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KEVIN LYLES
VIETNAM: US UNIFORMS IN COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

TROOPER, 1ST CAVALRY DIVISION (AIRMOBILE)

In 1970 the activities of US forces in Vietnam were geared toward 'Vietnamization' - handing over control of the war effort to the South Vietnamese. Even during the continued programme of US troop withdrawals major offensive operations were still staged, including the incursion into Cambodia. The main goal of this joint US/ARVN operation was the elimination of NVA/VC sanctuaries within that country's borders. The operation caused an outcry in the USA amongst an angry public, who saw the Cambodian adventure as an unnecessary escalation of a war which was already as good as over. From a military standpoint, however, the attacks into Cambodia netted an enormous amount of enemy equipment destined for use in South Vietnam. When the 1st Cavalry Division air-assaulted two battalions near Bu Dop, engineers had to construct a road before the captured equipment could be moved. This single supply area, deep within the Cambodian jungle, was nicknamed 'Rock Island', and took nine full days to empty.

The Cavalry troopers who took part in the Cambodian operation were benefitting from five years of tropical uniform and equipment research and development. By 1970 almost everything the soldier wore or carried had been modified or redesigned based on the combat experience and recommendations of his predecessors.

The helmet with its reversible camouflage cover remained unchanged, though the additions of beads and 'peace button' were typical of individualization by 1970. Such non-military adornments were largely tolerated, and were an indication of the changing nature of the draftee soldier's perception of the war and his role in it. The soldier's boonie hat (1) sits on top of the rucksack, secured around the neck by the chin strap for convenience.

On the left sleeve of the tropical coat is a US-made subdued SSI of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). The trouser cargo pockets typically bulge with gear, and are bound around the lower leg with bootlaces to prevent the material snagging on foliage.

By 1970 the M1967 Modernized Load Carrying Equipment (MLCE) designed especially for Vietnam use was introduced, though it was issued on a limited basis and would never replace the M1956 web gear. M1967 MLCE items were essentially the same as the M1956 set but substituted nylon for canvas, and plastic for metal fittings, wherever possible. Nylon was chosen because it was strong yet lightweight, fast drying and not affected by mildew. The M1967 MLCE was never issued as a complete set; items were issued and worn alongside M1956 web gear, with which they were fully compatible. Here two M1967 ammunition pouches are worn on a web equipment belt fitted with a quick-release 'Davis' buckle. The ammunition pouches can be seen to attach to the M1967 suspenders in the same manner as the M1956 system. An M1967 Self Sharpening Machete Sheath is additionally worn on the belt.

The nylon Tropical Rucksack (2), based on the ARVN rucksack, was introduced for US troops in late 1968. The rucksack copied the X-frame of the ARVN pack but its larger size enabled a third external pocket to be added. The nylon bag itself was similar to that of the lightweight rucksack, with a variety of attachment points for other items of equipment. On one side of the bag is a one-quart canteen (3), on the other a late pattern two-quart in its pile-lined nylon cover (4). A 66mm M72 Light Assault Anti-tank Weapon (LAAW) is carried beneath the pack flap (5). This one-shot disposable weapon was often used against entrenched enemy and bunker complexes such as those encountered in Cambodia. Also attached to the rucksack is the Lightweight Entrenching Tool in its M1967 nylon carrier (6). The tri-fold shove! was a significant improvement on the old wooden-helved entrenching tool, and began to appear in Vietnam in mid-1969.

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