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Archive for the ‘Cold War’ Category

Veteran, Linguist Reflects on Vietnam Service

Wednesday, April 13th, 2022

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. — Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area in California, Dr. Tom Glenn originally enlisted in the Army so he could attend the Army Language School — later called the Defense Language Institute, or DLI. With a passion and knack for linguistics, Glenn taught himself French and Italian as a child, studied Latin during high school and German during college.

With a craving for more, Glenn enrolled in DLI with the hopes of learning Chinese.

“I wanted to go to the best language school in the U.S., maybe in the world,” he said. “But when I got [there], they told me they weren’t going to teach me Chinese, they were going to teach me a language I had never heard of: Vietnamese.”

Glenn was a Soldier and had to follow orders, so he spent all of 1959 learning Vietnamese. He spent six hours a day in class with two hours of private study each night for a full year.

“I graduated first in my class of ten,” he said. “I asked the Army to send me to Vietnam but [they said] they had nothing going on there.” Instead, Glenn was assigned to the National Security Agency, or NSA, at Fort Meade, Maryland.

Still hoping to study Chinese, Glenn enrolled in George Washington University in Washington, D.C. as a part time graduate student. Glenn went on to earn a master’s degree in government and a doctorate in public administration.

By the time Glenn finished his enlistment in 1961, he said he was “comfortably speaking” Vietnamese, Chinese and French; the three main languages spoken in Vietnam.

The NSA immediately offered Glenn a job at “five steps above the normal level” and sent him to Vietnam for the first time in 1962 as a civilian.

“Between 1962 and 1975, I spent more time in Vietnam than in the U.S.,” he said.

Despite being a civilian, Glenn lived with the military as if he were still a Soldier.

Tom Glenn poses for a photo in his fatigue uniform in Dak To, Vietnam in 1967. One morning while assisting U.S. 4th infantry division and 173rd airborne brigade, Glenn woke up to find his uniforms missing. Some of the Soldiers at his camp had “snitched” his fatigues and taken them to a local tailor whom they paid to sew tags above the breast pockets that read ‘Glenn’ and ‘Civilian.’ (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo)

“I was one of them — sleeping on the ground next to them, eating [field rations while] sitting in the dirt by their side, using their latrines and going into combat with them,” he said. “I was the only civilian I knew who was willing to put his life on the line by working with the military in combat on the battlefield.”

Tom Glenn in Saigon, Vietnam in 1962 (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo)

Glenn’s job was in intelligence; using signals intelligence, intercepting and exploiting the enemy’s radio communications, informing friendly forces on what enemy force intentions were and where they were.

He says that the strongest human bond he’s ever seen was that between two men fighting side by side.

Glenn spent his thirteen years in Vietnam all over the country, “wherever combat was going on.” He worked most often in central Vietnam, just south of the demilitarized zone that separated North and South Vietnam. The day-to-day was just like any other Soldier in combat.

“[The days were] defined by the boredom of waiting and the terror of close combat,” he said.

Glenn wants Americans to know the “grisly horror” of war. He wants citizens to respect and admire service members who “put their lives on the line for our good.”

After the Vietnam War, Glenn’s readjustment to civilian life would have been more difficult had he been sent straight home. Instead, he was sent abroad to serve on the battlefield all over the world after Saigon fell in 1975.

Glenn retired from NSA in 1992.

Tom Glenn in Saigon, Vietnam in 1974 (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo)

A Civilian Meritorious Medal that Glenn earned for saving lives during the fall of Saigon, Vietnam under fire in 1975 (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo)

“Welcome home, brother”

When Glenn meets other Vietnam veterans, he puts his hands on their shoulders and looks them in the eye. They share an experience unknown to other Americans.

For years following the war, many Americans saw Vietnam as “the war we never should have been involved in.” During those years, Glenn never mentioned his service overseas.

“Then, several years ago, I was invited to a welcome-home party for Vietnam veterans,” he said. “After some hesitation, I went. A bunch of young people, who hadn’t even been born before the end of [the war], shook my hand, hugged me and thanked me for my service.”

