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Army Ranger Command

The Rangers were organized in 1960. That year every fourth company in the regular ARVN divisions was designated a Ranger company and given special training in order to create a quick reaction force to counter Viet Cong guerrilla moves. Eighty-six companies were thus created, and by 1969 were operating in 20 battalions.

In August 1960 the U.S. Departments of Defense and State approved the JCS outline plan for counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam and Laos, and the Country Team in South Vietnam proceeded to prepare a more detailed plan based on this initial guidance. The final Counterinsurgency Plan was approved on 6 February 1961. Specific counterinsurgency elements were also strengthened. One-fifth of the increase (about 3,000 spaces) was pledged to expand the Ranger units from sixty-five to eighty-six companies. By this time all sixty-five existing companies had been trained and equipped for counterinsurgency operations and were committed.

Originally the Rangers were assigned to province chiefs for local operations, but later were placed directly under corps commanders to operate over wider areas. As a primary reaction force, better trained and equipped and more mobile than the regular ARVN battalions, the Rangers have been involved in almost every major battle of the war. The 42nd Ranger Battalion, for instance, received unit citations for bravery from two U.S. Presidents.

Unit training continued to pose serious problems. In 1963 and 1964 the increased level of enemy activity made it almost impossible to regroup entire combat units for training despite the increased force levels. Only the Ranger battalions were able to complete their initial training and thereafter maintain a continuous retraining program using a six-week cycle.

Timed in conjunction with the Vietnamese New Year -- or "Tet" -- the NVA and Viet Cong launched a massive offensive with the hope of capitalizing on growing popular discontent inSouth Viet Nam. The United States Marine Corps' combat base at Khe Sanh became a focal point for northern forces during the Tet Offensive of 1968 -- the 6,000-plus Marines and Vietnamese Rangers faced nearly 20,000 NVA from two divisions, with a third division capable of reinforcing from only 25 kilometers away. Despite those odds, however, there was no repeat of Dien Bien Phu. The ultimate outcome of Khe Sanh could be labeled a draw.

Concurrent with the post-1968 expansion of the Vietnamese armed forces were significant increases in the paramilitary forces. Pacification personnel (RD, ST, and VIS cadres and armed propaganda teams) peaked in 1971, provincial reconnaissance units remained stable, and both the U.S.-employed Kit Carson Scouts and Civilian Irregular Defense Group were slowly phased out. The latter were eventually either disbanded or converted into border Regional Forces and Ranger units and incorporated into the regular Army. At the beginning of 1972 South Vietnamese combat strength was formidabl. On the front line were thirty-seven Ranger border defense battalions (mostly former CIDG units) and in reserve, twenty-one Ranger battalions.

Conversion of the U.S. Special Forces CIDG program to the Vietnamese Army Ranger program was actually an expansion of a long-term transfer program begun in 1964. The Vietnamese Joint General Staff and the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, staff decided to convert the remaining thirty-seven camps to Vietnamese Army Ranger camps, with a target date of 31 December 1970. As a result of the close co-ordination between U.S. and Vietnamese Special Forces, the Vietnam Army Ranger Command was strengthened by the addition of thirty-seven light infantry battalions. Of the possible 17,057 troop spaces scheduled for conversion, 14,534 CIDG troops actually became members of the Ranger command. A significant benefit that accrued to the minority ethnic groups involved was better treatment by the government of Vietnam. For their allegiance, as expressed by their willingness to join the Vietnam Army units, the government provided legal birth and marriage certificates as well as medical benefits and disability pay for injuries received in military action. This was the first time that the minority groups, and particularly the Montagnards, were given full status as citizens of the Republic of Vietnam.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:52:19 ZULU