History of the Recondo - Ft. Campbell

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101st Airborne Division RECONDO School (Provisional)

Fort Campbell, Kentucky

                                                                                                              3 June 1959



2d Lt Harold C. Lyon



In the fall of 1958, Major General W. C. Westmoreland, Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division, was searching for a means to train more of his fire team and squad leaders in certain . . . . “Time tested and proved . . . .” * skills – skills which would enable the Airborne Infantry man to do as he did in Normandy on 6 June 1944 when individual members of the 101st moved in small groups or singly in unknown territory against a superior enemy force to accomplish their mission.

          The General had always been a firm believer in the primary importance of small unit tactics.  The squad leaders in the division were the most important men in the training cycles and yet many lacked the polish and confidence which combat and Ranger School give to a man. The Ranger School at Fort Benning was giving men this training; however, it was an eight week course and the number of NCO’s from the 101st which could be run through the cycle and trained in a year was severely limited.  General Westmoreland had in mind to train at least three men in every squad in the division in Ranger type skills.  What the div­ision needed was a local school of shorter duration than the Ranger School but which stressed the same basic fundamentals. Last October Second Lieutenant Donald Bernstein brought to G3 an idea for a local Ranger School to be run by Ranger qualified troopers from the 101st.  The idea was taken to Brigadier General A. T. McAnsh, Assistant Division Commander for training.  General McAnsh, quite enthusiastic over the idea, took it to General Westmoreland.  When General Westmoreland noticed the lack of proficiency by patrol and squad leaders during the “WHITE CLOUD” exercise, he immediately called a conference of his Chief of Staff, G3, G2, and the man he had carefully selected to implement his plan, Major Lewis L. Millett. Major Millett, veteran of sixteen years service in the Canadian and U.S. Armies, graduate of the British Commando School and the U.S. Ranger School, holder of four Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars for valor, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Medal of Honor, was the perfect man for the job.  This job needed an aggressive leader with ideas and imagination, as well as colorful background and experience.  Major Millett’s varied combat experience culminated by his famed “Bayonet Charge” in Korea made him a natural to fulfill the General’s plan.

 * Brig Gen S. L. A. Marshall in an address to the officers of the 101st Airborne Division on 5 March 1959.

              The importance of reconnaissance on the fluid atomic battlefield plus the necessity of doughboy skills and confidence brought to the General’s mind the watch word RECOND, a fine name for the commando type school.  The General had in mind a two week course with maximum emphasis placed on realistic, vigorous patrolling.  It was agreed that certain confidence building tests such as those used at the Ranger School would be employed with the scope of instruction.  Mountaineering and obstacle crossing training would also be integrated into the instruction.  All cadre of the school would be Ranger qualified troopers from the 101st. The Recondo wheels began rolling.  Major Millett picked First Lieutenant Max Powers, First Lieutenant Robert Butler, and Second Lieutenant Donald Bernstein as officer cadre.  The four of them got together and start­ed the selection process of highly qualified NCO instructors and lane observers.  The four officers studied records, coordinated with units and then held interviews with all prospective Recondo cadre.  Sergeant First Class Douglas Kelly, a skilled mountaineer, was chosen to be principal instructor in cliff rappelling and mountaineering.  Sergeant Leslie Wilson was selected to head the stream crossing training and confidence tests.  Other Ranger NCO’s were selected to be instructors and lane observers for patrols. The cadre then began the tedious job of planning patrols, writing lesson plans and scenarios, walking terrain, and building bunkers and training aids.  The testing of cliff rappelling and confidence tests was no easy job for the cadre.  Each officer and NCO in the cadre was run through each phase to test the practicability of the training.  Icy creeks were crossed by the cadre at the river crossing sites.  Hazardous cliffs were scaled and rappelled until practical sites for training were found. Major Millett appointed Lieutenant Powers as his Assistant Commandant and Lieutenant Butler as the class tactical officer.  Lieutenant Bernstein, who was on duty at the CBR School, volunteered his services as jack of all trades during his free time.  Sergeant First Class Theodore Allen, expert snake handler and instructor in both the mountain and swamp phases of the Fort Benning Ranger School for two and a half years, was selected to be the class tactical NCO.  Sergeant Allen and Lieutenant Butler would be responsible for the individual counselling and critiquing of each student. It was finally decided that each battle group would pick 45 of its squad and fire team leaders and send them through the two week course as a class.  This would insure that the training reached the most important men of the battle groups.  In the words of General Westmoreland, “The 101st Airborne Division is as good as, and no better than, its most important element – the squad.”  The next class would consist of 45 men from another battle group rotating on through all the battle groups.  Selected Engineer, Medical and Artillery NCO’s would also be sent through each class.  The course would be limited to non‑Ranger qualified personnel below the grade of E7.  Each battle group sending its personnel through the school would provide its own Reconnaissance Platoon for aggressors, mess personnel for feeding the students and cadre, and its own equipment to include weapons and transportation.