Glenn urges other Americans to approach those who served and thank them. Only then will that service member know that their service is “worthy of gratitude.”

Award-winning author

“The real adjustment [came] thirty years ago when I retired as early as I could [to] write full time,” Glenn said. “I was so intent on writing that the transition was a relief rather than an adjustment.”

Glenn’s first book is titled “Friendly Casualties” and consists of a collection of short stories to highlight the horrors of war. He chose to write about Vietnam because of his post-traumatic stress injuries, or PTSI. “[It] wounded my soul,” he said.

He learned that the only way to survive his injuries was to face the memories “head-on.” The best way to force himself to face those memories was to write it all down, which has resulted in six books and 17 short stories as of March 2022.

Glenn’s books are categorized as “fact-based fiction” which he said is the only way he could “delve into the emotions [he] lived through in real life.” He said he’s lived through experiences “far more compelling” than anything completely made up.

“I want people to know what [it was like],” he said. “I needed to vent, to stand face-to-face with my memories and learn to live with them.”

By Megan Clark

Electronic Battle: Cold War Peer-Threat SIGINT Then and Now | Cold War Wednesday

Wednesday, March 30th, 2022

As the man said, “Ivan will destroy your grid square if you even key your radio, let alone talk to your squad. Break out the books and practice. This is for real.”

Given recent events in and around Ukraine, we thought it might be interesting to consider the contrast of what modern technology – particularly social media – has to electronic-related security issues in contrast to what we were taught during the Cold War era. PERSEC, INFOSEC, OPSEC, ELINT, SIGINT, COMINT, and of course EMCON – there is absolutely no shortage of acronyms all those cell phones (among other things) might jeopardize…and with them, both missions and lives (see reported Redditor example, below).

Combat Electronic Warfare and Intelligence is one hell of a lot more complicated now than it was in the teen years of the Superbowl. Cyber Warfare and GPS Spoofing are just two examples. Geolocating is another. Even something as simple as a Google image search can precipitate an attack. Several examples of this have emerged over the last few weeks on both sides of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Compromised by TikTok” and “death by Reddit” sound funny until the Kalibrs and Bayraktars come calling. While apps like Air Alarm are certainly beneficial, they don’t counterbalance all the OSINT opportunities afforded by Telegram, Instagram, Twitter, and the like. This is why cell phones are often taken up before training evolutions and troop movements (unless, apparently, you’re Chechen).

But if you’re reading this, chances are you already know that.

What you might not know, depending on the length of your teeth, is what electronic warfare and signals doctrine looked like 40 or 50 years ago. And that’s why we’re sharing the following article.

Much like Crossfit workouts and pet shenanigans, you gotta take a pic of your invasion or it didn’t happen.

The Electronic Battle

Lt. Col. Don E. Gordon

INFANTRY Magazine, 1980

The Reddit Example

Even if this report is apocryphal, the lesson it delivers is not. 

Thoughts on then vs. now?

More SIGINT history


David Reeder is a sometime SOLSYS contributor and reporter-at-large. He is currently the editor of the GunMag Warehouse blog (The Mag Life) and the world’s okayest 1/6 scale kit-basher. 

In Memoriam – Col Gail S. Halvorsen (USAF, Ret)

Friday, February 18th, 2022

Earlier this week Col Gail S. Halvorsen (USAF, Ret) aka The Berlin Candy Bomber and Uncle Wiggly Wings passed away. His family was at his side at the Intermountain Utah Valley Hospital in Provo, Utah, where he was admitted following a short illness.  Colonel Halvorsen was 101 years old and he is survived by his five children and numerous grand- and great grandchildren.

