Just A Walk in the Park
I think I mentioned that the 1st Battalion, 92nd Field Artillery was a General Support 155mm Howitzer Battalion. That meant that we were assigned to a Field Artillery Brigade and our job was to reinforce the fires of the units in Direct Support of the Maneuver Units. This really meant that we for the most part did not have Forward Observers that were assigned the duty to be with an Infantry Unit full time, or at least by their job description. During the time I was assigned to the position of Battalion Ammunition Officer when first assigned there, I also pulled some additional duties that were very interesting.
Most of those of us that went through the Army basic training remember our overnight bivouac. It was the period where during our initial training we went out to the field and maneuvered like a combat unit. We went through the fire and maneuver course, the hand grenade course, the night fire course and then bivouacked in our pup tents. For those indigenous personnel in Vietnam, the live fire exercise on their bivouac took a whole different meaning.
In Pleiku, there was a training Company run by the Australians. When they needed to conduct the portion of the training for their basic trainees, they would ask the Field Artillery Brigade for a Forward Observer to accompany their soldiers. For the most part, these trainees were Montagnards and about the size of America's Boy Scouts. I never made the mistake of thinking these young men were weak or stupid. In fact, they lived a tough life and most everything done in their life was done with manual labor. They might have been shorted in the area of book smarts but, they had more natural knowledge of the jungle than I hoped to ever have.
I reported over to the Training Company location and the unit loaded up in trucks for a short ride north of Pleiku. We were dumped on the side of the road and the staff had a short briefing on where we were going and what they expected to find. There had been some VC work in that area but nothing major since TET (the Lunar New Year Celebration of 1968 had been a major attack across Vietnam) We were going to spend about two days in the front edge of the mountain range and the third day we were going to surround a Montagnard village and search that village.
It was a fine day with the Company and they stopped several times to send platoons out to search an area. During the time they were out, the Company Commander would keep me tucked right under his wing and any time I got out of his sight, he would holler "Guns, Guns! where are my bloody Guns!" I don't know why it bothered him so much but not having sight of me did upset his whole applecart.
The Aussie trainers all knew how to call artillery and when a platoon would move away from our company they would talk with me constantly to make sure I knew where they were. I also made sure they didn't move out beyond the available artillery. I was in contact with the Artillery battery that was positioned on Artillery hill and they knew where we were at all times. Twice one of the platoons wanted to work an area just beyond the range of the Artillery and the Company Commander and I kept them way inside the range of the guns.
When we stopped for the first night, I dropped my pack and one of the instructors sent one of the young soldiers to come over and give me a back rub. Another couple of them dug our fox holes and prepared overhead cover. We were only about 300 meters from a river and one of the platoons gathered all the canteens up and took them down to be filled. I had a two quart canteen and they thought that was very cool. I carried a small bottle of iodine tablets and dropped a couple of them in the canteen when it got back to me. The young soldiers pulled the radio watch for us and we got to sleep all night.
The next morning we continued to patrol in the nearby mountains and we maneuvered over a couple of klicks (Kilometers, 8 Klicks is 5 Miles) from the village we were going to search the next morning. The evening activities were a repeat of the first night and I was getting spoiled. We moved over to the camp and surrounded it. It didn't take us any time at all to sense something major was wrong. The women were all over by one hutch and making a wailing sound that just set the hairs on my arm straight up. We sent our interpreter over and he came back and said that the Chief had a child that had died and another so sick they didn't expect him to live. The Aussie captain and I agreed that we needed to contact the base in Pleiku and have them send a helicopter to Med Evac the sick kid to the Hospital in Pleiku. The helicopter was there in about 10 minutes and our exercise continued. We tightened the cordon around the village and then the platoons searched the huts. Several of the trainees came from that village so in some cases it was a home coming for them.
When we completed the exercise, the whole bunch of us got back into the trucks and went back to Pleiku. They dropped me off at Artillery Hill and I was invited to come to their graduation later on that month. We had a nice dinner and we toasted the trainees with a big cold can of Fosters beer.
So, not everything that happened to LT Guns was a bad thing. Some of the days were just like a walk in the park.