-year existence a total of 5,626 soldiers, including 296 Koreans, 193 Thais, 130 Vietnamese, 22 Filipinos and 18 Australians, attended Recondo training. More than a third failed, but the 3,515 who graduated were authorized to wear the Recondo insignia in Vietnam and were assigned a Recondo number that was entered into the permanent section of their military 201 file. The honor graduate from each class also received a special knife.

The school was officially closed on 19th December 1970 by Westmoreland’s MACV successor, General Creighton Abrams.

1. General William C. Westmoreland, Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV)
2. FWMAF: Free World Military Assistance Forces
3. Coined by Westmoreland, Recondo is derived from: Reconnaissance, Commando and Doughboy.
4. The Commanding Officer of the 5th Special Forces Group was designated as the Commandant of the MACV Recondo School.
5. Those who had passed the map course were used as assistant instructors during this additional training.
6. The patrols greatly contributed towards the defense of the Nha Trang military complex.

USARV Long Range Patrol Conference Summary (9-10 Aug 1968)
MACV Recondo School Unit History, Supplement / Change No. 4 (9th January 1971)
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