We received this information from the Airlift/Tanker Association:

Col Halvorsen, a Utah native, began his flying career when he earned his private pilot’s license in 1941 through a Civil Air Patrol program.  His passion for aviation led him to join the Army Air Force in 1942 flying transport aircraft.  In 1948, peace in Europe was threatened as the Soviet Union blockaded all ground access to war-torn West Berlin. Then, Lt Halvorsen, a member of the newly formed United States Air Force, began flying humanitarian airlift missions to starving West Berliners.  During one mission, he paused to share two sticks of gum with nearby German children who were watching the aircraft and busy flightline.  Two sticks of gum did not go far and he promised the children he would be back the next day to drop candy from his airplane, telling them, you will know it is me when I “wiggle” my wings.  That simple act of kindness and compassion led to “Operation Little Vittles” and, in all, over 23 tons of candy were dropped from Allied aircraft. His impact spread beyond the smiles of German children.  He brought visibility to the plight of the German people and put a human face on their suffering—Americans now saw the Germans as humans, not enemies. Strategically, the Allied resolve strengthened, and West Berlin’s freedom was secured without a single shot fired and his act of kindness forged the strong bond between America and Germany that endures today.

After hanging up his uniform Col Halvorsen continued his life of service by inspiring youth and adults around the world to a life of service. 

May He Rest In Peace

On This Date In Aviation History

Sunday, January 30th, 2022

On this date in aviation history: January 29th 1964; USAF Major T. J. “King” Kong commander and pilot of a Strategic Air Command B-52 bomber was reported missing after being issued an alert status “Wing Attack Plan R” restricting all communications. However, Major Kong’s Statofortress onboard CRM 114 discriminator malfunctioned, thereby cutting off all communications with his aircraft. Major Kong’s B-52 was last reported near Soviet airspace.

He will always be remembered for his eloquent and inspirational words…

“Now, boys, we got three engines out; we got more holes in us than a horse trader’s mule; the radio’s gone and we’re leakin’ fuel, and if we’s flying any lower, why, we’d need sleigh bells on this thing. But we got one little bulge on them Rooskies, at this height, why, they might harpoon us but they dang sure ain’t gonna spot us on no radar screen….”

Major T. J. “King” Kong

Now let’s get this thing on the hump — we got some flyin’ to do.

Courtesy of

Counting Elephants – The Hark-1 Radio

Saturday, January 1st, 2022

As Vietnam heated up, the Agency’s need for eyes on the Laotian panhandle increased beyond the support that could be provided by Thai PARU and RTSF advisors. As a result, the CIA was forced to look for other solutions to communicate with its illiterate Lao Theung road watching teams targeting the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

To tackle this problem, the Agency came up with a radio that used pictograms to communicate what a team saw. Crafted from a modified USAF survival unit, the Hark-1 or Hark Box was released early in 1967.

Note the depictions of armor, artillery, AAA, trucks, porters, soldiers, time of day, and direction of travel. The circular button at the center was used to transmit the tally of what was seen moving north and southbound on the trail to an airborne relay station. While the radio doesn’t appear to have a pictogram for elephants, it was given the affection moniker “the Elephant Counter” by Paramilitary Officers involved in the project. To avoid detection, the Hark road watching teams – sometimes numbering up to twenty-four road watchers on a target like the Mu Gia Pass – would be inserted via unmarked “Pony Express” CH-3s very far from their objective.

On the third slide you can see the Hark-1 with antenna deployed in front of Case Officer, Gene Norwinski during a briefing in Savannakhet. The project was wrapped up in 1969 having been overshadowed by a variety of Pentagon projects and new sensors and night vision capabilities like those present on the AC-130.

Written by @Immurement

Blast From The Past – “Shoot, A Fella Could Have A Pretty Good Weekend In Vegas With All That Stuff”

Sunday, November 14th, 2021

This never gets old. Is it wrong for me to miss the Cold War?

“Survival kit contents check. In them you’ll find:
– One forty-five caliber automatic
– Two boxes of ammunition
– Four days’ concentrated emergency rations
– One drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills
– One miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible
– One hundred dollars in rubles
– One hundred dollars in gold
– Nine packs of chewing gum
– One issue of prophylactics
– Three lipsticks
– Three pair of nylon stockings.

Shoot, a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.”

Crye Precision Announces New Cold Weather System

Monday, October 18th, 2021

Brooklyn, NY – October 18, 2021 – Crye Precision®, one of the leading suppliers of uniforms and personal equipment to the military, law enforcement and public safety markets, has announced the release of their new ATO – Alpine Terrain Operations ™ line of outerwear, with the first two products, the ATO Mid Loft Jacket™ and the ATO Mid Loft Pant ™.

