Green Berets train on helicopter operations, including climbing rope ladders, as part of the MACV Recondo school. Screenshot from YouTube.
On Sept. 15, 1966, 5th Special Forces Group established the Military Assistance Command Vietnam, or MACV, Recondo School at Nha Trang. The school served as an extension of Project Leaping Lena and Project Delta. Project Delta’s Detachment B-52 became the single most decorated unit in the Vietnam War. The projects had Green Berets training Civilian Irregular Defense Group and South Vietnamese Special Forces (Luc Luong Dac Biet) soldiers in long-range reconnaissance patrols and various tactics.
“Like all great inventions, Leaping Lena, and later Project Delta, was created to solve a problem,” said Alva D. Greenup, a sergeant on a Project Delta recon team from 1967 to 1968. Greenup eventually retired as an Air Force colonel. “The problem was we had many more times the area than there were troops to control it.”
The instructors of MACV Recondo school were among the best soldiers in the Army, and so-called triple volunteers: for the Army, Airborne, and Special Forces. The cadre were also supported by Australian and South Korean liaisons during the 20-day course.
Video of the training shows the wide range of weapons, skills, and selection used in the program. Training combined the bread-and-butter of Special Forces and unconventional warfare with advanced reconnaissance techniques. The students learned how to rappel quickly down a mountain and how to handle weapons such as rocket launchers, mortars, and even the 105 mm howitzer. They practiced with helicopters, which served as the reconnaissance team’s primary means of infiltration, climbed a rope ladder with 75 pounds of gear on their backs, and rappelled from the skids of the helicopters.
The video also covers the STABO, or stabilized body, extraction, developed by Special Forces reconnaissance projects to get teams out through triple canopy jungle.
“The team signaled with a mirror or a flare, and the extraction chopper eased in over them and dropped the ropes through the jungle,” the narrator says. “In training the STABO rig was one of the great carnival rides. In an action it was a great relief to get in one. You knew even if you got hit on the way out at least your body would get home.”
The MACV Recondo School also taught scuba, small boat training, advanced military free-fall training, immediate action drills, and patrolling. The final exam was a real-world mission in Vietnam. These soldiers were then assigned to long-range reconnaissance patrol teams, otherwise known as LRRPs, and entered the jungles of Vietnam alongside Recon, Army Special Forces soldiers, and Montagnards (or other Indigenous forces) to the job for real.
Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.
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