Visit the July 2010 display dedicated to TEAM I-27

MAT I-27, 
Duc Phoc District,
QuangNgai province 
I Corps
Republic of Vietnam

1970

I arrived in Quang Ngai in March 1970. I was a 1st Lt. with several months to go before making captain. I was assigned to Duc Pho District (southernmost of the ten districts in the province).

  Calendar year ’70 was a bit over one year into
President Nixon’s “Vietnamization” program of ultimately turning over the war to the South Vietnamese. In hindsight the realization had settled in that America could not win the war as it was currently being executed; the artificial restrictions of not going after the sanctuaries in Cambodia and Laos on a permanent basis, other than bombing the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the brief incursions into Cambodia and Laos in ’70 and ’71 and more significant – not prosecuting a total war against the North (like destroying the Red River Dikes, making the population of the North suffer, etc).

Politically it ended up being a way to extract ourselves from what had become a terrible mess…Ultimately the South Vietnamese would need to step up and fight to keep their freedom with the same intensity as the North who wanted to reunite the country under a Communist regime…

As part of this overall Vietnamization program a larger emphasis had been placed on improving the fighting ability of the South’s forces. This translated into providing them with better equipment and attempting to improve their overall combat readiness.

 

Enter my role in the greater scheme of things. The advisory effort, U.S. NCOs and officers working with the South Vietnamese forces, increased significantly in the late 1960s. One of these programs included placing advisers with the Regional Force and Popular Force units. These were units of lesser quality readiness, equipment and training than the regular South Vietnamese units. They normally were under the operational control of the South Vietnamese District Chiefs within a given province, confining their operations to local security missions within their assigned districts. Regional Force (RF’s) units were normally organized into company size units and the Popular Force (PF’s) consisted of platoon size units. The U.S. created Mobile Advisory Teams, “MAT Teams” to specifically work with these RF/PF units. The concept was for these five man teams, consisting of a Captain, Lt. and three NCOs to move from one unit to another, normally within an assigned District, training and operating with these units. Hence the term “Mobile Advisory Team.”

 MAT I-27

When I got to Quang Ngai in March ’70 I was assigned as the team lead for MAT I-27, operating out of Duc Pho the southernmost district, one of about four MAT teams subordinate to the MACV Mo Duc U.S. Advisor Team 17 and responsible for Quang Ngai Province. There was also a district advisory team in each of the ten districts in the province. If you go to the map and scroll down past the district capitol of Duc Pho look for a strip of land between two lakes right on the Coast. Find the hamlet of Dien Truong, and that’s where I was from Mar-August of ’70. Our outpost was right next to the highway, National Highway (QL) 1 on the Coast side. Three RF companies and a “Group HQs” operated out of this outpost. Most of our action occurred in very southern corner of the district and province just north of Tam Quan that was across the Corps border in Binh Dinh Prov. The area just south of our outpost contained numerous salt flats and was a major area of interest for the VC. By this time 90 percent of the VC units that we faced were manned by North Vietnamese personnel. The TET Offensive of ’68 had been a disaster for the VC nearly wiping them out.

In August ’70 our team, down to just two new NCOs, and myself, was moved up to the Prov. Capitol, Quang Ngai City and combined with MAT I-4. A RF battalion, similar in organization to a regular SVN battalion, was activated in Quang Ngai and the MAT teams were the units designated to work with them. It was during this period of my tour that we operated over much of the province save for the extreme western portions of Quang Ngai.

When our unit, the 103rd RF battalion, was not in the field, my boss would send us out with other Vietnamese units, normally small specialized recon elements like the Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs) that operated on very specific high priority missions. This pattern continued till I rotated home in March of ‘71

Believe that the picture was taken not too long after a severe typhoon ravaged the area in Nov 70.
 Standing L to R;
SFC Richard Edgar, SFC James Hollis, SSG Cu'u(wearing his grenadier vest), myself and SGT Fitzgibbons and kneeling in front, SGT Diep.

