For the relatively small percentage of U.S. citizens who entered military service between 1965-1971, ala ‘baby boomers’, those assigned to infantry (combat) training units assumed this foreordained us to receive orders to the war in Vietnam and serve in the role for which that training was intended.
Not surprisingly, large percentages of us did precisely that. We did so with virtually no understood experience with the emotional – intellectual differentials associated with indeterminate combat and especially, the environs of Vietnam and the war that enveloped it, i.e., its people, history, culture, customs, foods, multiple terrains, insects, double-triple canopies of forest, and climate, i.e., heat, humidity, rain, and limited-rationed potable water.
And, as in most wars and for those engaged in indeterminate combat, perhaps a little more so in the Vietnam War, preparing soldiers for entering the extraordinarily fatiguing and unforgiving environs of Viet Nam’s essentially two-season climate, i.e., hot-dry – rainy-humid, and being emotionally and physically prepared to engage or be engaged (360 degrees, anytime, any place) by adversaries who, in most instances were undistinguishable, but never-the-less willing and eager to harm – kill American soldiers.
And, as in many instances, perhaps particularly combat, all the preparatory training completed and self-confidence one may have acquired as an outcome, for some, little may actually internalize or translate, unless – until they actually become immersed in all its realities and ultimately called upon to perform and function rapidly, effectively, repeatedly, and consistently.
Perhaps necessarily so, infantry soldier preparatory training, as we experienced it then, (1965-1973) was very structured. It encompassed some ‘things’ which many were hard pressed, at the time, to find relevant, while other training involved faux exposures to combat-like circumstances which largely focused on avoiding, mitigating, and surviving what the training regimen itself, and military instructors characterized as, variants of vulnerabilities and risks associated with Vietnam War combat.
To be sure, the training was interspersed with, presumably embellished, anecdotes, e.g., the stealth, tactics, and ‘larger-than-life’ battle performance of the soon to be adversaries, which, at the time, were quite bewildering and disconcerting.
In the Vietnam War, not unlike other wars and combat circumstances I presume, following one’s first visual of and/or contact with adversaries in a combat circumstance in which weapons, on both sides, were being discharged with sound and speed uncommon to most, death, or the experience associated with incoming and/or returning weapons fire (intangibles), for a significant percentage, manifested as life – emotion – thought altering experiences (intangibles), often manifesting on some level of conscious – sub-conscious permanency.
For some combat veterans, such circumstances have become emotionally destabilizing, particularly if re-visited or conscious efforts made to psychologically reconcile what one observed and/or actions one engaged or undertook, probably repeatedly.
I have observed many infantry trainees, perhaps I should include myself, who, at 18 years of age as I was when I set foot on Viet Nam soil, had yet to fully grasp, variously due to maturation and an abundance of self-confidence (intangibles) that, following the mandated 9 weeks of (infantry specific) training in the U.S., one would presumably possess the ability to physically and emotionally transition rapidly (intangibles) to activities that were utterly counter to their ‘life normalities’ prior to arriving in Vietnam, i.e., the inhospitable environs and extraordinary and largely unforgiving challenges associated with indeterminate combat.
And, upon arrival as a f….ing new guy in a (Vietnam) combat unit, suddenly there was an absence of ‘life normalities’ aside from what one was willing – able to stow in their ruck sack. Adding to this wonderment, which evidence remains ample, is that, for a significant percentage of replacements, had, just days before, been their first ever ‘plane ride’ all-be-it a 15-hour duration air shuttle service from east-west coast bases in the U.S. to Vietnam. It is during that plane ride that one’s thoughts – feelings (intangibles) about the onset of and coping with their new realities often began to manifest.
Mr. Moberly is an intangible asset strategist and risk specialist and author of ‘Safeguarding Intangible Assets’ published by Elsevier in 2014, firstname.lastname@example.org View Mr. Moberly’s videos on YouTube at ‘Safeguarding Intangible Assets’. This post represents some of Mr. Moberly’s writing about his experiences in Vietnam as a combat soldier assigned to the 173d Airborne Brigade in 1969.