Bob Smyers is a veteran of fourteen years service with the United States Army. He enlisted in 1956. His major assignments included the 3rd Infantry Division in Swienfurt,Germany, the 7th Infantry(Bayonet) Division in Camp Hovey, Korea, and the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands of the Republic of Vietnam.
Upon arrival in Vietnam on April 1, 1967 he was assigned as a rifle squad leader with A Company, 1/22nd infantry, 4th Infantry Division. Soon after he joined the LRRP unit of the 2nd Brigade on May 14, 1967. He was assigned as team leader, then platoon sergeant until the end of his tour, March 29, 1968.
After his tour he was assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia as First Sergeant to the post replacement company. He was reassigned to the Weapons Committee at the Infantry Training School as an instructor in January 1969. He remained an instructor up to his discharge in March 1970. He left the army having obtained the rank of Sergeant First Class E-7.
The most often asked question I get about the articles I write as well as the stories is; how do you remember so much detail? One answer might be that I have always paid attention to details. However, the events I write about are forever branded into my memory. In these situations I somehow took a mental picture and added a narrative with each one as it happened. I believe experience is everlasting and we choose to remember or block out according to our psychic make up.
Regardless of that, as a LRRP leader I had to make snap decisions that could mean life or death for my team and myself. This not only weighs heavy on a leader’s mind but bores a place of residual residence. At least it did me. Thus making recall relatively easy even after 32 years. Some say I have a photographic memory. I prefer to believe these were significant events in this man’s life that will be there the remainder of my days.
The Men of 2nd Brigade LRRPS
LRRP was our first designation. It stood for Long Range Recon Patrol meaning your job was to be just that, reconnaissance. The team was usually made up of a total of four men. However, there have been as little as two men. Only once during my tour with the Lurps did one man get dropped in on his own, and that was John Powers (now deceased after 3 tours in Vietnam). He wanted to do it and Brigade accommodated him. He was to observe and if the opportunity presented itself, to sniper. He was equipped with an M-14 and scope. He was trained as a sniper in Recondo school. This insertion was different from the normal Lurp team. He was dropped in by one chopper without gunship support. He repelled about 75 feet into the jungle below. A normal insertion was done with five Helicopters. One was called command and control ship (C&C). This chopper carried the two pilots, two door gunners, the platoon leader or platoon Sergeant, and at times both. This ship had gone earlier with the teamleader, and one or the other of the platoon commanders, to make an aerial recon of the area of operation (AO). During this time an insertion point was selected within the AO where the team would be dropped in.
Seldom were extraction points selected in the early concept of Lurp operations. Later, as knowledge increased, extractions points were selected. In the early going of the Lurp concept, a lot was put to trial and error. There had been to my knowledge no specialized training outside of what we learned concerning patrolling techniques in basic or advanced infantry training. The advantage went to the ones who had served overseas and other places where the infantry practiced their trade, destroying. Outside of that we learned as we went, and developed training and methods of operation as we experienced the war. Later there would be the selection of extraction point during initial recon of the AO plus coordinated preplan artillery concentrations in the event a team was on the move, which meant most times the enemy were in hot pursuit. When this happens, it is easier to give a preplanned number to be fired versus trying to plot your location on the run. Any teamleader will tell you that is close to, if not impossible. So the sophistication of operating procedures increased the more we ran missions.