During my tour two of our camps were overrun and advisers killed. In Aug or early Sept. ’70 the mountain camp at Tra Bong (northernmost mountain district) was hit, and in Jan or Feb of ’71 the MAT team at Mo Duc, 
district just north of Duc Pho, was overrun. Both times our RF battalion reacted and spent time beating the bush 
so to speak to no avail.

During my tour there were five U.S. Infantry battalions operating in Quang Ngai, all part of the 23rd (Americal) Division. 
The Americal Division’s main base camp was just north across the Quang Ngai border into Quang Tim Province 
at Chu Lai on the Coast.

The largest U.S. base in Quang Ngai was “LZ Bronco” in Duc Pho. It was the headquarters of the 11th Infantry Brigade of the Americal Div. The name Bronco actually originated from when the Third Brigade, 25th Infantry Div occupied it several years before. Before that the Marines called it something else.

Quang Ngai City was also the headquarters for the U.S. Second ARVN Infantry Div. Advisory Team.

I specifically remember when the U.S. advisers went back into Gia-Vuc when it was redesignated a Biet Dung Quan (Ranger) unit, I believe in the fall of ’70.

Quang Ngai was the only province in I Corps that did not border on Laos. Its western border was with Kontum Province. Between the SF and/or LLDB/BDQ camps in Kontum and those in Quang Ngai there existed a void of approximately 50-60 KMs of some of the most difficult terrain in all of SVN. This would have been the area north and west of Gia-Vuc. In those days directly west across the Song Re from Gia-Vuc was actually part of Kontum Province. I have seen maps of present day VN and the borders now are significantly different.

 Interestingly enough this area west of the Quang Ngai district camps at Ha Thanh and Tra Bong, the two northernmost mountain camps, were so remote that NO large-scale (battalion sized) U.S. operations ever occurred there ( to their west). It took over an hour by helicopter to get 6-10 KMs west of these two camps. Some small specialized operations occurred in this void but very few. The U.S. First Cavalry Div. did conduct some large operations along the Song Re in 1967 or early ‘68, but after that I am not aware of any large missions. The area was simply too remote. Not surprisingly, it was a major infiltration route from Western Kontum and Laos into the Coastal Lowlands to the southeast in Binh Dinh Province.

It was in this area about 20-30 KMs west of the camp at Tra Bong where the Communists had their MR 5 Regional POW camp. MR 5 was the Communist geographical designation for the region that now comprises the central part of Vietnam. This camp suffered nearly a 40 percent mortality rate between 1965 and 1971 when the POWs were moved west to the Ho Chi Minh Trail and ultimately to North Vietnam.

"There are two excellent books on the ordeal suffered by the men in this camp; one is The Survivors, by Zalin Grant. It is out of print and I found it by going to a generic used book web site. The other book is Why didn’t you get me out by Frank Anton, a helicopter pilot held captive for five years. Grant’s book erroneously depicts this camp complex in Quang Tin Prov. but it was in Quang Ngai. (I looked up Anton’s book at www.Amazon.com )

 While on active duty I was able to follow the efforts of the U.S. Joint Task Force Full Accounting and their efforts to recover some of those who died while in this camp and were buried in its several locations. One of JTFA’s missions is to recover U.S. personnel remains missing in action in Indo China.

Ultimately all the mountain camps in Quang Ngai were overrun. It was always my impression that the Communists were deliberately laying low so to speak in 1970 and part of ’71 to further the myth that Nixon’s Vietnamization program was working. My former boss who was present in Quang Ngai until mid ’72 told me that by the time he rotated out, all of the mountain camps had been seized and that the South Vietnamese only controlled isolated enclaves around some of the district capitols – a sad end to the efforts by all of those who soldiered in Quang Ngai.

 


Bob Hensler own
103RD RF patch

My MAT Team looked pretty much like regular troops when we were on operations. We mainly wore the OD jungle fatigues with the MAC-V patch and usual US insignia as well as the 103RD Regional Forces patch on our breast as a sign of respect for our counterpart. It was also for them a status symbol to have US soldiers wearing the same patch.

