1st 50th Infantry Association


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2. Tactical Lessons!
3. Strategic & Political Lessons!
4. Administrative/Logistical Lessons!
5. Other Lessons!

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Lessons Learned in Vietnam
1st Battalion (Mechanized) 50th Infantry

Press the picture for a copy of MACV's pamphlet on avoiding VC mines and booby-traps.

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Following every military action, whether in training or combat, the commanding officer prepares what is called an "after-action report" that describes what happened in detail. The final sections of these reports typically highlight things that worked well and things that didn't work or need improvement under the subheading, "Lessons Learned."

This section is designed to cover lessons learned by the 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 50th Infantry during our deployment in Vietnam from September 1967 through December 1970. Many of these lessons learned have been extracted from official reports, but the Association will welcome lessons learned submitted by anyone who was there! Please email input or feedback to Ray Sarlin. Thanks.

Tactical Lessons Learned

Item: Enemy Ambushes (1)

Discussion: On two occasions road clearing and mine sweep teams encountered trash and debris on the road. As the element slowed down or stopped to clear or check out the debris contact was initiated by the enemy.

Observation: Security elements should proceed with extreme precaution when encountering debris on the roads. Maneuvering to the flanks of the road and use of recon by fire should be utilized in an attempt to trigger enemy ambushes prior to reaching the killing zone.

Item: Tracker Dog Team (1)

Discussion: Tracker Dog Teams have been utilized several times without success.

Observation: It appears that the two-man security element which was posted to the dog's front puts out a stronger, fresher scent which overpowers the older VC/NVA trail. Trackers must be employed on fresh trails and the two man security element must act as flank security and not as frontal security and trail breaker.

Item: Injury Prevention (1)

Discussion: As a result of inadequate shielding beneath the driver's seat of the M113A1 (APC), drivers have received injuries when their APCs ran over mines/

Observation: Injuries can be prevented by placing two layers of sandbags under the driver's seat.

Item: Mines (2)

Discussion: On 14 June 1969 an APC hit a mine while on a mine sweep. They had just completed their sweep and were heading back to a new location using the same trail they came out on. However, one of the APCs hit a mine which seriously wounded the driver and completely destroyed the track.

Observation: Even though an APC may ride over a certain area one time, it is not safe to deem this area void of mines. If at all possible, an APC should never ride over the same spot twice. If this is not possible then troops should dismount and use a mine detector or probe the area.

Item: Armored Personnel Carrier M113A1 (2)

Observation: Personnel reporting for duty at this station have little or no training on the APC M113A1. They are ignorant of its capabilities, the maintenance required, and the different methods of employment.

Discussion: Each unit acknowledging these deficiencies, should incorporate a familiarization course for the new arrivals into the reception and briefing schedules. Each new arrival should have at the minimum of one week intensive training with the M113A1.

Item: Booby Traps (2)

Observation: It has been observed that a unit encounters very few booby traps when it first moves into a new area of operation. After the unit has worked the area for two or three days, the booby traps begin to appear. This indicated that the enemy studies the modus operandi of the unit before the placement of the booby traps.

Discussion: Recommend units avoid establishing patterns of movement and move their FOB sites frequently.

Item: Road Mining. (3)

Observation: Many road mining incidents have shown that most mines are constructed in a basically similar design. The explosive charges were found in the middle of the road with blue or orange wires leading from them to batteries located just off the road and detonators on the edge of the road where the tracks of vehicles would run.

Evaluation: By being particularly alert in recognizing the bare wires and the often uncamouflaged batteries along the sides of the road, mines can often be detected by visual means.

Recommendation: All individuals on mine sweep teams should be completely familiar with the construction and the means of detecting these mines.

Item: Burning off of FOB sites. (3)

Observation: Due to the lack of rainfall in our area, numerous grass and brush fires have started and gotten out of hand in the vicinity of unit FOB sites.

Evaluation: By burning off the grass and brush around FOB sites before moving into the site, the problem of fires burning through the FOB while it is occupied can be alleviated.

Recommendation: In dry areas and when secrecy is not imperative, the immediate area of the FOB should be burnt off before it is occupied.

Item: V.C. Booby Traps (3)

Observation: Often times V.C. mark danger areas by very obvious means.

Evaluation: While on search and clear missions it has been noticed that many VC booby traps are marked by markers consisting of pieces of string tied near or around the danger area or by bamboo sticks pointing in the direction of the booby-trap. By taking a little more time and being more cautious many of these booby-traps could be avoided by observing the obvious markers.

Recommendation: When entering an area suspected to have been booby-trapped it would be wise to look for obvious danger signs and if they are found to avoid the area or proceed with extreme caution.

