F-ing New Guys

In Vietnam, with the 1st Cav Division, FNGs (F-ing New Guys) received light duty for several weeks. They were jumpy and anxious and could not be relied upon until fully acclimatized and field tested. We assigned an experienced soldier to be the FNG’s buddy and to work with him to get his equipment organized, overcome the jitters of being in combat, and teach him to the point where he could be trusted by the other men in his squad. As platoon leader, I was in constant need of replacements. My three squads should have been four. Each squad averaged eight men and should have been ten. After a month, if an FNG proved to be too nervous and too unreliable, we tried to find him a “straphanger” job in the rear (a relatively safe job). Without exception, we watched every FNG replacement carefully for 30 days. By then, they were wounded, dead, removed to the rear as liabilities, or became trusted members of the platoon.

In the field, we carried our weapons loaded but without a round in the chamber unless we were on patrol. We set our fire selector switches to safe except for the point man and cover man who carried their weapons set to full automatic. When we came into base camp to pull security, the first thing everyone did was to pull the magazines from our weapons and clear them of ammo. This was standard operating procedure (SOP) and a cardinal rule of being in base camp.

I had one FNG who failed to do this and was standing in line waiting to get a haircut. He had the tip of his M16 resting on his foot. Another experienced soldier noticed the magazine still in the weapon. He scolded the FNG, reached over, pulled the magazine out of the weapon, moved the selector switch to fire, and pulled the trigger. Unfortunately, this FNG had also failed to remove a live round from the chamber after his last patrol, and the bullet severed two of his toes. He was evacuated to Japan, and this ended his military experience.

Base Camp

Base camp meant light duty for everyone. You could get a haircut, eat hot chow, and take a cold shower each day. We all took advantage of these facilities. The men slept on top of the bunkers surrounding the perimeter and built poncho tents overhead to keep the sun off. A four-man bunker team pulled security each night and rotated on hour-long shifts. It was common to sleep until 10:00 – 11:00 AM the next day if you did not have to go out on patrol. Afternoons were spent reading paperbacks, writing letters, and receiving letters and care packages from the World, and playing marathon blackjack and poker games.