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         General Westmoreland got together with Major Millett and Chief Warrant Officer John McCloskey to design a Recondo brand.  This would not be just a patch to be worn on the uniform of the Recondo, but a brand to symbolize the training instilled in him.  They decided on an indian arrowhead, the symbol of knowledge of woodlore and field craft.  The arrowhead would be pointing to the ground to symbolize jumping from the air to the ground.  It would be in black and white to symbolize day and night.  The 101st symbol would be across the face of the arrowhead to distinguish the proud unit the Recondos would be spearheading. General Westmoreland originally authorized each man who graduated to wear the coveted brand on the back of his helmet.  Later in March, he authorized the brand to be worn on the right breast fatigue and field jacket pocket of all graduates while in the 101st Airborne Division. Each man would be given a Recondo serial number to be numbered con­secutively according to class standing and continued through every class to go through the course.  The honor graduate of the first class, and the man with Recondo serial number one, is Sergeant First Class Secundino Hernandez from Company B, 187th Airborne Battle Group.  Each class would be designated in the following way.  The first time each of the five battle groups would go through they would be designated 1a, 1b, 1c, 1d, and 1e.  The next time they would go through they would be class 2a, 2b, etc. The battle groups would send their classes through during the two week cycle when they are on post detail and not involved in tactical field training. A system was set up that each man who did not achieve 620 points out of the 1000 possible would be boarded to determine whether he would grad­uate or not.  The board would be made up of senior NCO cadre with final decisions to be made by the Commandant.  If the vote was affirmative, the man would be pronounced a full fledged Recondo.  If the man showed good attitude and character and lacked experience, he would be carried over with no misgivings to the next class his battle group attended.  Attitude cases and carryovers who do not meet the standards on their second go around are disqualified.  Any man who quits the course for reasons other than medical automatically terminates from the airborne.  Students who are injured or physically disabled are allowed to complete the course when able or return to their units if unable. The big race was on to get things ready for the first class which was to start on 5 January 1959.  The 187th Battle Group was the initial Recondo School Class 1a, and a gruelling initiation it would be for them.  The weather was at its worst with snow and ice on the quarry cliffs.  The mercury dropped to zero, and ice had formed on the streams.

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           The first five days of the course were set up on the Fort Campbell post proper, and the remaining ten days training would be utilized in tactical patrolling in the field.  It was decided that the following scope of instruction would best utilize the short two week training period:


200 hours

River Crossing (Confidence test and rope bridge)

8 hours

Mountaineering (rappelling, cliff evacuation, and mountain walking)

8 hours

Land Navigation

5 hours

Hand to Hand Combat

5 hours


5 hours

L‑20 and H‑34 Orientation

1 hour 15 min.