Item: Mission with tracks. (3)

Observation: It has been observed while moving through a lightly vegetated area many booby-traps are fixed in such a manner that they are tripped by the antenna's of the APC's.

Evaluation: Placing the antenna on the tracks in the stored or down position the VC's most deadly weapon (the booby-trap) can be avoided. Company A has noticed since adopting this SOP, safety has been much more enhanced.

Recommendation: That APC's travel with the antenna in the down position to avoid tripping booby-traps.

Item: Air strike target marking. (3)

Observation. Air strike targets are often marked by smoke as much as an hour before the strike. Choppers circling the area give away the target and allow the enemy to flee.

Recommendation. That targets for air strike should not be marked by other aircraft and aircraft should avoid the target area until right before your strike.

Item: H&I rounds. (3)

Observation: Opinion is that H&I fires were not covering as large areas of possible enemy movements as possible as 5 or 6 targets were fired two or three times during the night.

Recommendation: H&I rounds should be fired in a different pattern. Fire one round per target but fire more often during the night. Vary the time interval considerably and H&I should more effectively deny the enemy freedom of movement.

Item: Drop-off ambushes. (3)

Observation: It was found the VC were moving more in daylight hours during rice harvesting season as compared to non-daylight hours previously.

Evaluation. Drop-off ambushes were conducted by one unit, and the ambushes made contact with VC during the day.

Recommendation. Increased use of daytime ambushes when used as a stay behind or drop-off ambush.

Item: Ambushes from high ground. (4)

Observation: Recently the VC have been setting up hasty ambushes on high ground when patrols have been searching a valley.

Recommendation: Insure that the patrols, when going to check a stream bed or valley, are sufficiently large enough to provide flank security to the high ground.

Item: Employment of Mechanical Ambushes. (5)

Observation: The proper use of mechanical ambushes significantly increases the effectiveness of a field unit. However, in recent operations two friendlies were accidentally killed when moving along a trail to pick up their own mechanical ambush.

Recommendation: The battery must be found and disconnected before any attempt is made to remove the claymore itself. No movement in the vicinity in front of the mechanical must be made until the disconnection of the battery has been made and confirmed.

Strategic and Political Lessons Learned

Item 1. Politicians and diapers have one thing in common. They should both be changed regularly and for the same reason. One study said that 82% of Vietvets who saw combat strongly believe the war was lost because of lack of political will. I don't know who the other 18% were... I didn't know we had that many generals!

Item 2. I don't mind going nowhere as long as it's an interesting path. It would have been great, though, if somebody had a strategic plan!

Item 3. Indecision is the key to inflexibility. (Think about it.)

Item 4. Time may be a great healer, but it's a lousy beautician. If as one study suggests, 87% of the public now hold Vietnam veterans in high esteem, one heck of a lot of Americans must've died in the past 30 years. God bless rose colored glasses and cognitive dissonance.

Item 5. Age doesn't always bring wisdom, sometimes age comes by itself. In other words, seniority is a hellava way to run an army... or a country.

Item 6. If you're gonna do something, JUST DO IT!

Item 7. Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark. Professionals built the Titanic.

Item 8. It hurts to be on the cutting edge. Much of the experimental stuff tried in Vietnam was stupid... expensive, but stupid. It just goes to show that bright people don't necessarily make bright ideas.

Item 9. Brain cells die every seven years, so organizations lose their memories. In Vietnam, organizational memory lasted about 12 months.

Item 10. When you put people into a pressure cooker, have the sense and decency to set up a cool-down period when you want them to return to standard temperature and pressure. Less than 72 hours from battlefield to Sea-Tac Airport was too heavy for some.

Item 11. In the end, it was far more important to keep the hearts and minds of the American public (retention) than it was to win the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese (recruitment). Of course, it would have been best to accomplish both if possible.

Item 12. A modern democracy needs an ethical, healthy and responsible media. Borrowing from Monty Python, the best way to handle the media is, "Don't mention the war."

Source: Before becoming Webmaster of this site, I used to answer questions from students on the VN 101 website.
This is based on one of my answers there. I hope that I didn't screw up too many young minds in those "bad old days". (Ray)

Administrative/Logistical/Technical Lessons Learned

Item: Misuse of Personnel (1)

Discussion: It has been noted that some personnel are not being properly utilized once they are assigned to specific sections within the Battalion. For example, individuals assigned to a staff section or company for duty in PMOS 71B20 (clerk typist) are being utilized as RTOs.

Observation: Recommend personnel be assigned duties compatible with PMOS and grade. If they prove ineffective, then they should be reclassified into a MOS for which they are physically and mentally qualified.

