Operation: SNAFU History and Background
Part 1 - THE MEN OF 101ST AIRBORNE
The 101st Infantry Division was famous as an Airborne unit had recently been reinvented as an Air Mobile Division. Most of the soldiers in the Division were airborne qualified and a great deal of pride was attached to that fact. Officers were all graduates of both Airborne and Ranger school as were virtually all senior NCOs. A number of senior NCOs and Officers were WW2 or Korean War veterans.
The Air Mobile concept was designed around the capacity of the UH1B "Huey" helicopter which was the workhorse of the Air Mobile concept. The 1st Air Cav was the only true Air Mobile Unit in the world but the 101st was, for all practical purposes, equal to it in capability. The assets assigned were only sufficient to support a brigade of the 101st at the recommended levels, so for most of its deployment in Vietnam, the three brigades rotated assignment in-country with one or two brigades refitting and retraining state-side while one or, on occasion, two brigades on their rotation in-theater.
While in the Republic of Vietnam, the units operated as a separate brigade, much like the 173rd or 196th Infantry Brigade. In 1969-70, the 1st Brigade of the 101st was in-country. The division home throughout much of its assignment in Vietnam was at Phu Bai (south and to the east of Hue). The unit itself was housed at Camp Eagle. The base camp location was on a flat, open plain. Though hastily constructed, it had all the facilities to support the brigade when not in the bush. It was the equivalent of a small town and had the rough appearance of a Western boom town. NCO Clubs, Officers Club, PX and small concession outlets were sprinkled throughout.
An airstrip for fixed-wing aircraft was present as were numerous landing pads for helicopters. Control towers, communications bunkers, radar towers and lots of large antenna were scattered about. Sandbagged fighting positions ringed the perimiter and bunkers were sprinkle d throughout to serve as shelters for protection against rocket and mortar attacks. Hootches and structures were heavily sandbagged in many but not all cases. Metal Conex Boxes were everywhere and served as semi-secured storage. Vehicles, latrines, concertina wire and lots of Olive Drab kept anyone from thinking they were state-side. The heat and humidity was stifling and the smell of rotting vegetation and diesel fuel was everywhere.
Compared to life in the bush, however, it was heaven. In the immediate area of the Central Highlands, there were a series of steep heavily jungled mountains These could be reached in just a few minutes of flight in a helicopter. The jungle was often triple layer canopy and the rugged terrain was at times deeply cut with streams and deep ravines.
These areas provided the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) with ideal locations for infiltration and sanctuaries. These steep and dense jungles were home to numerous enemy units and well established bases. These units received a constant infusion of fresh troops from the north and supported operations by the NVA command. The troops were battle hardened, well trained and well supplied. Unlike the Viet Cong, which was a localized guerrilla force, the NVA was capable of full blown tactical operations at company and regimental level.
They were the backbone of strategic efforts in the south. The NVA's goal was to generate enough casualties against the allied forces to fracture domestic support for the war. Following the Tet Offensive in 1968, this strategy was clearly their best avenue for success. They chose engagements that favored them by virtue of terrain and sheer numbers of surprise. They did everything they could to keep the division S-2 from recognizing the location of their headquarters elements and logistical bases. The NVA constantly attempted to entice the US to areas not occupied by their forces and locations where the terrain and circumstances favored them. They were very very skilled and dedicated soldiers with proven tactics.