General Hieu Hand-Picked His Company Commander
405th Scout Rangers Unit

For almost a month, the unit was entirely confined in its base camp. Not because the critical military situation required it, but because of the death of its commander, lieutenant Au Hoang Minh. He had been shot by a lieutenant belonging to the Special Forces right on the dancing floor of Moonlight saloon in Qui Nhon. His death had stunned the entire unit. First Lieutenant Duc, nicknamed Stiff Mustache Duc, the Company's acting Executive Officer, had sworn to revenge. The battle, instead of being waged at the forefront, now was occurring at the rear end. American and Vietnamese Military Police units patrolled incessantly. Both the Special Forces units and the Scout Rangers units were quarantined. The military authorities had forbidden soldiers of both units to enter the city. Lieutenant Minh was renowned for being a formidable warrior of the 22nd Infantry Division. He originated from Airborne.

Lieutenant Minh's death had caused the whole town agog. People talked about the cavalier, arrogant, and belligerent attitudes of a few combat units' commanders. Each time they came into town, they towed along bodyguards armed to the teeth. When they entered into saloons, ballrooms, everybody stayed away with fear. Then this group of soldiers sized up that group of soldiers, then came shooting and brawling, just like in far western movies.

The death of the commander of the 405th Scout Rangers unit had caused concerns to the 22nd Division Commanding General, Brigadier General Nguyen Van Hieu, who had to deal with the task of selecting a new commander for the unit. As commander of a Division, commanding three regiments, and the entire areas covering the districts of Binh Dinh, Phu Yen, Phu Bon, Pleiku, Kontum, he shouldn't have to bother with such a small unit. But then he did put his heart into this matter.

The reputation of Scout Rangers had become notorious since the day the Joint General Staff created six self-contained Scout Rangers units to meet the particular conditions of mountainous battlegrounds. Initially, the majority of these units were made of central Montagnard and northern Montagnard (Nung) tribes' fighters, and then they were reinforced with additional so-called "delta dwellers" Vietnamese soldiers. They were of a particular breed; they performed recon missions and executed commando raids. They wore soft hats in lieu of helmets, armed with light weapons. He was proud of their courageous combat spirit as attested by many lightning foray attacks into enemy sanctuaries of Tam Bien, destroying rear service areas, or by many rescue missions of besieged friends' units. Their main task was the role of a reserve unit and to protect the Division's headquarters. During the period he was assuming the command post, they did not allow any enemy mortars to land down within the Division's headquarters areas.

He understood they were frustrated by the death of their commander, and as a consequence, discipline had diminished. He did not want the company to engage in the same path a second time. How could he select an individual with excellent leadership skills capable of leading a unit still shimmering with hates and revenge? How could he find an officer capable of loving his men, and not tainted by arrogance and bellicosity?

One morning, he suddenly noticed a young lieutenant wearing an airborne badge on his chest. He was an air liaison officer of the Divisional Operational Center. He saw in him a poised individual with good strategical knowledge and ample tactical experience, and with a good command of a foreign language, capable of performing a military briefing in English with fluency. This latter trait caused him to be prouder while sitting next to the American advisor. That day he discreetly ordered the General Personnel bureau to give him the file of this air liaison officer. The General Personnel bureau let him know that he graduated the 18th Class of the Dalat Military Academy, and was evicted from the Airborne unit. His name was lieutenant Nguyen Dinh Tra under whose command I had the privilege to serve for almost four years and a half until the day he became captain, then afterward was assigned the command of a battalion.

Tran Hoai Thu
October 1999