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In the early 1960s, the U.S. armed forces were developing units specifically designed to counter guerrilla warfare. The first unit in the USAF of this nature was the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron code named "Jungle Jim" that were later renamed the 1st Air Commando Wing (after the similarly named 1st Air Commando Group which served in the China Burma India Theater of World War II). The squadron specialized in tactics used to support friendly ground forces in small, 'brushfire' conflicts. In October 1961, John F. Kennedy authorized the deployment of a detachment of Air Commandos to South Vietnam. The 4400th CCTS headed from their home at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, to Southeast Asia. Their mission was to train the Vietnam Air Force using older aircraft in support of the type of conflict they were facing. Crews were trained to fly the T-28 Trojan, C-47 Skytrain and B-26 Invader. The code name for the 4400th CCTS and its mission was Farm Gate.
While the aircraft involved in the Farm Gate operation were often piloted by American "advisers," for training purposes, it was required by Washington that a South Vietnamese national be part of the crew on board any combat missions. In the event an aircraft did get shot down in hostile territory, the presence of an Asian crewman would be enough to dodge potential accusations of violating the Geneva Accords (actual interpretation of this regulation was somewhat liberal, however). There were some reports of hapless South Vietnamese enlisted men being thrown into the back seats of T-28s and flown into combat by American pilots after having been told not to touch anything in the cockpit. The gradual but dramatic expansion of Operation Farm Gate reflected the increasing involvement of the United States in Vietnam.
The first Farm Gate combat sorties were flown on 13 January 1962; by month's end, 229 missions had been flown. The Farm Gate sortie rate would ramp up from there. In January 1965, the 48 Farm Gate North American T-28 Trojans, in conjunction with 92 A-1 Skyraiders of the Vietnamese Air Force, flew 4,550 bombing sorties. Their effort only supplied half the air support requested.
After the escalation of the war as a result of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the Farm Gate detachment was no longer required to fly under South Vietnamese colors. Their aircraft began carrying full U.S. markings and the detachment became known as the 1st Air Commando Squadron (and later as the 1st Special Operations Squadron).
- Hit My Smoke! Forward Air Controllers in Southeast Asia. p. 12.
- Vietnam in Military Statistics: A History of the Indochina Wars, 1792-1991. pp. 43–44, 59.