MACV-SOG

In existence from January 1964 through May 1972, the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was a top-secret multi-service unit which conducted covert operations in Laos and Cambodia, where conventional U.S. military organizations were prohibited from acting. They also carried out reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines in South Vietnam. If a SOG member died in Laos or Cambodia or was awarded for their service in those lands, their families and the nation were told that the event had taken place in South Vietnam.

The terrain along both sides of the Laotian and Cambodian borders was made for concealment. Steep hillsides were covered with thick jungle. Heavy rain and ground fog often obscured visibility. July through September is monsoon season in Vietnam's Central Highlands — not the sort of weather that lends itself to aerial reconnaissance. In that era, the most sophisticated snooping gear was of little value as heavy rains fell nonstop for over a week at a time. Tough, motivated and well-trained infantry could function even under such conditions. Even before American combat troops arrived, the North Vietnamese had used this season to move men and supplies down through Laos and Cambodia.

The terrain along both sides of the Laotian and Cambodian borders was made for concealment. Steep hillsides were covered with thick jungle. Heavy rain and ground fog often obscured visibility. July through September is monsoon season in Vietnam's Central Highlands — not the sort of weather that lends itself to aerial reconnaissance. In that era, the most sophisticated snooping gear was of little value as heavy rains fell nonstop for over a week at a time. Tough, motivated and well-trained infantry could function even under such conditions. Even before American combat troops arrived, the North Vietnamese had used this season to move men and supplies down through Laos and Cambodia.

In late 1967, the North Vietnamese Army converted an entire brigade on the Ho Chi Minh Trail into "hunter killer" units charged with tracking down American or South Vietnamese reconnaissance teams. These company-size "counter-intelligence" forces of a hundred and fifty men had been assigned to conventional forces positioned at intervals along the trail. After a recon team was detected, the North Vietnamese counter-recon unit would split into squads that swept the suspected area, often employing tracker dogs. Coordinated by radio, the conventional forces were called in to encircle the recon team and thwart any rescue attempts, sometimes shooting down helicopters sent to attempt an extraction.

In late 1967, the North Vietnamese Army converted an entire brigade on the Ho Chi Minh Trail into "hunter killer" units charged with tracking down American or South Vietnamese reconnaissance teams. These company-size "counter-intelligence" forces of a hundred and fifty men had been assigned to conventional forces positioned at intervals along the trail. After a recon team was detected, the North Vietnamese counter-recon unit would split into squads that swept the suspected area, often employing tracker dogs. Coordinated by radio, the conventional forces were called in to encircle the recon team and thwart any rescue attempts, sometimes shooting down helicopters sent to attempt an extraction.

There was the crump of grenades to Brokhausen's right and he heard the two yelling. They were directing the team and training the new guy. The "new guy" was him. For the past week or so he had been learning all the finer points of how the team operated. They were on the range again, practicing "immediate action" drills. That was a controlled method of putting as much firepower as possible in a specific direction, while disengaging in the opposite direction. With an eight to ten man team they could put a lot of lead out there in a very short space of time. The team worked like a well-oiled killing machine. It had to, since their ability to fight hard until they got some air cover was their only hope for survival.

There was the crump of grenades to Brokhausen's right and he heard the two yelling. They were directing the team and training the new guy. The "new guy" was him. For the past week or so he had been learning all the finer points of how the team operated. They were on the range again, practicing "immediate action" drills. That was a controlled method of putting as much firepower as possible in a specific direction, while disengaging in the opposite direction. With an eight to ten man team they could put a lot of lead out there in a very short space of time. The team worked like a well-oiled killing machine. It had to, since their ability to fight hard until they got some air cover was their only hope for survival.

Making light of death, accepting it, made it all easier, giving them clearer vision and an unfettered ability to make decisions. It also minimized the chances of self-survival concerns conflicting with what was best for the team and for their mission. Prioritizing team and mission over their own lives went with camaraderie and leadership — succumbing to fear, after all, is a form of selfishness. After a recent brush with death in Cambodia, bowls of simple Chinese noodle soup tasted better, hot showers flowed wetter, even jokes seemed funnier. Typically for the MACV-SOG, one day something terrible would happen and the next day the zaniness would return.

