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Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

"The West Coast's Premier Expeditionary Training Base"

Vietnam-era urban warriors spy new landscape

By Lance Cpl. Derrick A. Small | | November 8, 2002

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Jungle warriors during the Vietnam War who suddenly found themselves having to fight in the city shared their experiences with local Marines last week and caught a glimpse of new technology that might have made their fight easier during the notorious battle of Hue City.

The Vietnam vets, former members of 5th Marine Regiment, visited Oct. 31 at the invitation of Marine Corps Tactical System Support Activity.

Col. Michael C. Albano, commanding officer at MCTSSA, holds quarterly Professional Military Education sessions focused around historical battles. Veterans usually participate because few combat veterans remain on active-duty to share the knowledge, said Capt. Heidi J. McKenna, deputy chief of information at MCTSSA.

"It's a great opportunity for Marines from our generation to learn more about Vietnam," said McKenna. Likewise, retired Marines get a chance to see some modern warfighting technology, she added.

"This is also an opportunity for some of our Hue City veterans to talk about urban warfare since they fought in an urban environment so long ago, and now we've refined our techniques," McKenna added. "Because the (Marine Corps) War Fighting Lab has all this new technology, it was a good reason to bring them out and expose the older generation to what we're actually using, testing and developing.

The former Marines began their day with a presentation about prototype equipment being developed for the Marine Corps. Veterans viewed slides on weapon projects and reconnaissance programs such as Dragon Fire, a 120mm mortar also capable of firing 120mm smoothbore ammunition, and Dragon Warrior, a fully autonomous, 230-pound unmanned aerial vehicle designed for reconnaissance, surveillance, precision targeting, battle damage assessment and communication relay. The Dragon Warrior can take off and land vertically.

Veterans also got hands-on with the Dragon Runner, a small, four-wheeled, rear-wheel-drive mobile ground sensor. And, the Marines watched a demonstration on the Dragon Eye, a 5-pound, backpackable, modular unmanned aerial vehicle. TheĀ  reconnaissance/surveillance aircraft helps Marine small-unit commanders see over the next hill or building.

Such capability might have helped the Fighting 5th at Hue City, where Marines were unfamiliar with a landscape that found them under fire from second- and third-story buildings above and from sewer corridors below.

"This (the Dragon Eye) is pretty impressive. Though it's a complex device, they have gotten it to a point where the training requirements are not so steep," said Nicholas Warr, who was a first lieutenant during the battle of Hue City.

"I think kids have to be a lot more educated than what they were when we were in," said John Mullan, a platoon commander during the Vietnam War.

The new technology may help warfighters avoid friendly fire casualties by making it easier to pinpoint the enemy while providing visuals of where troops are located, Warr said.

Veterans ended their day by conducting a PME with Marines at the Base Training Center and sharing their recollections of house-to-house fighting and other experiences at Hue City.

The infantry was left alone to fight the battle in its early stages because U.S. rules of engagement forbade artillery bombardment and close-air support of the city, South Vietnam's cultural and educational capital. The rules later were lifted, enabling the U.S. Marines to wrest the city from the Viet Cong. The city's most prized edifice, the citadel, marked one of the last strongholds of North Vietnamese resistance.
Fifth and 1st Marines led the liberation campaign, though outmanned fourfold by North Vietnamese forces.
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