Code of Conduct

1 hour

           Physical conditioning was stressed in the five hours of unarmed combat which was taught by the more experienced cadre.  The class was taken on a gruelling two mile Recondo run.  At the river site, students made poncho rafts and one, two, and three rope bridges to cross the icy Ringold Creek.  On the 80 foot cliffs, confidence was gained after wobbly‑legged Recondos backed over the cliff’s precipice “on rappel”.  Traverse and hauling lines, cliff evacuation, and mountain walking were also taught in the first five days phase.  The students were given classes on map reading and escape and evasion followed by a comprehensive map reading exam.  Instruction was also given on survival, patrol orders, patrol tactics, L‑20 jumping, and first aid.  Practical application of the instruction was soon to follow in the tactical phase. On the sixth day the entire class made a combat jump into aggressor territory to establish a patrol base behind aggressor lines.  The remaining ten days of the course would consist of strenuous patrolling from the patrol base deep into enemy territory. Seven patrols had been set up in such an order that the tactical situation would progressively and realistically develop from one to another.  The first patrol was a C‑130 jump on Bastogne DZ with the mission given to mop up enemy forces and establish a patrol base three miles from the drop site.  The aggressor activity was particularly vigorous on this patrol.

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          One of the cadre, Sergeant Harold G. Kaiama, made a PLF on top of a black aggressor with a white stripe down its back.  The startled aggressor immediately retaliated with a vicious gas attack.  Needless to say, Kaiama’s portion of the DZ was quickly cleared.  Patrol number two consisted of six short range combat patrols to wipe out six aggressor OP’s on the FEBA and take prisoners if possible.  The aggressor was furnished with marked maps revealing the location of bunkers on the enemy MLR.  Patrol number three was a long range combat patrol from the patrol base at Lake Taal to the enemy bunkers along Palmyra Road.  The fourth was an infiltration through enemy lines and a long range reconnaissance of enemy missile sites west of Lake Kyle.  A night jump from an L‑20 aircraft started the patrols off on a combat mission to destroy the missiles.  Friendly partisans were contacted and utilized.  The sixth patrol ambushed an aggressor convoy after setting up a clandestine bivouac area near Corregidor DZ.  The last patrol was a helicop­ter raid on the combat‑in‑cities area to snatch a general officer. Patrol orders for the seven reconnaissance and combat patrols were given at the patrol base or at the clandestine bivouac area.  Selected patrol leaders planned patrols, gave orders, and then led their patrols out to accomplish their missions.  The students were required to coordinate with intelligence representatives, artillery support, and make their own air reconnaissance. There is little chance for sleep in this fast moving combat situation in the second phase.  In the last three days of the course those students with physical stamina are at a premium.  They can be observed spiriting the patrols together with optimistic words of encouragement to tired buddies. This scope of instruction was found to be basically a good one.  Of course, many things had to be ironed out.  Several of them appeared in the student comment sheets which proved invaluable in evaluating the instruction. It was found that each student in every class must be graded by the NCO “lane observers” on three different phases of patrolling – the planning phase, the route phase, and the objective phase.  Each student must also be counsell­ed in his performance after each patrol, with the idea in mind of teaching instead of testing.  Not only did the students learn from the Recondo School; the school learned from each group which went through.  Problems came up and were ironed out, Lieutenant Harold Lyon was put on duty as Aggressor Control Officer on 1 April 1959; a day later Lieutenant William Palmer was taken on to replace the Assistant Commandant, who left for Hawaii, after completing six months valuable service.

 General S. L. A. Marshall, in an address to the officers of the 101st, had this to say of the school on 5 March 1959:

“There is always a tendency to reject the old just in favor of something that is new and is therefore trumpeted when the old has lost none of its weight.  We always go a little bit too eagerly to the new things.  Why is Major Millett’s (Recondo) School fundamentally a great addition to the institutional existence of the 101st Airborne Division?  Not primarily because it is a new school, but because it is fundamentally taking the division back to basic principles – the time tested and proved things . . .”