We cut our teeth by trial and error. It was not always pretty. The teams not only had to learn but the commanders whom we worked for , to supply them information not otherwise obtainable. Unfamiliar with our size and capability they at times felt we could act and perform as a rifle company. Along with the C&C ship you had two choppers know as slicks. I guess they got the name by the way they would insert or extract us. Slipping across the jungle canopy at top speed and barely above the tree tops so as to maintain stealth. In each slick you have two pilots and two doorgunners, which is standard. The first slick carries the team 2, 4, or 5. Five came later in my tour as the missions changed from just recon (which produced much action due to contact with the enemy) to combat missions with the intent of ambushing targets of opportunity. The second slick was equipped and manned as the first slick minus, a Lurp team. Then you had two gunships equipped with pilots, gunners and rockets. They flew as support and diversion. They also flew at tree top level to the left and right of the insertion slicks. The routine was the C&C ship which had the same staff and pilots, who had made the earlier recon of the AO, were now guiding the ships below from 3,000 feet up. As the Landing Zone (LZ) appeared ahead,they would inform the pilots below, guiding them on course. As the insertion ship got closer, they would begin a count down. I.E., 600, 500,etc., (meters), until set down. They continued this until the insertion slick cleared the tree tops, over the LZ. Once they cleared they would say drop down. The pilots would come as close to the ground as possible and hover. The team was already standing on the chopper skids, ready to jump.
The teamleader was to always go first. Any hesitation by a team member, was overcome by the knowledge that the doorgunner would give you a little help. He had to because this was a very crucial point. The team and the chopper were very vulnerable at this point. One well aimed shot from an enemy rifleman could spell disaster to the chopper and the team. Even though the pilots tried to get as close to the ground as possible, the height could vary according to the undergrowth. You often tasted your boots in your mouth. The insertion is quick and that is how we Lurps liked it. Too much activity may draw attention. While this is going on the gunships are circling the LZ and surrounding area as a cover and diversion. The second slick follows along behind the fist slick in the event we are dropped in a hot LZ. If this happens the gunships take the enemy under fire while the second slick comes in for the team. This happened to my team once. We were immediately snatched up and to my surprise we were flown a little farther and again inserted. I cannot say I liked this idea at first, but I learned quickly it was the right thing to do. If I and the team members had time to consider what had happened we probably would not have been able to go in again. If I recall it was Charles Mathews, Doc, and Moui. Later as Platoon Sergeant, I saw the results of pulling a team and terminating the mission. One of the best and most courageous of my teamleaders lost it on the next mission he was inserted on. He froze up once he hit the ground. Early extraction was necessary. Once the team is on the ground they move to cover, organize, and let the pilots know, they are okay, so as to get them out of the area. After listening for a short while, the team then moves out of the area, in the event they may have been compromised. They then set out to perform their mission. Recon, combat, or a combination of the two. Missions are normally set for five days.
Lurps are inserted deep in enemy territory. Often requiring radio relay stations. Be it from mountain top to mountain via relay teams or forward air coordinators (FAC), back to Brigade or Battalion command centers. Depending on who they are working for directly. Lurps were made up of all volunteers due to the danger of the job. The life expectancy was short. The men that made up the Lurps were a special breed, much like the Special Forces or Rangers. We often assisted the SOG units (Special Operations Groups), performing missions in Ban Me Thout. Then eventually Ranger units were employed as LRP units and we merged with the 75th Ranger Regiment. Lurps, as the Special Forces and the Army Ranger are an elite group and were ready to accept the challenge that often puts then in harms way. Each named group has paid the price for the privilege of being different. Hopefully this has shed light on what it is to be or have been a Lurp. But once a Lurp. Always a Lurp! Their trademark was tiger fatigues, Australian bush hat, short black automatic weapon called the CAR-15, and known to ambush enemy units of considerable size. It was not so much duty, honor, and country. Although that was forever a part of their makeup. They were men who preferred to be different that loved to live on the edge. They played, fought and some died, for what they believed: all people deserve to chose their own pursuit of happiness. This is not all there is to tell, but it is my best recollection after 32 years. Any Lurp out there should add to this article, as they see fit. Let this be known as article one. Hopefully, others will follow, as this was and is a proud group of men.
Our support now goes to those serving as Long Range Patrol Rangers, of the United States Army. You have a legacy behind you. Pathfinders if you will.
