In February 1969, it was determined that additional security was needed to cover the 26 mile perimeter and the hundreds of acres of brush and jungle located on Cam Ranh Air Force Base, Vietnam.
The potential for small Viet Cong sapper units being able to penetrate and damage the large ammunition and the fuel storage areas on the base resulted in the creation of a specially trained unit of volunteer security policemen to provide nighttime recon and ambush capabilities.
In the 2 am darkness, the seven man patrol carefully works its way along the narrow jungle trail listening for any sounds that would indicate the presence of the Viet Cong infiltrators suspected of landing on the deserted beach.
The patrol discovered the abandoned raft and footprints leading into the jungle earlier on their routine nightly reconnaissance of this area that over the past three months had become very familiar. The Air Force Security Policemen realize that this discovery will mean the area will be searched again the next morning by the entire 32 man recon team. The prospect of another 18-hour day in the heat and humidity of the jungle around Cam Ranh Air Base is no cause for celebration.
Wait a minute! Air Force Security Policemen? nighttime recon patrols?, jungles around an airbase in Vietnam? Everybody knows that the Air Force only flew airplanes and came back from missions to air-conditioned barracks and hot food in Vietnam, right? No, wrong!
Contrary to popular belief, the Air Force had a number of units that humped the same kinds of jungles, swamps and forests that our brothers in the Army and the Marines dealt with on their tours in Southeast Asia.
Following a devastating mortar attack on Ben Hoa Air Base in 1964, the Air Force determined that additional protection was needed for the increasing number of units being sent to Vietnam and air bases throughout the country. Protection of air bases outside their perimeter was the responsibility of the Army and Marines. However, the internal protection fell upon the shoulders of the base commander.
In February 1969, a unit of volunteer security policemen at Can Ranh began training for this special duty that was based on the Security Police “Operation Safeside” units from 1968. Training began in earnest and was provided by Army Ranger and Special Forces personnel from Na Trang.
Being a member of Cobra flight was not a REMF job. The flight consisted of four seven-man squads with two fire teams each. Each squad was equipped with an M-60 machine gun and M-79 grenade launcher in addition to M-16’s and 38’s.
The area outside the air base perimeter was divided into four patrol sectors. Each night from dusk to dawn, one squad was assigned to each of three varying areas with the forth manning a quick reaction team in a 2 1/2-ton truck and later a V-100 armored vehicle. This special remained as part of the base defense force throughout the rest of the war.
During the Vietnam War, members of the Air Force did much more than fly the planes and sleep in air-conditioned barracks. There were many airmen directly involved in the ground combat role just like the other “grunts” in country.
So the next time you meet an Air Force veteran of Vietnam, remember that there were Air Force grunts in the Nam too!