Michael D. Moberly March 29, 2016 ‘A blog where attention span really matters’.
In June, 1969, during the 15+ hour flight from the Fort Lewis, Washington to Vietnam in the relative comfort of a Braniff 707, one of several commercial air carriers contracted to shuttle troops to – from Vietnam. During the flight, any trepidations about war and my soon-to-be role as a combat infantry soldier with the 173d Airborne Brigade were variously suppressed – masked. There were soldiers on the aircraft who characterized their presence as a ‘return trip’, i.e., their second or third tours in Vietnam. Many told ‘war stories’ for the first tour replacements who cared to listen. At this point, I would not have known, nor did I have any reason to suspect some of thos stories may have been embellished somewhat to fit their audience of replacements.
Surveying other soldiers (fellow passengers) within my limited view, left me with the impression that few were wholly immune – impervious to the onset of a reflective cocktail of thoughts, memories, and ‘wish I had’s’ about what the future may have in store for them. While I saw no conventional evidence, i.e., hands clasped, heads bowed, or mouthing words in silence, etc., I presume there may have been a fair amount of praying occurring periodically throughout the flight.
For those fortunate enough to win the ‘window seat’ lottery on the plane ride to Vietnam there was ample time to observe the blue sky, the blue hue of the Pacific Ocean, the occasional cargo ship or island below, other aircraft, and experience 13+ time zone changes. Throughout the flight, one’s sense of direction was muted, aside from knowing the plane in which we were all passengers and hopefully held return tickets valid 365 days hence, would eventually be landing in Vietnam which we knew was west of our starting point.
When the aircraft finally lands at Cam Ran Bay, Vietnam, each soldier is rapidly engaged in the in-county replacement processing pipeline…usually culminating two days later, with arrival at one’s assigned unit, in my case, 1st platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 503d Infantry, 173d Airborne Brigade based in the Central Highlands where I was greeted with the unforgettable disdain as the ‘f…ing new guy’. The greeting evolved, I felt at the time, from probably deserved bravado, laced with unsympathetic and unforgiving ‘one liners’ about what lie ahead. At that moment in time, as a replacement, I felt truly differentiated from all other creatures on earth.
The opportunities a replacement can avail themselves insofar as commencing crossing the unpitying and unforgiving chasm from civility to recognition as a responsible, dependable, and contributing soldier to his combat unit can vary. Of course there are numerous variables, most of which come wrapped in their own intellectual, emotional, and physical endurance, functionality, and resiliency.
Of course there are acts and/or behaviors, should a replacement be attuned to recognizing them as unwritten and equivalent to a small culture’s expectations which have been established by the experienced ‘elders’ of a combat unit’s, irrespective of rank. For the astute replacement crossing the chasm may occur relatively rapidly whereas for the less astute replacement the ‘chasm’ can be unrelenting and take much longer, if it occurs at all.
Arrival at one’s combat unit the realization there are no opt outs, becomes operative, save for the obvious. This will become one of the most challenging ordeals one may ever encounter, that is, the enormity of responsibility to themselves and others and the anxiety that comes with it. Specifically, if mistakes or errors in judgment are made, particularly those with variously – potentially irreversible outcomes as judged through the myopic lens by other combat soldiers in the unit. Compounding circumstances-incidents like this, significant errors – lapses could shadow a combat soldier indefinitely in their combat unit unless – until relevant amends occurred.
Another distinctly combat related perspective that evolved very rapidly for some was the seeming randomness of combat outcomes, many of which were variously and wholly outside one’s sphere of control and/or ability to favorably influence. Usually, unless-until a combat soldier recognized the absolute necessity for sustained periods of complete sensory (mental, emotional, and physical) functionality, i.e., possess reaction transition time frames in the nanosecond realm and being fully acclimated to the suddenness and randomness which combat frequently occurred.
(Mr. Moberly is an intangible asset strategist and risk specialist and author of ‘Safeguarding Intangible Assets’ published by Elsevier in 2014, email@example.com 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.)