404th Radio Research Detachment (Airborne)

173d Airborne Brigade (Separate)

The 404th RRD (Abn) outreaches its support?

    Based on personal testimony, when the 404th was activated 3 May 1965 at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, equipment provided was the dregs from units in the 101st Airborne Division. The 404th Radio Research Detachment (Airborne) was deployed to Vietnam during the summer of 1965 as Detachment 1, 3rd Radio Research Unit and attached for direct support to the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate). The detachment was initially assigned to the 313th Radio Research Battalion in 1966, then assigned to the 303rd Radio Research Battalion in July 1967, and then back to the 313th in February 1968. You will find all ASA units serving in Vietnam listed in Shelby Stantonís authoritative Vietnam, Order of Battle. But, you wonít find the 404th or other 400 series Radio Research Detachments listed there. You will find the 404th illustrated as the 404th Radio Research Unit [sic] as an attached unit in the 173rd Airborne Brigadeís Organizational charts. Operations and most other reports from May 1965 to June 1967 cannot be located by the Department of the Army. Because the 404th RRD (Abn) was initially (June 1965) attached to the 173rd Brigadeís 172nd Military Intelligence Detachment (only the Army knows why they called it the 172nd instead of the 173rd MI Detachment) and subsequently to Headquarters Company, suggests that senior officers didnít know what to do with the first Radio Research detachment upon its arrival in Vietnam.

    Prior to June 1967, the detachment was operating from a stable base area in the Bien Hoa military complex near Saigon in the III Tactical Zone (III CTZ) and supporting 173rd Airborne Brigade operations in the surrounding countryside. Shortly after June the 173rd Airborne Brigade was deployed about 300 miles by road, supposedly on a temporary contingency operation, to the Central Highlands Region of Vietnam. This area is the II Corps Tactical Zone (II CTZ). The temporary contingency operation became a prolonged four year deployment.

    To do this, the brigade split its rear base area into two elements. The heavier and more permanent equipment remained at the Bien Hoa garrison waiting for the expected soon return of the brigade. Meanwhile, the brigadeís combat support elements moved 200 air miles north to An Khe. Similarly, the 404th RRD (Abn) maintained its orderly room, motor pool, and maintenance at the Bien Hoa garrison while also moving its operational sections to support the brigade. This is where the C4 problem started. When the deployment increased from weeks to months, the detachment found its operational sections over extended and moved its support and maintenance sections also north to An Khe. The exception was a lot of deadlined equipment left at Bien Hoa with two enlisted men to obtain direct and general support maintenance from the 303rd RR Battalion, also located in Bien Hoa. The 303rd was then the detachmentís parent unit to which it was assigned. The lines of communication were too long, support was not working.

    In an attempt to solve the long distance challenges of supporting a subordinate unit deployed to another tactical zone hundreds of miles away during war, the 303rd RR Battalion Commander recommended the temporary attachment of the 404th RRD (Abn) to the 313th RR Battalion located at Nha Trang. The 313th supported divisions and brigades operating in the II CTZ. The 509th RRG concurred. Unfortunately, the result was seriously flawed. Now we had a unit attached to two commands, the 313th and the 173rd Airborne Brigade with direct support to the latter and all personnel, medical, and property records retained at the 303rd anticipating the return of the 404th.

    The Army Security Agency created an illogical and peculiar attachment. In fact, at that time no one knew who supported the 404th or how. At the minimum, the 404th should have been assigned to the 313th lock, stock, and barrel. Best, the 404th should have been assigned in 1965 to the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Technical control, or tasking if you prefer, could have been retained by ASA. Done that way the 173rd with whom the detachment worked every day for seven years would be responsible to totally support the 404th. It could have been that simple. In June, 1968, a year later, the attachment orders were amended to reflect attachment and direct support [sic] to the 173rd Airborne Brigade and attachment to the 313th for operational control [sic], organizational administration, and logistics *15  The flummoxed attachment was precipitated by the Army Security Agencyís effort to operate in Vietnam just as it did during peacetime garrison operations in the Cold War.

    To substantiate this point it is recalled that not a single visit was paid to the 404th by a field grade officer (major or higher) for a period of five months. Though both Radio Research battalions including all subordinate units were subsequently awarded the Meritorious Unit Citation, neither battalion initially included the 404th Radio Research Detachment (Abn). (A mistake later corrected.) It is clear that the conditions of attachment and even the publication and distribution of the orders of attachment by the 509th Radio Research Group were so vague that nothing was clear or understood among the several commands involved until six months later.

    Essentially, the 404th operated as an orphan without a parent unit in Vietnam for about six months. A really strong unit may have coped with these circumstances if it were supporting a well organized command. The 404th was not a strong unit with respect to experienced personnel, maintenance experience, or reliable equipment. The supported unit, the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate), was run ragged and in as poor a condition as the 404th. The 173rd gave the 404th everything that it gave its own units.


15 - Note: after the1975 reorganization of Army intelligence, all tactical military intelligence units including former ASA units were assigned to their supported combat commands.

Site operated by · Barry A Kintner · Sp-5/O5H · in country May 1967 to Fri., Feb 13th, 1970 · A2Z Computer Works, Phoenix, Arizona