Mike Force: Hit Fast, Hit Hard

Vietnam was no simple peasant uprising against a corrupt government. Disorganized peasants don’t usually fare well attacking an established power structure like a strong government. Communist China had given the Viet Minh (“League for the Independence of Vietnam”) enough firepower and strategic instruction to overrun the French forces at Dien Bien Phu Valley in 1953. France signed the Geneva Accords and left the field of battle.

This should have been a warning that the Communist Vietnamese would be very tough adversaries. But, to “fight Communism over there”, President Harry Truman sent “advisors” and a mere $10 million dollars to help our ally France fight the Viet Minh. Before the French were disastrously defeated at Dien Bien Phu Valley in 1953 the US was giving military aid to Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The next US President, Dwight Eisenhower promised the South Vietnamese Prime Minister, Ngo Dinh Diem, US support to prevent South Vietnam from becoming Communist. And we know the rest of the story.

Vietnam was “a different kind of war”, and the price to learn how to fight it was paid in blood. This is a brief history of one of the lessons learned: fast response to a powerful, sophisticated, determined enemy on his own difficult terrain. The story of “Mike Force”, a US Special Forces operation that started with training Vietnamese ethnic minorities in Civilian Irregular Defense Groups” (CIDG) to fight Communists. It was a necessary move to avoid losing every minority in the country to Communist influence, because the ethnic South Vietnamese had an attitude problem toward ethnic minorities in Vietnam. This resulted in a propaganda opportunity for Communists.

In 1965, Special Forces soldiers were assigned to the CIDG camps and began giving them training and leadership. “By 1965, there were 80 CIDG camps manned by Special Forces elements.” Unfortunately, the first several battles over about a six-month period resulted in CIDG camps being overrun and the soldiers (including US Special Forces soldiers) being killed. Wiped out.

The Viet Cong they were fighting were well-equipped, well led, well trained, and tough. They attacked with overwhelming force, sending as many as a thousand soldiers against one-third that many CIDG soldiers. And they attacked with such speed that the slow US support process of the time didn’t get there until only the dead remained, and maybe a very few survivors.

This was completely unacceptable. “The mobile strike and reaction forces that subsequently evolved became an integral element of Special Forces operations throughout Vietnam until late 1972.”

During the last of those disastrous defeats, “A very frustrated CPT Joseph Stringham could only listen to the radio traffic during the battle.” Like a true warrior, he couldn’t just sit there. He went to to his superior officer, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Miguel de la Peña (“Colonel Mike”) and offered the use of his battered but willing company. Colonel Mike told him to go back to his tent, sit down, and be quiet. Hmmm. I wonder just how loud Captain Stringham was when he offered his company’s services. If it’s any indication, Stringham retired as a Brigadier General ….

“Within an hour, Stringham was recalled to the C Team and given a new mission: Form a reaction force.”

CPT Joseph Stringham, CDR DET 301 and originator of Mike Force, Ben Cat, Viet Nam, 1965
Photo Contributor; Joseph Stringham

:E :E :E Love it.

Colonel Mike was serious. “A-302 was given less than two weeks to train the new unit. [Called a “reaction force battalion”.] Filling the ranks with new recruits, issuing equipment, and training had to be accomplished by 22 June 1965.” The first Mike Force consisted of three 150-man companies.

The unit was named “Mike Force”, from LTC Miguel de la Peña’s first name. It was composed of the remnants of Stringham’s unit (survivors of one of the disastrous early CIDG battles) and Chinese Nungs, whose opposition to Communism had gotten them kicked out of China. No Vietnamese were included, because there had been a problem with VC infiltration of the CIDG units.

The members of this new unit were given a quick medical once-over, issued M2 carbines which fit their small stature best, issued proven “general purpose machine guns, and paid almost five times the usual CIDG pay.

On July 19, 1965, the first Mike Force got its first assignment: evacuate a Special Forces team and CIDG soldiers under heavy attack by two VC battalions at Bu Ghia Map.

In the past, “under heavy attack” would have meant “no survivors”. Mike Force got there in time to rescue a few, but a funny thing happened. They inserted at night while the camp was still under attack. Captain Stringham removed the CIDG soldiers from the camp walls and put his own men there.

The VC switched their main attack to another camp. :E :E :E Sometimes traitors in the unit can serve a useful purpose. (That is pure speculation on my part. Nothing I read indicated a deliberate leak by anyone.)

The few survivors of the Bu Ghia Map CIDG team were flown out the next morning. Then Mike Force turned its attention to the camp the VC had switched to when Mike Force inserted at Bu Ghia Map. Removing the survivors at this camp from defensive positions, Mike Force withstood an attack that night. The VC had run their heads up against an immovable object.

It was a good thing the suspect survivors had been removed from the walls, because the next morning it was discovered that the claymore mines on the walls had been turned to face the defenders. Interrogation of the survivors began. “Not surprisingly, there was a mass exodus [of CIDG soldiers] from Bu Dop.”

If it works, do it again. The parent “C” teams in the other areas got the word, and their Mike Force teams began to create significant havoc among the VC and NVA.

“Never quit. Never stop learning.” Thank God for intelligent, determined warriors like Lieutenant Colonel Miguel de la Peña and Captain Joseph Stringham and the savvy, determined Special Forces warriors who made up the advisor teams. America has always had an abundance of patriots who were soldiers. If we hadn’t, we would have been history long ago. Thank you, American warriors!

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God bless all our Troops, and keep them safe Lord.
I hope everyone has a safe and blessed RED Friday.

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