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Tram Chim Village

Hoa Binh district , Kien Phong Province

44th Special Tactical zone , IV Corps

Republic of Vietnam

First, a word about the origin of Mobile Advisory Teams.

When counterinsurgency was first formalized as a performance area for the U. S. Army, the primary concept was that small teams of American soldiers, the Special Forces, would carry out that mission.  Counterinsurgency in Vietnam began that way, but it eventually grew into a task that reached beyond Special Forces to the Mobile Advisory Teams (MATs) organized as a part of Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS), a hybrid military/civilian component within MACV involving the Army, the CIA , USAID, and the State department. 

MATs (or in the vernacular of the time, MAT teams) eventually took over the counterinsurgency role Special Forces teams had largely had to themselves earlier in the war.  By 1968 the expansion to the MATs had become necessary because the U. S. was putting more emphasis on counterinsurgency and because Special Forces had become more oriented toward reconnaissance, raiding, and interdiction in enemy sanctuary areas.

MAT teams operated with relative independence, often in isolated posts, and out of the catch stream of other American units.  While MATs were doing special warfare, they were not a part of the Special Forces; but neither were they a part of USARV, which was made up of conventional units like the 1st Cavalry Division and the 1st Infantry Division, among many others.  Because they were not part of a conventional formation, because they served with the Vietnamese local forces, and because they were out of sight and out of mind to most American observers, the role of MATs has received little attention and their efforts little noted.  This note, like the other MAT additions to the Gia Vuc website, seeks in a small way to remedy that.

MAT teams, fully manned, consisted of two combat arms officers and three senior NCOs plus a Vietnamese interpreter.  The Team Leader and Assistant Team Leader were authorized to be a captain and a 1st lieutenant, respectively.  In practice, it was not unusual for a team leader to be a 1st lieutenant. The NCOs were originally to be sergeants first class or master sergeants qualified to serve as the team’s light weapons specialist, heavy weapons specialist, or medic.  As with the officers, the NCOs were commonly at a rank lower than authorized.  

The initial MAT teams were formed in 1968 and as a quick-start were manned with levies from USARV units already in country.  Those officers and NCOs were given a quick round of training at an in-country advisor school, but beginning in early 1969, the officers and some of the NCOs assigned to MAT teams had graduated from the military advisor course at the U. S. Army’s Special Warfare School, Fort Bragg NC. That course consisted of elements from the Special Forces curriculum that focused on weapons and explosives training, counterinsurgency techniques, intelligence/counterintelligence operations, and field-expedient engineering.  Other elements of instruction dealt with the CORDS program and Vietnamese language and culture.

“These (Mobile Advisory) teams have been eminently successful.  They’ve done a hell of a lot for the RF and PF….They live with them, fight with them,  patrol with them, ambush with them, and so on.  Then you get communication, then you get reaction.”—General Creighton Abrams (The Vietnam Chronicles: The Abrams Tapes, 1978-1970)

It was January of 1969 and General Abrams was making the point that MAT teams were living with local militias in their villages, training them, and fighting along side them.  As a result, their units were experiencing more combat success and communicating better with both ARVN and U. S. Army units.  MATs were proving to be successful, and in the end, CORDS with its, MAT and district teams, its Phoenix program, and its coordinated development activities defeated the insurgency in the countryside, a result which forced North Vietnam to abandon its plan for success through guerrilla war and “shadow government.”  Instead, they switched strategies and attacked South Vietnam with their conventional army units.  That method of attack culminated with success two years after the American military had left the country.  

More about the MAT teams can be found in Terry T Turner article, use the link bellow:


published in  the spring 2011 edition of  ON POINT, the journal of the National Museum of the U. S. Army.


MAT IV-32                                                

In early 1969, MAT IV-32 (team 32 in IV Corps tactical zone) was assigned to advise and assist the Regional Forces (RF) and Popular Forces (PF) units, the district and village militias, respectively, in Tram Chim village, Hoa Binh district in Kien Phong Province.  That was out on the Plain of Reeds in the Mekong delta.

1 Tram Chim street.jpg

Tram Chim village, 1969.  
No electricity, no running water, no vehicles. 

2 Fort on canal.jpg

Fort on the main canal, 
Tram Chim, 1969

MAT IV-32 was stationed in a mud-walled fort at Tram Chim and we operated out of there usually in pairs, two men accompanying a day-light operation and another two going out on that night’s ambush or other operation.  At least one man had to be awake and in the fort at all times to keep radio watch and provide security for the team house and bunker. Generally speaking, team members* were out on patrol, sweep, or interdiction operations four days a week and on ambush or night operations three nights a week. The militia troops were organized in companies (RF) and local platoons (PF).  All the units were poorly equipped, especially early on.  For the first few months of our being in Tram Chim the troops still had old World War II inventory weapons: M1 Garands, M1 and M2 carbines, BARs, M3 submachine guns, and the like.  Eventually, all that was turned in and M16s were issued, which improved the units’ efficiency considerably. Our RF company had an 81mm mortar which served as our fort’s artillery since we were out of range of any real artillery.  Some of our PF outposts additionally had 60mm mortars.  Those were another hold-over from World War II, but the 60mm was a very handy mortar to have in the field (The trick was to not carry a base plate or yolk for it, just have an experienced guy fire it using his helmet as a base plate and eyeball as aiming device.  With experience, it works wonders!)