Each item in the ATO Mid Loft™ line is designed to provide warmth and wind protection while avoiding overheating. Constructed with a durable wind resistant nylon fabric that is lightweight and packable, combined with the Polartec® Alpha® Direct insulation, which does not require a lining layer, reduces the overall bulk but maintains a high Clo value. The insulation is also highly breathable which allows for optimal ventilation during high activity in cold temperatures.

The ATO™ Mid Loft Jacket is designed to fit over the Crye Precision G3/G4 Uniform and Aclima® baselayer tops, and under the Compact Alpine Overwhites and High Loft Jacket. It can be worn as a concealment outer layer in warmer temperatures and an insulation layer in the cold.

The ATO™ Mid Loft Pant features an adjustable waist, glove compatible zippers, and pass-through hand pockets to access under layers. Full side leg zips for easy donning/doffing over boots. ¾ Length to allow a better fit when worn with ski boots and provide warmth at crucial areas of leg. It can be worn over the Crye Precision G3/G4 Uniform and Aclima® baselayer pants, and under the High Loft Pant.

The Crye Precision® design team met extensively with those serving in extreme climates, to better understand their needs.  Each in-depth interview consisted of understanding operational demands, reviewing currently issued uniforms, and climate difficulties. Based on the end-user feedback, the new ATO line provides mobility and functionality for optimal operations. 

In addition to the ATO line, Crye Precision has officially partnered with Norwegian wool specialists, Aclima® to bring an innovative and military-tested base layering system. Aclima® is family-owned and has been developing cold weather solutions since 1939. They specialize in Merino wool base layers for all climates, activity levels, and professions. Wool has the unique ability to insulate as well as wick moisture from the body. It also has a natural anti-microbial trait that reduces odor. Both the WoolNet and HotWool layers integrate with our G3 and G4 uniforms. They can be worn underneath in cold environments to add scalable layers of insulation. These unique features and Aclima’s creative design made them the logical choice to pair with the ATO cold weather line.

The ATO Uniforms and Aclima® baselayers are available now, through the Crye Precision® website, As always, contact Crye Precision® for any customizations to orders.

The Baldwin Files – Old Army Stories: REFORGER 1975

Tuesday, August 17th, 2021

Like many stereotypical curmudgeons, as I go about my work here on the Homestead, I spend more time than I probably should relitigating episodes of my life in my mind. Second guessing decisions made or deferred, imagining how my life’s branches and sequels might have taken a divergent course – and perhaps affected the lives of others differently. Cataloging the satisfactory and the regrettable. I suppose it is a natural – albeit inconclusive – mental exercise. Of course, it is self-evident that getting older has not made me any smarter. Over the years, I have not gained a single IQ point despite benefiting from considerable formal education, extensive advanced training, and broad life experiences. I have accumulated considerably more knowledge over time, but not any more brains. I trust that means that I am perfectly qualified to continue to offer unsolicited advice to others. I am going to keep acting like it does.

The best place to start a story is near the beginning. I served as an infantryman in West Germany from 1975 to 1978. In this article, I will start talking about that first formative year or so when I was assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry (Mechanized), of the 3rd Infantry Division (patch at top left in the picture), stationed at Kitzingen, Germany. Bravo Company of that Battalion had been Audie Murphy’s unit in WWII. The unit crest is shown in the top right corner of the picture above. The unit motto “Can Do” and the dragon date back to the early 1900s and the Regiment’s 26 years of service in China. The four acorns commemorate the major battles the Regiment fought in during the Civil War: Chattanooga, Chickamauga, Murfreesboro, and Atlanta.

