Colin F. Jones

STAND TO – PERIMETER PATROLS

While in Vietnam we conducted oh, well about 15 or so operations which meant we were out there in the boonies most of the time. We experienced a great deal of Monsoonal weather as well as extremely dry weather.

It has always been standing procedure in the Australian Army to stand too every morning before daylight and every night before dark, as those are the times when a little Fire Support Base out in the middle of enemy territory is most vulnerable to attack.

Our bases were normally occupied by a field gun battery of six 105mm Howitzer M2A2 guns, and a company of infantry, while the other companies conducted ‘RECE IN FORCE’ patrols in the allotted area.

The most fearful time was on the first day of occupation when the Chinooks landed the guns and gear, and everyone got stuck in digging sleeping pits. Defensive structures were absent and it was always our policy regardless of when we landed to have personal pits dug with at least one layer of overhead sandbag protection by night one.

To be caught above ground could be devastating, so the fear of attack was more pronounced on that first day.

The longer we remained the stronger the base became – surrounded with barbed wire, earthen bunds into which ‘fighting pits’ were dug, ammo bays dug in and sandbagged.

‘STAND TO’ became routine, or indeed was routine, when every man in the position prepared as for an expected attack and manned an all round defence, while a patrol of normally about nine men swept the parameter of the base to clear the immediate area of any lurking Viet Cong. I led and was part of many of these short patrols which could be a bit nerve racking at times.

Actually the patrol consisted of two sections, one going out through the southern ‘machine gun strong point’ position, the other from the northern one – and of course moving in the same clockwise direction re-entered through the opposite points. This was done every day twice per day for the entire time we were in Vietnam.

The thing I did not like about this was that if a VC was encountered it was likely that some of our people would be killed because of the advantage the VC enjoyed of being hidden and expecting us. They could easily disappear after the initial contact taking off as we went to ground. After that they would cop a bit, but they always had planned paths of departure and we were not going to chase them in the darkness, although if they were in numbers, the gun-ships would lift their ass’s a bit.

A couple of factors determined how nervous we were when standing too, one being how far north we were deployed, which usually meant we were in territory containing greater numbers of enemy; and secondly how close we were to going home. Our final operation was indeed to the north, there was an indication of VC in numbers and we were very much aware of the fact (or fiction) that many lost their lives on the final operations in country.

Tony Pahl was a gunner in a chopper, a gunship, we rode as passengers to our destinations in those choppers. It may have been a hundred times we flew in them, but when circling in one on our last operation, for the first time I felt fear, looking down, loaded with gear, not strapped in (we never were in Nam; the pressure seemed to hold us in). I think I had, or was beginning to lose my nerve. There were only weeks left to go home – thankfully I made it.

I could have even flown in a chopper in which Tony was the gunner. We owed a lot to them – but I still can’t stand the sound of those bloody rotors.