This article is authored by SFC Bob Smyers, PSG. of the 2nd Brigade LRP, 4th Infantry Division. It should not be used with out, the author’s permission. It is dedicated to the Lurps still on patrol (i,e,,those that have not returned, but forever remain on patrol, in a realm we do not yet understand). May God Bless all.
LRRP Composition & Mission
The following vignette is a personal recall of LRRP make up and mission.
First what does LRRP mean? Well, the letters stand for Long Range Recon Patrol. This was an Elite unit made up of all volunteer soldiers. When I was with the 2nd Brigade LRRPS of the 4th infantry, it was not surprising to find men with varying military occupational skills. Besides infantry, we had clerks, mechanics, tankers, artilleryman, and probably a cook or two. Each one served voluntarily. Volunteering was the only way to my knowledge one could become a LRRP The army did not assign men to a unit that faced greater danger then the average soldier would face. Such are the Airborne, Special Forces, Navy Seals, and the LRRPS
The LRRPS in Vietnam were used to gather much needed information about the enemy. Information the commanders could use to know what, when, where and how the enemy was employing their forces. This information could not be obtained by any other means than to insert small unit teams deep into enemy territory. Teams usually made up of a total of four men. This number at times during my tour did vary. I have witnessed only once a one man recon and twice a two-man recon team. In each incident they were to gather information plus ambush targets of opportunity with artillery. The one man was also equipped with an M-14 plus sniper scope. He was trained in sniper techniques at Recondo school and his added duty was to harass long range targets. The one man was not inserted in the normal fashion, but had to repel into his area of operation (AO). The two man team walked into their AO each time. So as to avoid early detection. They were being inserted into an area that was known to have much enemy activity. But were able to elude larger units sent to search them out. Large units such as platoon and company size were more easily detected.
Small teams such as LRRPS, could get in close often without the enemy being aware of their presence. This is why we could often hit with hasty ambushes or even when coming up on the enemy by surprise. They had a tendency to be really lax when they thought they were alone. Often you caught them with their weapons slung or just perched on their shoulder like a hunter coming back from the hunt, having had no luck, and sort of weary from the hunt. This was often fatal for them, as we LRRPs kept alert and our weapons were carried at the ready. Loaded, safety off, and the barrel of the rifle moving automatically in the direction the eyes were being focused.
We not only looked but listened to the sounds made by the life in the jungle. The flight and cries of the birds was always to be investigated. It was not uncommon for LRRP teams to locate enemy troops discharging their weapons while hunting for food. This occurred more often when we were inserted far away from friendly forces. We were often out of radio range and needed relay stations. This could be LRRP teams on mountain tops or forward air coordinators (FAC), relaying our sitreps or instructions to us. It is not an easy feeling because there are times when communications fail. I remember once in Vietcong (VC) Valley this happening to SSG Tilley. I was in contact on a ridge, and he was low in the valley running for his life, and no one could hear his call for help but me. Had I not picked him up and relayed his dilemma, who knows what might of happened. Once I was encircled by enemy of unknown size and could not be heard by the unit I was working for. If it had not been for FAC flying over the area and hearing my call for help, I might not be telling this now. This very fact is why our unit was strictly volunteer. Life expectancy could be very short due to the nature of our missions.
Our support was mostly the artillery and the choppers. We were often too far away for line units to help us. Although it may be possible for a mechanized unit to assist if not too far away. Units on foot, with the load of equipment they carried, and the difficult terrain, were unable to assist us. Once in heavy contact late in the day, during monsoon season, plus in the line of fire of artillery due to our position, and the direction of the attack, we almost ran out of ammunition. Our only alternative was to fire our claymore’s to break contact and hope the artillery could bring it on our last known position to open the gap between us and them. It did, but we had to use evasive tactics all night long, plus into the following day, as we had two grenades and two magazines between us. This illustrates our dire need for the slicks and gunships. They could get to us quickly but in the monsoon they could not help.
