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KEVIN LYLES
VIETNAM: US UNIFORMS IN COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

NCO, 5TH SPECIAL FORCES GROUP (AIRBORNE)

In 1964 the temporary duty posting of personnel from various SF units was considered unsatisfactory, and the 5th SFGA was activated specially for Vietnam service. While the CIDG programme expanded, SF also continued to develop the Vietnamese Special Forces - the Lac Luong Dac Biet (LLDB). The LLDB were technically in control of the various ethnic units raised under the CIDG programme, while the USSF members were officially only present in an advisory role. In practice, however, this was often not the case, with SF personnel running combat operations while the LLDB handled the administration of the camps. Problems arose between the largely Vietnamese LLDB and the ethnic CIDG 'Strikers', whom they regarded as akin to savages. Consequently relationships between USSF personnel and their LLDB counterparts were not always harmonious, and the original intention to transfer the running of the CIDG programme to the LLDB was never realized.

On his rifle green beret this Sergeant First Class wears the flash of the 5th SFGA introduced in 1964. The flash was an amalgamation of the original 5th Group's black and white design superimposed with a 'bend' representing the South Vietnamese flag. Enlisted personnel wore their enamelled Distinctive Insignia or crest pinned through the flash.

SF were the first US personnel to receive the new Tropical Combat Uniform which, with ongoing modifications, would be worn throughout the war. Introduced in 1963, the tropical combat uniform was patterned after the World War 2 parachutist's uniform, being of a generous cut, with a 'coat' that was designed to be worn outside the trousers. Cotton-poplin was chosen as the fabric and proved to be successful in Vietnam's range of climates. The loosely fitting garments offered good protection against insects and other tropical hazards, as well as being cool and quick-drying. In its first configuration, shown here, the tropical combat uniform incorporated several features which would be altered or omitted from later versions, although the basic design would remain unchanged. All pocket buttons on the first pattern were 'exposed'; the coat featured shoulder straps, side tightening tabs, and a full-length gas-flap could be buttoned across the throat. The trousers incorporated integral tie-down tapes within the thigh cargo pockets.

The coat illustrated is an example of a fully 'badged' uniform for wear in and around the camp. The US Army distinguishing tape, jump wings and rank chevrons are US issue - all other insignia are Vietnamese-made. Above the silk-embroidered nametape is a Vietnamese parachutist's badge honorarily worn by USSF personnel as well as by advisors to ARVN Airborne and Ranger units. The SF shoulder sleeve insignia is also of Vietnamese manufacture; note that the Airborne tab is in the same colours as the arrowhead, which is possibly intentional, but is more probably an example of the hazards of using a local tailor. The pocket patch is that of the LLDB, signifying an advisory role with that organization. This example is the first version of the insignia; it was replaced by a similar design in which the tiger leaps from right to left.

The Tropical Combat Boots or 'jungle boots' were introduced to Vietnam alongside the tropical combat uniform. The boots were one of the most successful uniform innovations of the war. The leather of most of the upper portion of the boot was replaced by cotton/nylon fabric which was both cool and fast-drying. Soles were of a Vibram cleated design, and two screened eyelets in the instep provided ventilation and drainage. The first pattern boot, shown here, would be modified to include reinforced ankles, and a spike-protective insole to guard against Viet Cong stake-and-pit traps.

The Montagnard friendship bracelet was an item often worn by SF personnel in the CIDG programme. Presented during the course of elaborate tribal ceremonies, the bracelets were a mark of trust and respect.

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