Recondo is an American military term for RECONnaissance and commanDO for highly specialized infantry training or a graduate of a Recondo School who led small, heavily armed long-range reconnaissance teams that patrol deep in enemy-held territory.
101st Airborne Division
In late 1958 Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division, Major General William Westmoreland, noticed a lack of proficiency in squad, fire team and patrol leaders during the exercise WHITE CLOUD. General Westmoreland was a veteran of the Normandy invasion and knew the importance of small unit leaders and individuals separated from their parent companies to take initiative against superior enemy forces.
The United States Army sent many of their officers and senior non-commissioned officers to the eight-week Ranger School. However, since not every unit leader could be sent to the course, Ranger School graduates were expected to train their platoon or squad members in Ranger tactics. Thus, when it was suggested to General Westmoreland that some of the 101st Airborne's Ranger trained personnel start a school for the entire division in Ranger tactics, Westmoreland recommended that Major Lewis L. Millett command the school.
The course stressed improvised demolitions, patrolling, woodlands survival (including a segment on snake handling), land navigation, and aggressive hand-to-hand combat drills. These skills were formerly part of the Airborne curriculum during World War II. They were dropped in favor of producing qualified paratroopers; it was seen as more effective to provide the extra training through other courses rather than fail candidates who had passed the main airborne portion.
The exercises involved an airborne insertion followed by patrolling, ambush, anti-tank and sabotage missions. Leadership duties would rotate between fire-team and squad members to test and demonstrate the troopers' abilities. The module ended with the platoon being captured by the enemy, taken to a simulated POW camp and resisting interrogation. Troopers who received poor evaluations were transferred out of the division.
Since the school would specialize in small unit reconnaissance tactics the Recondo insignia was designed to resemble a downward-pointing arrowhead to signify assault from the sky and the hunting and tracking skills of an American Indian. It was also white and black to signify day and night operations, though when wore in combat it was black and olive-drab. To distinguish soldiers trained in the States from those later trained in Vietnam, a large ‘V’ was added beneath the word ‘Recondo’ printed on top. The Recondo patch was worn on each graduate's breast pocket. To avoid confusion, the graduate of the school would be considered a "Recondo" rather than "Ranger" trained; the latter being a graduate of the Army Ranger School.
West Point (1960-1963)
In 1960, General Westmoreland became Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point where he created a Recondo school for the cadets. The Recondo course was later changed to a challenge that individual cadets could undertake and it still exists today.
Vietnam War (1966-1970)
When General Westmoreland became commander of the American forces in Vietnam he ordered the creation of the MACV Recondo School at Nha Trang in 1966 to replace Project LEAPING LENA, later Project DELTA. It consisted of Ranger-trained 5th Special Forces Group instructors who trained American soldiers as well as members of other allied forces in the art of long-range reconnaissance patrolling techniques. Most students had attended a preparatory course at the divisional or separate brigade level before attending. Usually the course concerned endurance training and swimming lessons so the candidates could pass the physical requirements. It also winnowed out most of the candidates who did not have the physical, mental, and / or intellectual capabilities to complete the more advanced training. Units with good preparatory courses and candidate screening had higher rates of success than those who did not. The course required a high level of physical fitness, knowledge of patrolling techniques, land navigation and weapons familiarity, and concluded with an actual combat patrol to demonstrate the students' skills.
Graduating students were given questionnaires to evaluate the program so that it could be improved. Later on the graduates were asked which skills and tactics were most useful and which were least utilized so the curriculum would reflect the needs of the teams. The three-week course averaged a failure rate of 50 percent. Recondo School was disbanded once General Westmoreland was replaced by General Creighton Abrams in 1970, who favored a more conventional approach to the war. However, Recondo School succeeded in graduating over 3,000 American and 333 allied troops.
Post Vietnam (1973-1979)
Several Infantry Divisions re-instituted Recondo Schools in the post Vietnam era to better train more small unit combat arms leaders. The 9th Infantry Division ran a Recondo School from 1976 to 1979 which was 15 days long and included 272 hours of intense training. The training camp was located in a series of old railway cars which doubled as barracks for the students in a remote field location. The cadre were mainly composed of former senior members of the 2nd Ranger Battalion. The program of instruction included intense training in patrolling, ambushes, small unit tactics, rappelling, night navigation, riverine operations and survival. Constant mental pressure was applied to each student at all times including 'salting' the railway cars with CS riot control crystal which were a continual skin irritant to the students. Extremely intense physical training was provided with log drills, long distance formation runs and intense periods of physical exercises. The 9th Division Recondo School was unique in that it was open to both men and women assigned to the post. However, there were no female graduates during the course's period of operations and the course averaged about a 50% attrition rate with most graduates ending up with a 20 pound weight loss. The final exercise normally included a platoon sized night raid on the old Fort Lewis Vietnam Village. Graduates were awarded an arrowhead shaped badge with the arched letters RECONDO on the top which was warn on the right pocket of the fatigue shirt.
- Ankony, Robert C., Lurps: A Ranger's Diary of Tet, Khe Sanh, A Shau, and Quang Tri, revised ed., Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Lanham, MD (2009) 
- Westmoreland, William C. A Soldier Reports 1976 Doubleday
- Westmoreland, William C. A Soldier Reports 1976 Doubleday
- "Feature - RECONDO". Vietnamgear.com. Retrieved 2013-02-15.
- "MACV Recondo School". Escort68.tripod.com. Retrieved 2013-02-15.
- Gebhardt, James F. Eyes Behind the Lines 2005 Dianne Publishing, pp.66-67.