Low ceilings makes flying almost impossible. One might think, “if I am going to be out that far and there are only a few of us, I am really going to carry a lot of munitions.” In theory, that is good. However, the more equipment, the more weight to tire you and slow you down. Plus the bulkiness makes it hard to move quietly and it is apt to damage the foliage, which would tell of our presence. We were not equipped to dig in and have a sustained battle. We had to inflict as much damage as possible and make our exit. Your adrenaline is high at the time of contact and stays that way during the fight. But once it is concluded, it begins to wan, and your knees get a little weak and your hands get a little shaky, as do your insides. At least it did for me, as things happen quickly.
Even though the firing has stopped and you may be towering over the dead bodies, the unknown of the next seconds hounds you. How much ammo do we have left, are there more, did we stir up a hornets nest, will we be able to get choppers, which way do we go, should I take time to search the bodies? Many things go through your head in seconds. Procrastination cannot be part of the make up for a LRRP, that is a luxury you can not afford. I will close this as article number two, with the invite for other LRRPs to expand on these topics. That the unlearned may get a working knowledge, of a LRRP team on mission.
Should not be used without the author’s permission.
How We Operated
CPT Tom Garnett
He would support you when you were in the right but would not long condone untruth or deceit. This was evident in his method of questioning. He later became the LRRP platoon leader and I had the privilege of showing him the ropes. I cherish the time I was able to serve under his command. We became friends … but I never forgot his authority. We worked well together. He gave me one of the highest compliments I ever received in the military … and he was sincere. He told me in private, that he had never met a man with such influence with other men. That the guys in the platoon had a great respect for me. He also stated; I may be the platoon leader but I know who the men considered the leader. He was a man of faith, and he practiced it. He was the only one I ever really seen reading his Bible and making notes of what he read.
After I left, he wrote as did others. In one of his letters Robert P. McCarthy told me that Captain Garnett risked his life coming in during contact to pull out a wounded LRRP, It was not surprising to me. He is forever a LRRP and friend. I as many will always remember him.
Sergeant Lloyd Lee
He gave a tough guy appearance, but he was a man of great compassion. This was evident during contact with the enemy, who were using women and children as shields. A little girl got her heel shot off and he carried her out on extraction. He was grieved by this. After this he did not seem right and ask to be transferred from the LRRPS. He only had a couple of months so he was given a job in base camp as an instructor for prerecondo school. After he left I never saw or heard from him again. I often thought of him and even tried locating him, all to no avail.
Then as fate would have it, I learned 32 years later that he died just three months after returning from Vietnam. He had a brain tumor that had gone undiagnosed. It was too late, and he died. SSG Tilley attended his funeral. We who served with him and will always remember him.
SP/4 John Powers
Once in contact, John took a piece of shrapnel in the throat from a grenade. It went in, he spit it out and continued to fight. Thank God it was so small it left little, if any scar and no damage. I learned John made a career of the Army, serving two tours in Vietnam. I also learned that he died a few months after retiring. Thanks John. Those of us who knew you will keep you in our hearts.
SFC Charlie Britt
SSG Sherman (Tom) Tilley
Sp/4 Ron Coon
Ron was a ready soldier. Even after having been wounded, once released from the hospital, he was back in the LRRPS for more. He was very active with the teams. He seemed to come in and go right on the next team going out. I only had him once on my team. My teams were mostly the Montagnards or Vietnamese. Ron covered our backs as he was our rear security and with him there you felt comfortable. Our time on this mission was quiet, as there was no contact. But had there been, Ron was one I would not of had to worry about. Ron now lives in Cook, MN. Welcome home Ron and thanks…
Sergeant Robert Crawford
Sergeant Malan West
Sergeant John Fournier
Sergeant Chester Mundy
Sergeant Gary Robinson
Thanks Robby for the memory and welcome home brother.
SSG Camet Hawthorne (Hawk)
Sp/4 Larry Curfman
Sgt. Robert McCarthy
SSG Dennis Thunander
All Of The Men