War in a Maze
Vietnam, 1969

War in a MazeBecause of the shortage of NCOs during the Vietnam War, first-term "buck" sergeants, normally squad leaders, often found themselves in command of combat patrols. Many of these men were graduates of the Noncommissioned Officers Candidate Course. Known in the field as "shake and bakes," these instant NCOs quickly mastered the difficul-ties of warfighting in rugged terrain. Reliable radio communications gave them immediate access to firepower never before available to junior leaders. Here a patrol leader under attack calls his fire support center for assistance.

Modifications in basic weapons, clothing, and equipment came rapidly as the Army tried to solve the special problems encountered in hot and humid Vietnam. The improved tropical combat uniform in ripstop fab-ric became available, as did spike-resistant boots. The load of the infan-trymen also changed as the extra food and clothing carried on their web gear or in nylon rucksacks was replaced by plastic canteens of water and by munitions: fragmentation and smoke grenades, mines, trip flares, and extra magazines of 5.56-mm. ammunition. The increase in firepower of a squad revolved around the new, lighter-weight M16A1 rifle with 20-round magazine. Modified slings and bandoleers holding extra ammu-nition exploited its fully automatic potential.

The introduction of olive green underclothing and towels (used commonly as sweat rags) and subdued chevrons reduced the chances of giving away one's position to the enemy. Individuals sometimes dealt with the stress of their tours of duty by personalizing the uniform through the use of local Vietnamese jewelry and slogans written on the camouflage helmet cover.