Item: Awards and Decorations. (3)

Observation: Due to the late date of submission many deserving personnel have not been receiving service awards prior to DEROS.

Evaluation: All company size units must ensure that awards are submitted in a timely manner.

Recommendation: Companies start a DEROS suspense book, which list all DEROS dates by month.

Item: Support Maintenance for Battalion Communication (2)

Observation: It is essential that support maintenance units have the capability to support subordinate units. Presently, however, the maintenance unit supporting the 1-50th does not possess the capability, neither in personnel or resources to adequately support a mechanized infantry battalion.

Discussion: A more realistic appraisal of the unit's need could have possible prevented the serious rate of the communication equipment that is developing.

Item: Resupply of water. (3)

Observation: Resupply water to tactical units is limited to airmobile resupply utilizing water trailers.

Evaluation: The current authorization of five (5) water trailers is adequate provided that all five trailers can be maintained in an operational status. Increased emphasis on rigging techniques has been the necessity to ensure that water trailers are not damaged by aerial pickup and delivery.

Recommendation: Units should organize and train sufficient personnel, both in the field and in the rear, on the techniques of rigging, in order that damage resulting from improper rigging of backlogged water trailers and equipment may be held to a minimum. Water cans are being requisitioned and issued to units in order to provide a backup method of water resupply in the event that a water trailer is deadlined for maintenance or repairs. Temporary issuance of the 50 gallon water bilivet would alleviate this problem.

Item: Aerial resupply of fuel. (3)

Observation: Fuel resupply to tactical units is accomplished by airmobile resupply utilizing 500 gallon collapsible drums, FSN 8110-824-1444. Once the drums are delivered to using units by air there is great difficulty encountered in transferring the fuel to the tactical vehicles.

Evaluation. There is an insufficient number of fuel transfer pumps available at present to meet the requirements for fuel transfer in the field and to meet the battalion rear commitments for potable water. Repair parts for authorized pumps are not available.

Recommendation: The battalion's support platoon has successfully employed hand operated fuel transfer pumps. Their success has prompted the requisition of additional hand pumps. It is recommended that units of this battalion be authorized, and utilize as a minimum, one each mil std engine powered fuel pump per unit, along with a sufficient number of hand pumps for back up in the event of furure maintenance problems.

Item: Use of LRP rations on extended operations. (5)

Observation: While conducting dismounted operations for extended periods of time without resupply, troops are at times required to carry up to 15 meals. Due to the weight and bulk of C-Rations it has been found to be impractical to carry more than six C-Rations meals at one time.

Recommendation: When operating in areas where water is plentiful and resupply infrequent, the majority of means should be LRRP rations.

Item: Maintenance time in the field. (5)

Observation: Weather and extended operations combined to increase the need for proper maintenance equipment and personal hygiene.

Recommendation: The operations order should include a period of time for daily maintenance and personnel hygiene. Leaders should carefully budget available time to ensure that personnel hygiene and maintenance standards are kept at an acceptable level.

Other Lessons Learned

Item: Junior Enlisted Leadership Training (1)

Discussion: Many of our present squad leaders and team leaders are relatively inexperienced individuals who through demonstrated leadership have been given these positions. Realizing this, the 1st Cavalry Division (Air Mobile) has initiated a 10 day leadership course at the Division Training Center, Camp Radcliff. The instruction given is basic military leadership and is aimed at filling the knowledge gap that the junior enlisted leaders have by virtue of their inexperience.

Observation: (The battalion sent 12 individuals to the February 69 course.)

Item: Cross training of personnel. (3)

Observation: It has been noted that due to lack of prior planning & proper personnel management, personnel were lost through DEROS, WIA, etc. with no-one to perform certain tasks.

Recommendation: Extensive cross training of personnel in as many different areas as feasible so as to be able to continue operations should personnel be lost without loss of time or efficiency.

These are just a few of the lessons learned in Vietnam. More are included in the operational reports included on CD-ROM and available from the website PX or direct from the Association Historian Jim Sheppard.

Source Documents





"History of the 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 50th Infantry, 173d Airborne Brigade (Separate), 1 January 1969 to 31 March 1969"; Section II, Lessons learned.


"History of the 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 50th Infantry, 173d Airborne Brigade (Separate), 1 April 1969 to 30 June 1969", Section II, Lessons learned:


Operational Report of 1st Bn (M), 50th Inf) for period ending 31 January 1970, RCS CSFOR-65 (R2)


Operational Report of 1st Bn (M), 50th Inf) for period ending 30 April 1970, RCS CSFOR-65 (R2)


Operational Report-Lessons Learned (1st Bn (M) 50th Inf) Period Ending 1 May 1970- 31 July 1970 RCS CSFOR-65 (R2)

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