Although I had been in the training pipeline for some time stateside, it is safe to say that I did not have any firsthand knowledge of the “real” Army before I got there. Still, even I quickly recognized that the Army in the mid-70s was in pretty sad shape. The Vietnam war had left deep bruises in the Officer and NCO Corps. A number who remained in uniform immediately after the war were of markedly poor quality. Morale was low for those relatively few selfless professionals that had stayed on to rebuild. The draft had ended in 1973. In fact, at Fort Polk, I had in-processed as the last draftees were out-processing. One of them tried to convince me that he was naturally a better quality soldier than I was because he made the Army “come after him.” It was an interesting perspective, but it was not just him. Indeed, VOLAR – or the “Volunteer Army” – was an experiment that most of the leadership expected to fail. In 1975, there was not one leader in the Army that had ever served in an entirely all-volunteer force. Side note: eventually, I observed that the airborne qualified NCOs in my rifle company – who had grown up in always volunteer Airborne units – generally dealt with soldiers more positively as junior teammates. “Leg” NCOs, having grown up principally with draftees, tended to foster a more “us vs them” adversarial relationship with their soldiers.

I got off a chartered commercial plane at Rhein-Main Air Base in September. It was an ordeal that lasted several days to get from there to an actual unit. First, soldiers processed through the theater replacement center on the airfield. Then on to the Division of assignment. There were four complete Army Divisions stationed in Germany at the time and “Forward Brigades” of two other divisions. Not to mention two Corps HQs and an Army HQ and all the ancillary organizations – some 300,000 U.S. soldiers in all distributed throughout the country. In my case, I passed through the 3rd ID Replacement Detachment at Wurzburg, Germany, and then to my battalion in Kitzingen. I got there just in time for REFORGER 1975. In fact, when I got there, part of the unit had already moved out to a staging area. Therefore, I was not immediately assigned to a platoon and barely had enough time to draw my gear (no CIFs in those days, we got our TA50 from our Company Supply Room) before I was heading to the field in the back of a Deuce and a half.

As it turned out, the REFORGER exercises served to bookend – and in some sense define – my tour in Germany. In 1975 it was my first experience. I also played in the 1976 and 1977 iterations. REFORGER 1978 was my last time in the field before I was reassigned to Fort Lewis. REFORGER is an acronym for Return of Forces to Germany (RE-FOR-GER). It involved thousands of soldiers deploying from home stations in the U.S. to fall in on pre-positioned equipment warehoused in Germany, and then participate in a large-scale force-on-force wargame involving German-based American units as well as NATO Allies including the West Germans. Getting the forces from CONUS and drawing equipment was actually the most important strategic element of the exercise. The follow-on wargame itself was mostly for show; both to visibly reassure allies and the German population of our commitment and to – hopefully – deter the Soviet Union from invading. The picture above is from REFORGER 1982, but it perfectly captures the dynamics of the exercise I want to highlight below.  

A large-scale, free play training exercise like REFORGER requires a lot of overhead. My new unit was going to play in the wargame; while I, and several others, got detailed to support the exercise Umpires. Umpires were only there to move the wargame along by adjudicating engagements (no MILES lasers in those days). They did not evaluate or provide feedback to the units like Observer Controllers do today. Since I did not know much of anything, I had a simple task. An NCO would drop a couple of us off with some water, a case of C-Rations, and wooden signs saying “OBSTACLE.” Whenever a unit approached us, we would inform them, via pre-printed and laminated 3×5 Cards, as to the nature of the obstacle. For example, a minefield or tank ditch – and how long it would take to reduce the obstacle once engineer assets were on site. Of course, an Umpire would show up about this time to keep everyone honest and assess casualties on both sides if the obstacle was defended as most – but not all – were. Then, as the units maneuvered through that obstacle, we would be moved to another location and do it all over again.

This routine went on for most of two weeks. Sometimes we were in place for only a couple of hours; however, in one case, we saw no one for two days because the “war’ had moved in a different direction and that particular notional obstacle had been bypassed with no contact between forces. The engagements themselves were anticlimactic, to say the least. Both sides would fire a few blanks, count coup, and the “losing” side would move off. As I recall, the weather was not too bad, the days were warm enough to go without field jackets and we were able to make fires most nights to ward off the chill. Still, I was in a foreign country and many of the fake obstacles were adjacent to – and even inside – the small towns. We had the German civilians – especially children – to interact with. Thankfully, they knew more English than I did German. I was surprised by how friendly they were, and how they took the major inconvenience of the wargames in stride. During that time, the West Germans took the Cold War and a Soviet invasion very seriously. Indeed, they knew a lot more about the threat than I did at that point.    

