In 1958, 101st Airborne Division commander Major General William Westmoreland gave Korean War Medal of Honor recipient Major Lewis Millet an important assignment. His task? Establishing a condensed, but intense, patrolling and raiding school for the division. Westmoreland was concerned that his division’s paratroopers needed more intensive training in raiding and reconnaissance patrolling, but was aware that the U.S. Army Ranger School was unable to provide training on the scale he envisioned for an entire division.

General Westmoreland chose the name “Recondo” for his school. The “Recon” half of the new word was clear enough, but there is still some lingering debate over the “do” part. Most soldiers younger than General Westmoreland assumed the name was a combination of recon and commando, but some sources say that General Westmoreland’s original intention was that the “do” came from the WWI nickname for American soldiers, “doughboys.”

To a generation accustomed to Pillsbury TV commercials featuring the fat and giggly Pillsbury Doughboy, that was absolutely unacceptable. Whatever General Westmoreland originally intended, to everyone else, “Recondo” has always stood for “reconnaissance commando.” When he later became commandant of the U.S. Military Academy, General Westmoreland also instituted a less intense program of Recondo training at West Point. Later, in Vietnam, General Westmoreland played a major part in establishing the most famous Recondo school of them all—MACV Recondo School.

When conventional U.S. troop units began deploying to the Republic of Vietnam, the men of Project Delta (B-52) and its predecessor, Project Leaping Lena, had already honed their skills and gained experience in conducting reconnaissance and other special operations in Vietnam, as well as in training indigenous troops in these arts. It soon became evident that the conventional units would need a reconnaissance capability beyond their organic cav troops and infantry battalion recon platoons.

In September 1966, the 1st Brigade 101st Airborne Division sent 10 paratroopers through Delta’s training program, and soon other units were begging to send some of their soldiers through the course. By August 1966, things were getting out of hand. Delta’s CO went to Colonel Kelly, who at this time was reorganizing and expanding 5th SF Group’s intelligence operations, and in the process of organizing and bringing online Project Omega (B-50), Project Sigma (B-56), and a group recon school.

In the midst of all this, Project Delta was also training LRRPs for the conventional units. Colonel Kelly went to General Westmoreland (by then MACV’s commanding general), and on July 1st, 1966, Major A. J. Baker was given the job of forming and commanding the MACV Recondo School, based on Delta’s recon experience and the 101st’s Recondo School. From that beginning, the MACV Recondo School at Nha Trang was on its way.

But all that is history, and that history is well chronicled in Tom Halliwell’s “A History Of The MACV Recondo School,” still available in PDF. It is a wonderful work of history, full of information, photos, and detailed information about the training schedules, requirements, patrol procedures, historical facts, a list of Recondo instructors/advisors and cadre, and a similar list of Recondo graduates. Halliwell’s “History” is a priceless source for anyone interested in American special operations history. Halliwell’s history is a history, but this article is more of a grateful paean from an old Recondo School graduate.

MACV Recondo School at Nha Trang

Although it was based on Project Delta’s training and experience and the 101st Airborne’s Recondo School, and although it has heavily influenced many subsequent military training and selection and assessment programs, 5th SF Group’s three-week, three-phase MACV Recondo School at Nha Trang was like no other American military school. There almost certainly will never be another one like it. A man could get killed in Recondo School, and a man could find it necessary to kill another man—all as part of the curriculum. That’s a feature they don’t have at Harvard, Yale, or Stanford.