Conventional methods of discipining combat soldiers were frequently useless in Viet Nam. Fining a young, single soldier was a joke. He didn't have anything to spend his money on or the opportunity to do so. The loss of rank and the resultant loss of money usually work for the same reasons -- besides rank meant responsibility. Extra duty?? How could you give extra duty to a guy who was on duty 24 hours a day? Confinement was a vacation from the field, unless you gave hard time at "LBJ".

The Long Binh Stockade (or the Long Binh Jail, hence LBJ) was designed to be anything but a vacation. It had to be or else it would be used by malingerers as a safe haven. The mere mention of LBJ caused the young soldiers to shudder. I only had one man who did a short tour in LBJ and I forget what for. When he came back he flew straight. LBJ was the nuclear weapon of discipline, though, and was useless for all but the most serious infractions.

We field commanders sometimes had to be creative in our negative motivational methods. The holy grail for most of the troops was a safe rear job. Many of these jobs were not on the TO&E or Tables of Organization and Equipment and were filled by guys that should have been in the field. These positions had been created over the years by past commanders to fill needs that the people that designed the TO&E's were unaware of. There were also occasions where an infantryman filled a legitimate slot because we couldn't get anyone with the requisite Military Occupational Specialty (MOS).

People filling these slots were no problem. Seldom would you find such well motivated soldiers. The casual reminder that a bad attitude would result in their being in the field on the next resupply chopper would usually suffice. One example was my awards and decorations clerk. His was an extra-TO&E job that was usefull because of the awards policies in RVN. A while after taking over Alpha Company, I enquired about the procedures to get an air medal and a CIB. I was told by the clerk that the recipients had to keep track of their own air assaults and combat days.

Wrong answer. I told him that henceforth, he would keep track of air assualts and CIB qualifying time for the soldiers and that if the awards were not presented within two weeks of the soldier's qualifying, he would be back in the field. Valor awards would be treated like his life depended on them. Come to think of it, maybe it did. That guy immediately becme the hardest working soldier in the rear and the troops got what they had earned soon after they had earned it.

Field Soldiers presented other problems. Their attitude was "What are you going to do, send me to Viet Nam and put me in the field?" Although the solutions had to be more creative, there were not many problems with soldiers in the field except those that had caught up with them on account of misadventures while in the rear. Those problems were usually handled by routine company punishment even though I sometimes felt like I was pissing in the wind for all the effect it had. The real challenge were the few disciplinary matters that arose in the field.

A tradition that had developed in the company was that a FNG (Fucking New Guy) would carry two cans of extra machine gun ammunition. The cans were suspended from a modified field harness and were not fun to carry, especially since the guy still had to carry his normal load. It was an unspoken rite of passage in the company and I really had nothing to do with it.

One day we were on a daylight sweep on a particularly nasty area and had stopped to take a break. A young black soldier who had recently arrived in company was brought to my location by his platoon leader and platoon sergeant. The man told me that "I don't dig this humpin' ammo shit and I ain't gonna hump it no mo." He was obviously playing "for the gallery" as the soldiers who were nearby looked on. Instead of acting angry I agreed that it was no fun "humpin" ammo and that if he didn't want to do it I would find an easier job for him.

I told him to follow me and we cautiously made our way to the front of the formation. I told our young miscreant to wait while I signaled to "Wheelbarrow" our pointman. I took him aside and told him to let our young friend to walk point. He told me that he would put him out front but there was no way he would be the pointman. I acknowledged that that was what I meant and told Wheelbarrow that maybe Charlie would solve my discipline problen. I actually said that maybe the stupid son of a bitch would step on a booby trap.

Our young stud couldn't wimp out in front of the guys so he rather reluctlently moved out front. When we stopped for chow the young man came back to my location and said that maybe "humpin" ammo wasn't really that bad and asked if he could have his ammo back. I said sure and sent him back to his patoon. End of problem. Wheelbarrow was pissed off at me for a few days but he got over it.

Another occasion when I administered summary justice was the time I caugyht the radio watch with a transistor radio plugged in his ear. I broke the damn thimg over his helmet. He didn't complain because it was better that a courtsmartial for dereliction of duty. Our lives had depended on his vigilence. He took some flak from his peers over that one.

One occasion when I did not handle matters well happened when I first took over Alpha Company. I had joined the company in the field and didn't really have a chance to observe how the company operated administratively. When we got back from the field, I told the First Sergeant that I wanted to have a weapons and haircut inspection in two hours and that then I would turn them loose.

When we had the formation, I was shocked to find that about thirty or forty troops were absent. I asked Top what was the reason for the poor attendance and was tld that the prior commander didn't care if the soldiers came to the formations. I was practically speechless in my shock. It was definately something that my training had not prepared me for. I conducted the inspection and than told the leaders that I would have a formation each hour for the remaining men and that they had better find them. After several formations, it was obvious that the fifteen or so that were unaccounted for had gone to town.