Later, I became fairly familiar with the practical implications of the strategic “Mutually Assured Destruction” policy adopted by both sides in the Cold War. Elements of that doctrine are still in effect today – albeit not maintained at quite the same level of urgency. Those of us stationed in Germany in the 1970s fully expected to be in a no mercy, no quarter, no prisoners, and – ultimately – no win fight with the Soviet Armies in the vicinity of the famous “Fulda Gap” if war came. We also expected that whatever feats of collective valor or personal heroism or any tactical success we might achieve on the battlefield would be meaningless and unknown to history. Tactical nukes – including short-range tube artillery, and Atomic Demolition Munitions (ADMs) – were expected to be employed within the first couple of days. It did not matter which side used them first because the other would respond in kind immediately. And none of that mattered, because shortly after that line had been crossed, we would very likely have witnessed the contrails of the ICBMs of both sides being launched. So, within days of the initiation of hostilities, those at home that we were supposed to be defending would be dead. Barring a highly unlikely battlefield miracle, that was indeed the plan. I never liked that plan.

In any case, I was oblivious to all of that in the Fall of 1975. I actually enjoyed my tour of the German countryside and my brief cultural immersion. I even picked up a few words of German. What I did not get, was any professional development. I had only the vaguest understanding of what was happening. I do not think anyone ever took any time to explain what the exercise was supposed to accomplish. I had no map or compass and no clear idea where I was at any point. The soldiers I was partnered with were just as clueless. I did not know if the 3rd Infantry Division, or my Battalion, were playing good guys or bad guys in the wargame. I had no idea what patches represented Germany-based units or who the rotational units were. At the time I just thought that was how the Army rolled. Granted, no one needed to waste their time explaining the history of the Cold War and the geopolitical implications of the REFORGER series to PFC Baldwin. I was clearly not ready for that. However, I could have potentially contributed a lot more if I had been told how my role – no matter how small – fit into the bigger picture.

I found out that I hated to be in the dark. Later, I learned that most soldiers hate that. The more I knew about whatever mission was at hand, the more I wanted to know. Additionally, I learned that the more soldiers know about the mission the better they tended to perform. If anything, I came to believe in what some call “over communications.” As I practiced it, that meant routinely giving people more information than they might need immediately at their grade. Of course, a leader still does not want to swamp that PFC with more “strategic” level data than he or she can reasonably process or use. However, I have rarely found that there is any good reason to withhold any tactically relevant information from my subordinates. If you believe knowledge is power – and I do – then the more every member of the unit knows the better the chances for mission success.

I am going to take a couple of paragraphs to talk about tactical gear in those days. The Army was much more frugal then. Even the newest gear I was issued in Germany dated from the mid-1960s. I was issued an M1951 Field Jacket manufactured in 1958. So faded that it was practically white. But it was still “serviceable” so they kept issuing it. A mess kit with utensils and canteen cup all from the 1950s; and a Shelter Half with buttons not snaps from 1948. Although I did not yet know it, the M1956 Load Carrying Equipment (LCE) I was issued was already being slowly replaced with ALICE gear. I had only seen M1956 gear in training and did not see any ALICE until I got to Fort Lewis in the late Fall of 1978. We had no rucksacks in Germany. The nylon and aluminum Lightweight or Tropical Rucksacks had been special issue in Vietnam but were not authorized in temperate zone assignments.

Units literally could not even request items not already on their property books. If it had not already been issued, it was not authorized. To get a replacement, a Supply Sergeant had to first turn in some unserviceable remnant of the item to be replaced. There was no such thing as unit purchases either. I have attached a couple of pictures for those unfamiliar with M1956 LCE. At the bottom are five stalwart young troopers probably at some training base in CONUS. I am not one of them, but that is how I looked during REFORGER. We had the two-sided “Mitchell” camouflaged helmet covers with a brown side and a green side. These guys have the green side out. I probably had the brown side out during the exercise but I cannot swear to it. Change over dates were put out at the highest level and soldiers all switched on cue – regardless of the status of the surrounding vegetation.

