Featured Image: LRRP (Long Range Recon Patrol) teams loading onto helicopters for a insertion on their missions, South Vietnam 1967 (Image Courtesy of Special Forces 78).
Long-range reconnaissance patrols, also known as ‘LRRP’ were small teams of highly trained and specialized soldiers that was created during Vietnam to conduct infiltration and reconnaissance behind enemy lines. These small teams of soldiers proved extremely effective, and many of their lessons learned and tactics are still in use today by modern special forces.
LRRP was founded December, 1965 by the 101st Airborne Division, and this was quickly copied and done by other US units operating in Vietnam at the time, including the 1st and 25th Infantry Divisions. Thanks to successful operations and the valuable reconnaissance they performed, LRRP units were authorized to be established in July of 1966 within each Brigade by General Westmoreland.
LRRP Teams were small, often consisting of only six-man teams. The focus was on highly specialized training, and the individual jungle fighting skills of each man had to be excellent in order to maintain stealth and situational awareness in the jungle. Team leaders were frequently borne out of the U.S. Army”s 5th Special Forces Recondo school, creating intelligent and knowledgeable leaders. The keystones of LRRP was the individual expertise of each soldier, which existed to a level that by the war’s end the kill ratio for LRRP teams was nearing 400 enemy KIA for every LRRP member killed.
The kill ratios were indicative of the proficiency of which the LRRP teams operated within the jungles of Vietnam. The majority of soldiers participating in LRRP preferred the short-barreled CAR-15, a carbine variant of the newly fielded M16. Considering that most engagements were at short distances this would give credence to the carbine being king of their armaments. Occasionally members would bring shotguns, or M79 grenade launchers as additional support, cut down and stripped to the bare essentials so they could be strapped or packed into a rucksack. Specialized kit such as silenced sub-machineguns existed, and some men woudl opt to bring captured enemy weapons such as AK-47s. Every man carried extra medical gear to support themselves and their team, as the first aid provided in a firefight would be themselves treating themselves first off. Rucksacks were cut down to the bare essentials – carrying a sleeping cover or rain tarp, and enough pouches for mission essential equipment, nothing else that could weigh them down. Webbing was customised and fitted to each man, so that he could maximize the amount of ammunition, smoke and fragmentation grenades he could carry, as well as have administrative kit such as maps and a compass close at hand. Food was packed in stripped down meals, losing everything but the essential meals. Water came in the form of several canteens hung off of the waist, as dehydration was a big cause of hot weather injuries in the jungle. Everything was shared, from extra ammunition for a machine-gunner to batteries for the radio operator. The organization was normally five of these six-man teams to a platoon, and several platoons to a LRRP company.
SGT Mark A Miller – Team 11 E Company – 20th Infantry ABN Long Range Patrol Op at Tuy Hoa on the Day Before TET 1968 (Image Courtesy of Special Forces 78).
The NCOs and Officers of LRRP teams also had to be excellent – initiative and motivation to the task had to remain high due to the fact that the mission requirements were dangerous and the skill set was very specific. In addition to this, the trust between the men and officers had to remain high. Due to the officer and personnel rotation policies in place during Vietnam, often officers could be too green to be effective, and get soldiers killed – and on a long range reconnaissance patrol this was life or death. The trust also existed to the helicopters, notable the UH-1 Iroquois, more commonly known as a ‘Huey’ or ‘slick’. The LRRPs relied on these rotor-wing assets to get them into position, as well as out of position, including medevac (medical evacuation). The helicopter pilots knew this – and respect for them ran high as the NVA and Vietcong during a hot extraction (when the LZ, or Landing Zone, is under enemy fire) would direct much of their fire at the helicopter. Trust again went to the radio operators, as the radio rebroadcast stations on hilltops and firebases often had to remain constantly on watch, as should a team become compromised at night much of the communication would have to be done at a whisper to avoid detection. As well – the placement of indirect fires meant that the radio operator had to be an excellent soldier at communicating the need for artillery or air strikes to higher, as a misread number or misinterpreted command could result in friendly fire destroying the patrol. Platoon sergeants were the overarching decision maker for patrolling, and should a team leader request to not have a new team member go out on patrol, be it due to incompetence or just general mistrust, that soldier would be removed.
In summary – the legacy of the LRRP is one of pride and distinction, as their legacy is perpetuated throughout many modern units, and their small-unit patrolling tactics remain in use by some of the world’s most highly trained special forces.
LRRP Team Leader by John Buford