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       Improvements and additions to the school were made as the schedule began to smooth out, and new ideas came into view. New confidence tests were designed to be completed by every student.  One of these is the classic “Death Slide” which consists of a 100 foot swaying rope ladder up to a tree to a platform, and a 500 foot cable from the top of the tree to an island in a creek.  The student must climb the ladder then, holding on to a pulley, slide down the cable at breakneck speed dropping into the water on command.  Knees are rubbery with fright before the slide is con­quered, but once mastered it is a vivid reminder that you can do what you think impossible if you muster the courage. New ideas filtered into the school.  On 18 May 1959, Lieutenant John Galvin brought a revolutionary idea on patrolling to General Westmoreland.  The Army’s patrolling action is too limited by the names “Recon Patrol” or “Combat Patrol”.  A patrol of opportunity should be established.  This patrol would allow the patrol leader to raise as much havoc in an assigned enemy sector as possible, hitting any targets of opportunity which might present themselves.  This would create a need for patrol leaders of imagination and initiative.  This offensive type patrol will capitalize on the inherent nature of the American soldier.  The ability to act on his own initiative in an aggressive manner makes the American soldier a natural for the patrol of opportunity.  An ideal time to send out this offensive patrol would be immediately after taking an objective when the enemy is disorganized and retreating.  It can also be used effectively to screen withdrawals, to develop the situation in front of a fast moving unit, to eliminate guerrilla activity, and to conduct feints.  Moreover, the General realized how this new patrol compliments his “Eagle Web” concept of patrolling between the pentagonal form­ation of his five battle groups. Lieutenant Galvin and the General talked to the Major, and the patrol of opportunity was put into the scope of instruction.  The General was emphatic that this third type of patrol would be called a RECONDO Patrol.  Doctrine formulated on the RECONDO Patrol by the school is being sent to higher head­quarters for consideration.  Soon the Army may have the Recon Patrol, the Combat Patrol, and the RECONDO Patrol. The last patrol, a thirty mile prisoner snatch, is the grand finale.  The students are organized into a company sized patrol, and the leader must carefully study and plan every detail of the patrol from his briefing and aerial photographs.  The General, commanding the Aggressor 10th Fusiliers, has been reported by intelligence to be hiding in a village thirty miles from the patrol base.  This village is actually the combat‑in‑cities training area and the students must get in the town held by the entire aggressor platoon, and then physically snatch the General.  Sometimes it takes twenty minutes of un­armed combat and struggling with those guards before they can get away with their prize.  The action is not over yet, however.  The patrol is instructed to meet a friendly partisan who is to take custody of the General.  For mon­etary gain he betrays the Recondos and leads them into a trap.  Those who are captured are led back to a POW compound where they are tested on code of conduct

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       Actual live snakes (non‑poisonous varieties) are used to encourage the students to give up valuable information to the aggressor.  The students are so highly keyed up on this problem that recently a student from the 327th actually bit the interrogator’s large King snake in two. On 14 May 1959, the Recondo School became a permanent unit.  It was attached to the Command and Control Battalion for administration.  Master Sergeant Clarence Lyke Jr., the School Sergeant Major, took care of the details and began the clearance of all cadre from their units. Those who would sacrifice realism for safety will look askew at the hazardous combat conditions which exist throughout the combat phase of the course.  Major Millett, the Commandant, feels that in order to prepare a man for the rigors and dangers of combat the ultimate in realism must be achieved in training.  Accordingly, aggressors are directed to physically resist.  The students must aggressively apply their knowledge of unarmed combat in order to achieve many of their missions.  The combat jumps on unmarked drop zones are, perhaps, more tactical than any in the Army today.  Injuries are sustained and frequently men are scattered off the drop zone; however, this is to be expected in combat. A lot is covered in the fast moving two week course; however, the funda­mentals stressed are basic.  A strenuous scheduled implemented by dedicated cadre is what enables the Recondo School to cover so much ground in such a short time.  Frequently Major Millett, the Commandant, will be seen sniping from a tree, or ambushing a patrol from a spider hole.  The inspiration he provides inflames desire in all the cadre to present interesting and realis­tic training. In the words of General Westmoreland, who addresses each graduating class of Recondos, “The Recondo brand has become a symbol of skill and confidence.  When I see a man wearing the Recondo arrowhead, I know he has what it takes”.  The graduates leave the school with new confidence and skill, plus the ability to instruct the members of their units in the techniques they have mastered. This is a school for the most important men in the Army today – the squad and fire team leaders.  When the squad and fire team leaders know their jobs, they will train their squads.  If you have well trained squads plus strong leadership to bind together their efforts, you have an efficient unit. Yes, the Recondo School “is fundamentally taking the division back to basic principles – the time tested and proved things . . .”


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