a combat trooper on joining Bravo Company and there was a significant
difference between a combat and a support trooper. One telling sign of a
combat trooper in Vietnam was the condition of our jungle boots – they were
well worn, they had never been polished, and they had a special look of old
cracked leather that had been grossly abused by overexposure to rugged
jungle terrain and too many rice paddies. Another sure indicator of a combat
trooper or “grunt” was the presence of the Combat Infantry Badge (CIB). The
recipient of the CIB must be personally present and under hostile fire while
serving in an assigned infantry unit actively engaged in ground combat with
the enemy. As a general rule, only those serving in an infantry battalion
were authorized the CIB. The CIB has always been a badge of distinction,
proof of a front line combat trooper and one that was worn with pride.
Another special award to combat troopers of
the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) was the Air Medal. A Bravo Company
trooper was awarded an Air Medal after participating in more than
twenty-five combat assaults in support of counterinsurgency operations in
Vietnam. Most troopers completed between 75 and 100 combat assaults during
their tour with Bravo Company. Some troopers recall completing as many as
three combat assaults in one day when pursuing enemy forces.
And then we move on to the tricky question of how many served in combat positions and how many in support positions. Depending on the criteria employed, the combat to support ratio during the Vietnam War varied from a conservative 1 – 10 to a highly speculative 1 – 17. For our purposes here, we will use the conservative figure of 10 support soldiers for each combat soldier. When we apply this ratio to the peak troop strength in Vietnam during our period, the result is as follows: There were approximately 54,348 combat soldiers, + 489,134 support soldiers = 543,482. This shows that there were not many soldiers engaged in ground combat duty, however, it is important to remember that many of the casualties were those classified as support soldiers.
While we are on statistics, the three divisions that sustained the most casualties during the Vietnam War are the 1st Cavalry Division with 5,464 Killed In Action (KIA), the 25th Division with 4,561 KIA, and the 101st Airborne Division with 4,022 KIA. The following US military casualty figures tell their own sad story about the intensity of combat activity during the peak years of the Vietnam War (Source Washington Headquarters Services):
1965 – 1,926 KIA. 1966 – 6,333 KIA. 1967 – 11,348 KIA. 1968 – 16,869 KIA.
1969 – 11,776 KIA. 1970 – 6,164 KIA. 1971 – 2,348 KIA. 1972 – 561 KIA.
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