I decided that this was unaccepable and gave each of them an Article Fifteen for being AWOL. The word got out and my formations were well attended from then on. I felt that I had done the right thing and it was not until years later that I realized that I had handled it badly. The problem had not been discipline but rather leadership. I should have locked the heels of the entire chain of command, especially the First Sergeant, and informed them that I expected to be obeyed. Other than mine the greatest leadership failure had been on the part of the First Sergeant who should have played it straight until he found out my policies. He and I had let down the troops. At least I could plead inexperience.


Many things contributed toward the morale of the soldiers. Keeping their morale up was a never-ending chore. Ninty-nine percent of the job was taken care of by simple leadership. The old saws that we heard at Ft Benning were true. "Take care of the troops and they will take care of you - Keep the troops informed - Dont try to snow the troops - A busy soldier is a happy soldier. There are scores of these sayings and they all apply to some degree or another. The most important was and is the first one -- Take care of the troops!

That didnt't mean that you had to baby them or to shirk your duty. They did not expect that. All they wanted was to feel that their welfare was important to you. You could be as tough as you wanted as long as they felt that you cared and that they were probably safer with you in command rather than some unknown. Fear of the unknown was the soldier's biggest worry. The unknown took many forms. It could mean a new area of operation, a new enemy unit, a new leader or the worst thing, being transfered to a new unit. The soldier took his strength from his unit and his buddies.

I always tried to do what was right whether or not it was popular. I tended to do things that I felt were importand "by the book" while I ignored the book other times. I tried to remain focused on our mission and our safety and then our comfort. I constantly harped on the men to maintain security in the field, even while in supposed secure areas. When we stopped to eat I would make sure that the men remained dispursed and faced out. I was very insistant on clean weapons and clean ammunition. I established SOP's on what the soldiers carried in the field. I even enforced haircut regulations. The troops knew that I did so to keep them from being hassled while in the rear and didn't seem to mind. I kept them fed; kept them paid and tried to keep the alive.

Communication with the soldiers often meant more than the chain of command. I would frequently talk to my soldiers and enquire about their homes and families and dreams. "What are you going to do when you go back to the world?" I had perfected my line to the soldiers who would proudly show me a picture of their ugly girlfriend, wife or child. I would look at the photo admiringly and then say "Smith, you're a lucky man."

I tried to be concerned but not overindulgent; friendly yet not familiar, firm but not chickenshit. I was inflexible on a few items but since they were safety and mission oriented the troops didn't mind. In short I tried to live up to my image of a professional officer. I often wondered if I was doing the right thing. I wondered what the troops thought of me; especially when I saw how popular some of the more laissez-faire leaders seemed to be.

My questions were answered one day when I was in the rear with Alpha. I stopped by a beer joint that night where the men were blowing steam. I would usually stay for less than a half hour, long enough to show the men that I was interested but not so long as to inhibit their fun. As I was about to leave, a soldier who I vaugely recognized came uo to me and asked me to join him and at his table. It seems that he was a member of one of my former platoon in in Delta almost a year earlier. He bought me a beer and bragged to his buddies that I was the best platoon leader that he had ever had. He said that I had really taken care of the troops. He told me that he had really enjoyed the time we discussed the cars we were going to buy when we got back to the world. I hardly remembered the event but it had meant a lot to him. Maybe I was on the right track after all. I went to bed on a high that night, only partly alcohol induced.

I have always maintained that the easiest man in the world to please is an infantryman in combat. Give him a pair of dry socks and he will be your friend for life. Being able to heat your C- Rations was heaven and hot A-rations excatcy. Things really got down to basics for us. An example comes to mind that only someone has been there would probably understand. One day after a trying operation, I stopped back at the Admin Company bar. SGT Garvin was gone and I did not recognize the bartender. I said "Gimmie a beer" and he replied "What kind would you like, sir," a reasonable comment to a normal person in normal times. As all those times in the field ran through my mind when I would have killed for any cold beer --- the times when I got my water from a muddy puddle. I fought off the urge to jump over the bar and strangle the bartender and blandly said "Any kind so long it's cold."

Morale can be extremely fragile and is affected by the most trivial matters. Soon after I took over Alpha Company noticed that the iced tea in our mess hall was served presweetened. I prefer my tea unsweetened and I was sure that there must be many other people who also did. I told the mess sergeant to serve the tea unsweet ened and to have sugar available for the troops to sweeten it to taste. The whole idea made sence to me.

The next day the mess sergeant told me that the men were very unhappy about my decision. I asked a few soldiers what they preferred and why it mattered whether they or the mess hall personnel put the sugar in. I was informed that the tea tasted different when the sugar was added later and that it was having a bad effect on morale. I made an instant decision that was very popular with the men. I told the mess sergeant to serve me a pitcher of unsweetened tea and to go back to the normal tea. Did it really taste different or was it only another case of fear of change. Who knows.

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