The first combat units arriving in Vietnam were largely unprepared for the type of war they were facing; not only for the tactics of their elusive enemy but also for many of the venues they would eventually fight in. This deficiency was often compounded by insufficient or inaccurate intelligence prior to their arrival, an extended chain of command that often intermixed the different service branches, physical isolation from other American units, and simple culture shock. In September 1965, these factors came together in a situation ultimately opening the door for widespread use of riot-control agents by the United States and its allies. Along with other battalions of the 3rd Marine Division, the 3rd Battalion of the 9th Marine Regiment was stationed in Okinawa as a rapid response force to the Korean peninsula should the ceasefire end. When its rotation ended in the summer of 1964, the battalion was transferred en masse back to California where its designation was changed to 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marine Regiment (abbreviated 2/7). This “transplacement” process was designed to ensure deploying combat units maintained a stable cohort of officers and men. When they arrived at Camp Las Pulgas, however, most of the personnel – including all the battalion staff, all the company commanders and nearly half of the enlisted marines – were either transferred to other duty stations or discharged from the Corps. Many of the replacements with orders to fill the vacated positions were recruits fresh out of boot camp reporting to their first duty station. Essentially a new battalion, 2/7 became one of nine infantry battalions making up the 1st Marine Division. After the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis, Washington was afraid Fidel Castro might order an attack on the naval base at Guantanamo Bay to drive the final vestiges of the United States out of his country, so one mission of the 1st

Division was to act as the reactionary force to any hostilities erupting in Cuba. On a rotational basis, one of the nine battalions was always on standby for immediate deployment to Cuba; they were prepared to be airborne within eight hours of an alert. A second battalion was on standby to follow the first no later than twenty-four hours later. If the situation warranted, four additional infantry battalions would board ships and sail to the island within seventy-two hours of the alert. While a battalion was in one of these three alert categories, all of its equipment was packed and ready for deployment; all assigned personnel were required to remain within a few miles of the base. Field training, or any other activity that might delay demarcation, was postponed until the battalion rotated out of alert status. Following its arrival at Camp Las Pulgas, 2/7 assumed its part in this rotational standby system. In September, after only a few months in the United States, 2/7 began training for redeployment back to Okinawa the next summer. This training was specific, focusing on the conditions and situations the marines expected to encounter should the war in Korea resume. They spent a great deal of time on cold weather operations, mountain warfare and even amphibious assaults. Due to the limited training budget, many of the field exercises were abbreviated and there was significant simulation. The marines also attended several classes on counterinsurgency and guerrilla warfare, since 2/7 could deploy from Okinawa to South Vietnam during an emergency. The primary focus of their training, however, was fighting a classical confrontation against a massed enemy force. By April, 2/7 completed its training cycle and the marines were waiting for orders to deploy back to Okinawa. However, on May 18, they received orders to deploy to Vietnam instead; departing San Diego Harbor for Vietnam a mere six days later. Concurrent with the change in mission orders was an unusual and unexpected change in command. Lieutenant Colonel J.K. McCreight, the officer who commanded the battalion through all the training at Camp Las Pulgas, was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Leon Utter, who had been the operations officer of the 7th Marine Regiment. A veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, he was personally selected to lead 2/7 by the commanders of both the 1st Marine Division and the 7th Marine Regiment. He assumed command of the battalion as the ship left San Diego Harbor and put out to sea. Utter spent the next forty-five days at sea getting to know his officers, inspecting his men and their equipment, and preparing for the battalion’s arrival in Vietnam. Since their pre-deployment training focused almost exclusively on the conditions and enemy they expected to face in Korea, the marines scrambled to compile everything they could about guerrilla warfare and the Viet Cong while sailing to Vietnam. They pored over training manuals and reviewed tactics used fighting the Japanese during the island hopping campaigns of World War II. Unfortunately, much of the information they found on guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency was outdated or did not apply to the conditions in Vietnam;

and most of what they knew about the Viet Cong was from watching TV back in the United States, reflecting both the cultural and martial bias against developing countries presented there.1