On the top right (above) is a picture of the LCE as it appears in the manuals of the day like FM 21-15, Care and Use of Individual Clothing and Equipment. It shows the harness set up as a six-point system with the ammo pouch attachment straps spread out from the front suspender straps. That is not how it was normally worn. With three 20-round M16 magazines in the ammo pouch and a grenade or two mounted on the sides of the pouches, there was quite a bit of weight that needed to be counterbalanced. Most everyone aligned the ammo pouches with the suspenders with both straps running more or less down the center of the uniform pockets as you see in the top left picture. With a couple of C-Rations, a change of socks, and a poncho in the buttpack on the back the load balanced out quite well.

However, there was not a lot of free real estate on the belt or harness once both ammo pouches, a buttpack, canteen, entrenching tool, flashlight, and first aid pouch are added. That is why in the M1956 system, the bayonet piggybacks off the E-Tool in the picture. Again, despite what the manuals said, I never saw anyone set up their gear this way. In the Mechanized Infantry, we used the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) as our foxholes. The E-Tool was stowed in the duffel bag on the side or top of the track and rarely used. We just wore the bayonet directly attached to the left side of the belt instead. By the way, it did not matter if you were right or left-handed. The unit SOP and uniformity dictated which side the canteen and bayonet were required to be carried. Most SOPs were based on the pictures in the manuals – canteen on the right, E-Tool and/or bayonet on the left.

Furthermore, if you wore the M1956 E-Tool as shown it would beat your thighs black and blue in short order – even just walking at a quick pace. There was only one time when I remember mounting the E-Tool on my LCE. We were required to wear all the LCE components for the EIB 12 Mile Roadmarch. We turned the E-Tool carrier upside down and tied the handle as tight as we could to the suspenders. It was not entirely satisfactory, but was better than doing it “by the book.” We had to work with what we had. Back in the day, there was no such thing as an after-market gear source so options were limited to adapting what was issued. I have mentioned before that the Airborne Units of WWII famously used their organic Rigger detachments to manufacture Airborne specific items that did not exist in the Army supply system. To the Army’s credit, the post-Korean War M1956 system was well thought out, fairly comfortable, and, therefore, generally popular with the troops. Indeed, it was more comfortable than the follow-on ALICE harness. M1956 gear served as a system throughout the Vietnam War and some individual items – like buttpacks – soldiered on for a couple more decades after that. However, the fact that “extra” M1956 parts were not readily available to soldiers served to limit opportunities to hack or supplement that generation of tactical gear in any way.

Jumping ahead, ALICE gear was treated differently by the Army. The most important change was that the Army decided, unlike previous “field gear” items, to make ALICE components available at Clothing Sales Stores (CSS) for individual soldier purchase. And ALICE items were cheap. $4.00 for the Y-suspenders/ shoulder straps as I recall. Now soldiers finally had the option to buy more than they were issued. That meant even privates could have one clean new set for parades and another for the field. It meant that troopers could experiment and make adjustments to their gear in ways we could not with M1956 – adding extra ammo pouches for example. Concurrently, non-issue ALICE compatible items began to appear on the market from companies like Eagle, Blackhawk, and Brigade Quartermasters. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that ALICE and that CSS decision by the Army gave birth to the extensive tactical gear industry we know today.

I know a lot more now about how things work than I did then. Our M1956 LCE was already obsolescent in 1975 but still worked pretty well. We had battle-tested major end items like the M60A1 tanks shown in the first picture, and M113A1 APCs and UH1 Huey and Cobra Helicopters. We had a good number of truly great NCOs and Officers with extensive combat experience. Unfortunately, we had quite a few more that were not up to the Herculean challenge of rebuilding the Army after Vietnam. We had serious “indiscipline” problems and drug and alcohol abuse were endemic. A week after we got back to Kitzingen from REFORGER, two soldiers in my company overdosed on Heroin and died in the barracks. As Dorothy said, I was not in Kansas anymore. Like it or not, it was my Army now too.

De Oppresso Liber!?

LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (Ret) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments. SSD is blessed to have him as both reader and contributor.