While on operation with the PRU we wore the US standard issue cammies (ERDL) jungle uniform, my cammie jacket had name and US army tapes and a shoulder Ranger tab. We always wore the flop jungle hat. 

We had the Standard US Load Bearing equipment with two to three ammo pouches and one or 2 water canteens on our belt. I also carried a colt 45 in the standard belt black holster and a Korean War K bar knife given to me by my uncle. Our rucksacks were the standard issue lightweight frame type, with the ruck attached to the top and equipment strapped under. I usually had another two canteen attached to my ruck. Our team weapons were the standard issue M16, but we also had one CAR-15 in our team and one M79 grenade launcher (carried by my interpreter SSG Cu’u) and an M60 (probably scrounged) this was not taken on mission as our Vietnamese troops had plenty). Sometime we carried our own PC25 Radio or it was carried by a  RF trooper.

What we took on operation varied according to length of it, but I always carried in the top of my ruck two M16  bandoleers giving me an extra 16 mags.  On some of the shorter raids with the Pru , I only took my LBE with an extra ammo bandoleer strapped over my chest.

Mission with the PRU

The PRU were the executing arm of the Phoenix program, the eradication effort against the VC political infrastructure. The mission I described bellow, although executed with a PRU team, was not a specific Phoenix program. Most PRU teams had U.S. officers and sometimes additional NCOs permanently assigned to work with them but for some reason the PRU team in Quang Ngai City had neither. I was periodically tasked to accompany them. The missions with the PRU were completely separate and not associated with the 103 RF Bn. I was sent along not because I had any special expertise or experience, but because it was critical to have someone who could speak fluent U.S. sounding English on a radio in case we needed fire support, medevac or for terminal guidance of helicopters at mission beginning and completion. If we were operating in the specific AO of a U.S. Bn, I would do the up front coordination with the U.S. Bn TOC. Missions were always short, no more than a few days max. Most were raids that were over within 10-12 hours. The missions were very specific, focused on real time intelligence, and normally resulted in enemy contact. I would ask for a volunteer to go with me. SFC Jim Hollis volunteered and accompanied me on every one of them

Feb/March 1971

My last mission in country sent me a good ways SW of the mountain camp at Ha Thanh with the PRUs. It was late Feb or early Mar '71, and I only had a few weeks left in country. We were clearly in “Injun” country on that mission. Butt was puckered so tight it is a wonder I could even walk!

This mission targeted a potential detention camp where there were purported to be some local SVN village official who had been kidnapped. We were also trying to locate the center of mass of a "production area," trails, caches, etc indicating a trans-load area between two major river corridors, the Dak Drinh and Song Re. That mission consisted of about 30 PRU, two NVA Chieu Hoi's and myself and Jim Hollis. SSG Cu'u went on all but the last mission - he went AWOL from the team in Feb '71 and headed home to Saigon. He left a note apologizing. He had been with one U.S. unit or another since the TET offensive in 1968. (I loved that guy to death, what a courageous and tough soldier. Wish I knew what happened to him. He had previously been awarded two U.S. Bronze Star medals for gallantry in action.)

Photo of Cpt Bob Hensler (left) with the MAT team leader from Ha Thanh, Jim Meyer (right). I Believe he may have gotten stranded at our team house in QN City during the noted Typhoon Nov 70 typhoon. Our team house was a way station for anyone coming and going on R&R and rotating in or out. We had extra bunks. Trouble was we were not there very often. The VN Prov chief kept us in the field. I look so jovial because I'm standing in water almost up to my crotch. It was the morning after the storm finally passed to the west.
Text and photos thanks to Cpt R Hensler MAT I-27 1970/71

Bob Hensler, Cpt MAT 1-27,  Duc Pho District, 
Quang Ngai Province, 1970

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