Making light of death, accepting it, made it all easier, giving them clearer vision and an unfettered ability to make decisions. It also minimized the chances of self-survival concerns conflicting with what was best for the team and for their mission. Prioritizing team and mission over their own lives went with camaraderie and leadership — succumbing to fear, after all, is a form of selfishness. After a recent brush with death in Cambodia, bowls of simple Chinese noodle soup tasted better, hot showers flowed wetter, even jokes seemed funnier. Typically for the MACV-SOG, one day something terrible would happen and the next day the zaniness would return.

Marked clearly on the map of the area of operations was the junction where Highway 922 met Highway 92, a lethal crossroads of historical proportions. The nexus of the Ho Chi Minh Trail complex and the scene of one bloody engagement after another, it was fortified with every type of anti-aircraft weaponry the North Vietnamese Army could muster and teaming with NVA troops. To make matters worse, it was the headquarters of Transportation Group 559, whose very purpose was the creation and maintenance of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. To protect itself from MACV-SOG's prying eyes, the 559th had developed a number of highly trained anti-recon units that were known for their vicious tactics.

Marked clearly on the map of the area of operations was the junction where Highway 922 met Highway 92, a lethal crossroads of historical proportions. The nexus of the Ho Chi Minh Trail complex and the scene of one bloody engagement after another, it was fortified with every type of anti-aircraft weaponry the North Vietnamese Army could muster and teaming with NVA troops. To make matters worse, it was the headquarters of Transportation Group 559, whose very purpose was the creation and maintenance of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. To protect itself from MACV-SOG's prying eyes, the 559th had developed a number of highly trained anti-recon units that were known for their vicious tactics.

SOG Chronicles: Volume One

By John Stryker Meyer

In February of 1971, two MACV-SOG reconnaissance teams based in Da Nang were designated for a mission in the A Shau Valley. The valley runs north-south adjacent to the border with Laos and was a key infiltration point for North Vietnamese troops coming off the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The recon teams were to gather military intelligence from enemy soldiers, Laotians who had been pressed into service with the North Vietnamese Army, or through wiretaps. After one team got into a brief firefight with five NVA soldiers, killing all five, the team leader called for an extraction, because they had been compromised. They waited for helicopters to arrive from Camp Eagle near Phu Bai.

In February of 1971, two MACV-SOG reconnaissance teams based in Da Nang were designated for a mission in the A Shau Valley. The valley runs north-south adjacent to the border with Laos and was a key infiltration point for North Vietnamese troops coming off the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The recon teams were to gather military intelligence from enemy soldiers, Laotians who had been pressed into service with the North Vietnamese Army, or through wiretaps. After one team got into a brief firefight with five NVA soldiers, killing all five, the team leader called for an extraction, because they had been compromised. They waited for helicopters to arrive from Camp Eagle near Phu Bai.

Special Forces were at times entrusted with specialized missions, such as apprehending and killing select enemy personnel, or recovering sensitive documents and equipment that had been lost or captured by the enemy. They conducted cross-border reconnaissance missions in Laos and Cambodia, and within South Vietnamese territory as well. SOG units consisted of a reconnaissance company composed of a varying number of reconnaissance teams, and "hatchet" reaction forces which operated as exploitation platoons and companies. The RTs were oriented towards collecting intelligence on North Vietnamese logistics activities, transportation and defense facilities discovered along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Special Forces were at times entrusted with specialized missions, such as apprehending and killing select enemy personnel, or recovering sensitive documents and equipment that had been lost or captured by the enemy. They conducted cross-border reconnaissance missions in Laos and Cambodia, and within South Vietnamese territory as well. SOG units consisted of a reconnaissance company composed of a varying number of reconnaissance teams, and "hatchet" reaction forces which operated as exploitation platoons and companies. The RTs were oriented towards collecting intelligence on North Vietnamese logistics activities, transportation and defense facilities discovered along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.