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KEVIN LYLES
VIETNAM: US UNIFORMS IN COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

1963

OFFICER, SPECIAL FORCES VIETNAM (PROVISIONAL)

The US Army Special Forces, Vietnam (USASFV) was established in September 1962 to control the various SF teams dispersed throughout the country. Elements from the 1st, 5th and 7th SFGAs served in Vietnam on temporary tours of six months. The primary mission of SF in Vietnam at this time was the instigation and running of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group programme. The CIDG (pronounced 'Cidge') programme was begun in 1961 under the auspices of the CIA. The aim of the programme was to recruit from the isolated ethnic minorities of the South to create paramilitary groups loyal to the US advisory effort, if not to the Saigon government.

CIDG units were initially made up of Montagnards-hill people who were of different racial stock to the bulk of the population of Vietnam and who were generally regarded by them as second-class citizens at best. SF were tasked with gaining the trust and co-operation of these primitive peoples. The CIDG 'Strikers' were organized into local defence forces; considered civilian employees of the US Government, they were not incorporated into the ARVN. Small teams of SF personnel lived with the CIDGs and came to form close relationships with the hill tribesmen, who proved to be fiercely loyal to their US advisors. By the end of 1963 there were 18,000 CIDG 'Strikers' organized into 150-man companies led by 22 SF A-Teams.

Though indigenous camouflage clothing was popular, SF personnel would often keep one fully 'badged' utility uniform, as here. On the utility shirt are worn full-colour US Army and name tapes, basic 'jump wings', and the Combat Infantryman's Badge. This First Lieutenant wears the single white bar of his rank and the yellow crossed rifles of his branch (Infantry) on right and left collar points. He also wears his equivalent Vietnamese rank (Trung Uy) centred on his chest (here an embroidered example, though pressed metal pin-on insignia were also common). The SF shoulder sleeve insignia was introduced in 1955 and was worn with a gold and black Airborne tab. The arrowhead shape was taken from the old 1st Special Service Force patch, the three lightning bolts on the sword representing the three means of infiltration - land, sea and air.

The Wool Beret, Rifle Green Army shade 297 was the SF's most famous uniform feature and gave rise to the unit's popular nickname, the 'Green Berets'. Early pioneers of SF had fought long and hard for the adoption of the unique headgear; green berets were actually worn unofficially as early as 1952. It was not until 1961 with the personal intervention of President John F. Kennedy that the rifle green beret was adopted for wear by SF personnel. With this official issue also came the adoption of the 'flash' system. Beret flashes served to identify different SF groups, and were originally made of felt applique, until embroidered examples were introduced. Officers wore their rank insignia pinned through the flash, enlisted personnel their Distinctive Insignia or 'crest'. The flash illustrated is an example worn by some SF personnel in Vietnam before the introduction of the 5th SFGA. Locally manufactured from yellow felt with three diagonal red-embroidered stripes, the flash was based on the design arid colours of the South Vietnamese flag.

Web gear is again a mix of World War 2 and Korean era items, worn on an M1936 pistol belt and supported by M1945 Suspenders. The large olive drab pouch on the left front of the belt was a late World War 2/Korean War item designed to carry four 30-round carbine magazines. The Mk.IIAl Fragmentation Grenade or 'pineapple' was still in use at this stage of the war.

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