 The district’s RF company operated anywhere in the district, often in conjunction with a local PF platoon(s). The PF platoons operated in their village and immediately adjacent areas.  An RF company in our area might have 100-125 men in it, though rarely that many present for duty.  A PF platoon might have 20-25 men.  Both types of units were light infantry doing patrolling, ambushing, sweeps (local versions of search-and-destroy), and occasionally border interdiction operations.

The breathing room between combat operations was spend doing the civic action part of the job, which included everything from meeting with village or district officials, to running MedCaps, to giving teachers a pat on the back for just hanging in.  I once had a photo taken that was meant to spoof all the things we were supposed to be doing.  I was standing in front of a thatch barracks being built in our fort (field construction) while wearing a stethoscope (MedCaps), and carrying a grenade launcher (combat operations).  A bottle of whiskey evident in a cargo pocket was a joke about what was needed to put up with the job!  

3 Sgt. Mau & medic crpd.jpg

MSG Dennis Mau, the team medic or bac-si with his RF medic counterpart.

4 ttt-fort.jpg

1LT Turner, Team Leader, not off to combat, but to pow-wow with the district chief.

5 TTT & Sgt Lagasca.jpg

SFC Jesus Lagasca, heavy weapons specialist, 
with Lt. Turner atop the team bunker’s inside the fort at 
Tram Chim.


The  Plain of Reeds was flat, wide-open territory with tree lines along creek and stream beds.  The region flooded in the rainy season, which meant most operations had to be done by poling along in sampans or slogging through the shallows on foot.  There were no “school solutions” for operations via pole-driven sampans, so tactics were rudimentary, at best.  

6 Mekong & clouds.jpg

Hoa Binh district near the Mekong .  Flat paddy land and tree lines.  Photo at the start of the monsoons.

7  high water from chopper.jpg

Hoa Binh during the high water season.  Special Forces air boats and Navy PBRs were a big help!

The best way to move more quickly in high water was to operate with the Special Forces’ Mobile Strike Force (Mike Force) out of Cao Lanh, our province capital. MAT IV-32 maintained a fuel and ammo depot in our perimeter for the Mike Force, so they were glad to come out and run operations with us when they could.  That was a big help in the high water season.  In wet or dry weather, we operated with the U. S. Navy’s “brown water” sailors.  They were headquartered on the U. S. S. Benewah out in the Mekong River and would come up our main canal bringing with them the fire-power available on their river patrol boats or PBRs.  The PBR sailors not only patrolled on their own, but they laid ambushes with us along our canals and helped with small-unit troop movements.  

8 SF airboats.jpg

Airboats of the SF-led CIDG out of Cao Lanh  refueling and taking on more ammo at MAT IV-32’s base at Tram Chim.  Operating with them improved our attack capability during the high water season.

9 Sgt Anderson-PBR.jpg

SFC Andy Anderson (on right), light weapons specialist, coming in from an operation with the Navy’s PBRs.

MAT IV-32 conducted a small unit, guerrilla war with a lot of time spent on patrols and ambushes that yielded little.  Still, contact was not unusual and tangible results like enemy KIAs or his arms caches and supplies gave us some feel-good days.

10 Tester-cache.jpg

MSG John Tester, light weapons specialist, looking over a captured arms cache

The Plain of Reeds can be a beautiful, tranquil place with friendly, hard working people who just want to be left alone to do their farming or fishing. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see enough of that, but all these years later, those are the scenes that come most commonly to mind.

1992 Tram Chim canal.jpg

A scene of morning calm looking north up a branch canal near Tram Chim.  Cambodia is 10 miles in the distance.  Canals like this one served as infiltration highways out of the enemy’s sanctuary areas on the other side of the border.

*The officers and NCOs who served on MAT IV-32 came and went as their tours of duty dictated. Those who are pictured here are among those who were team members in 1969-70.  Two who died there, MSG Chalmers Humphries and SFC Edward Ambrose, are not pictured but are well remembered.    

1Lt Terry Turner
MAT IV-32 CO (1969-70)


Counterinsurgency is the hard copy form of the ebook, 
War of a Kind
, which has been taken down in deference to the hard copy.  
It has long been predicted that counterinsurgency will be the prominent style of American warfare in the 21st century: Thus far, the prediction has 
proven true. Written for those who study counterinsurgency from a policyperspective as well as for those who do counterinsurgency in the field, 
this book demonstrates that the U.S. has had difficulty meeting the challenges of this special form of warfare because it has not properly processed 
important lessons from the past. Based on the author’s wartime experiences, a broad range of topics are covered—from factors to be considered 
in accepting a counterinsurgency partner, to “rules” for advisors in the field—with points illustrated by real-life examples.
David Donovan is the pen name of Terry T. Turner, a former advisor in a counterinsurgency program in Vietnam. For the last 35 years he has 
been a scientist and university professor and is currently Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia. He lives in Colquitt County, Georgia.


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