Day In The Life-Combined Action Platoon



NO personal war stories here, but I thought an account of my unit's methods/gear/weaps might be of some historical interest.

My Combined Action Platoon was comprised of 12 Marine 03s (Inf) volunteers and one Navy Corpsman (HM4), led by a second tour E-5 sergeant who had done his first tour in a regular rifle company.

Each CAP was heavily armed with organic weapons and assigned an AO of 4 or 5 sq klicks, which included a small rural hamlet or two. The mission was to integrate as much as possible into the daily life of the Vietnamese peasant, to live among them by day and conduct combat ops at night-- combined with 12-15 Vietnamese Regional Force soldiers (RFs)--and mainly consisted of ambushes and KTs (Kill Teams).

Because the CAP was small and fairly isolated (the nearest ground reinforcement was the next CAP in a neighboring AO), mobility was the key to our survival. We never stayed more than 8 hours in one place. Normal resupply was by helo--46's once a week--with emergency resup on-call.

Among us we carried 1 M60 MG, 2 M-79 GLs, kabars, M16s (with approx 20-20rnd mags each) and a divided load of MG ammo, 5.56 bandoliers, Claymores, M26 frags, smokes, strobes, pop-up flares, C4, detcord and about a half-dozen LAAWs. The life link was our two PRC-25 tactical radios. We had helmets but usually wore bush hats.

We cross-trained. CAPs, because of their small size, were sometimes overrun. 3 or 4 casualties amounted to 30% strength-loss. Hence the amount of organic weaponry. Everyone had to know everyone else's job. We switched weapons and duties every few weeks. If you carried the MG for a while, the next few weeks you humped the M-79. Everyone took turns humping the radios and knew how to call in arty, medevac and CAS. If you were the last man, you had to know.

Our Corpsman regularly reviewed our knowledge of firstaid, IVs and wound treatment. Every FNG got a thorough assessment and indoc and was paired up with a veteran who acted essentially as a combat "mentor." This system, I think, helped to speed up the newbie's acclimation.

The CAP operated in two units of 6 men: the Alpha team, led by the CAP Actual; and the Bravo Team, usually led by the most experienced E-4 who was called "The Bravo".

The CAP would spend the day in what was called a "Day Haven Site"; usually close to a village or just outside it...or in a treeline on the edge of the ville with a good field of fire. This way, we could have interaction with the people who were a primary source of intel and rest up in a fairly defensible position for our upcoming night ops or "NightActs". We had 2 dozen or so "favorite" Day Havens which we randomly returned to, but always sought to add new ones for security.

The Alpha and Bravo team day-to-day would alternate running daylight patrols--always conducted at different times of the day. The team that remained at the Day Haven was on standby for react if the patrolling team had contact.

On a typical day, about 2 hours before sundown, our Actual would code up our NightAct positions and checkpoints and radio them into our company commander. He and the company XO stayed at a small compound in the center of the spiderweb, as it were, from which the AOs of the 5 or 6 Combined Action Platoons under his command radiated outward. The Company compound was able to provide mortar support--if the requesting CAP was within range--or to relay comm to Group HQ and to more distant arty and air support elements. Likewise, if the company compound came under serious attack, the CAPs, if necessary, could fall back and converge on it.

An hour or so before sundown, we'd saddle up and go mobile from our Day Haven Site. Often the Alpha and Bravo elements would split up, each having it's own preplanned but mutually supporting NightActs. The teams, combined with the RFs, would hump to their Checkpoint Ones and form a perimeter...wait for 10 or 15 minutes...then hump to their CP Twos and remain there until complete darkness. After dark the teams would go mobile again, with stealth, to the locations of their Ambush sites, usually along trails, in treelines, etc. If there was no contact, we would remain in these ambush sites until an hour before dawn.

Sometimes we would run Kilo Tangos, KTs (Kill Teams) from our main ambush, usually three Marines stripped down to rifles and knives, who would stalk the trails leading to the villes.

The CAP system was pretty effective overall. A lot depended upon the ability and savvy of the individual CAP Actual. It required a good deal of tactical sophistication and political finesse on the part of junior NCOs. The Counterparts were often the weakest link, inconsistent being the best word to describe them, although some particular units were quite dependable. Because of deteriorating circumstances, there were times when "bad blood" became an issue between the CAP Marines and their RFs.

I've mentioned before how worthwhile I think a similar system would be in the Ghan...but I doubt if we could lay it on with the kind of long committment COIN warfare requires; and the vast distances in Afghanistan might make it unfeasible. We lacked the committment in VN but Combined Action Platoons did show promise; Westy didn't like 'em so they were not implemented in the numbers that might have made a significant impact country-wide, and he and the Marines were always locking horns about COIN versus Conventional.

The CAPs had a high casualty rate, higher than those suffered by regualr rifle companies. But they accounted for a higher ratio of enemy kills. I think this is because we stayed in the bush and lived in the bush and learned to hunt the VC instead of reacting to them. We did not have sandbags or barbed wire. We had no fixed defensives. We never returned to our company compound as a unit, only individually, unless casualties made our withdrawal imperative. The value of the intel reaped by our integration into our AO, by our almost daily interaction and familiarization with the locals cannot be overstated. It is hard to find, like gold, but yields high dividends in enemy kills, village security and stability and friendly lives saved.

"The various units of the Combined Action Groups were outstanding and without parallel in combat in South Vietnam. These were the forces who actually lived among the South Vietnamese people and worked closely with South Vietnamese units to defend remote population centers. Even though these forces suffered tremendous losses, they persisted in their outstanding service to their country and to the cause of a free South Vietnam. I salute all members of the Combined Action Forces, survivors and fallen together. God Bless you all." --President Ronald Reagan
Me no speaky Vietnamese, but that's some good stuff right there.

Semper fi.