By June 1968, Staff Sergeant Pat Watkins had been running recon for over seven months and had seen some of the worst of what that could entail. In fact, the run of luck SOG had experienced from December 1967 to April 1968 had been about the cruelest he could imagine. Of the original 14 team leaders who had started out running recon with him in late 1967, only four remained alive and active.

Watkins had started with ST (Spike Team) Moccasin, operating out of Da Nang. When recon operations at Da Nang were placed on hold due to the lack of sufficient personnel, Watkins quickly volunteered to head north to Khe Sanh, which had been under continuous siege since January 1968. Some took his volunteering as a sure sign of mental impairment, but for anyone who truly knew Watkins, this is simply what he did. Although he was one of the few men in recon with a wife and family, he was not about to sit idly by when there was a job to be done.

When Watkins arrived for duty at Khe Sanh, it was still under enemy fire on a daily basis. Living conditions were spartan. The entire camp was scarred and pocked-marked from enemy ordnance. Dry red dust coated everything, including every intimate nook and cranny of the siege survivors. Showers were practically unknown, as was hot food or cold drinks. Troops ate nothing but C-rations and were allotted just one canteen of water per day.

Watkins found the SOG recon teams and larger Hatchet Force Company dug in along a perimeter that faced Highway 9. The Special Forces troops looked west toward Co Roc Mountain, home of the infamous “Co Roc Express.” Whenever there was any inviting activity in or around the Marine base, the NVA would immediately roll out its 152mm heavy guns and blast away. The SOG men quietly went about their work, training and running top secret missions, while the embattled Marines in the compound generated almost daily news coverage during the siege of Khe Sanh.

No one relaxed at Khe Sanh. Ever.

Khe Sanh was not a place of niceties, so Watkins was introduced without ceremony to his new team, RT Lion. It consisted of seven Montagnards from the Bru tribe and an American, Special Forces Sgt. George Godwin, who had just transferred in from a Special Forces A-Camp the previous month. Neither the Bru nor Godwin had ever run recon.

Moreover, the Bru, considered by many to be perhaps the most primitive of the many Montagnard tribes, were just four months out of the jungle and loincloths. As an enticement to support the Special Forces mission, these 14- to 18-year-olds had been given Zippo lighters before being issued M-16s.

There was, however, one very very big asset the Bru brought to the table and that was their fierce and absolute hatred of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). Driven off their ancestral lands along the coastal plains and pushed deep into the inhospitable highlands, they had been the prey of the Vietnamese and others for centuries. Now the NVA destroyed their villages, raped their women, and pressed their men into unwilling servitude. Early on, the Special Forces, recognizing their potential value as guides and soldiers, befriended many of the Montagnard tribes, living with them and training them. As a result, the Montagnards were as fiercely loyal to the Special Forces as they were hostile to the Vietnamese, both North and South. They may not have been able to chuck a hand grenade all that far, but you could trust them with your life.