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.
82nd Airborne Division
The 82nd Airborne Division was the only division in the Vietnam era that was made up completely of airborne qualified troops. 50,000 paratroopers form three airborne infantry brigades and a variety of other components of support. The Recondo School is located approximately 20 miles from the outer drop zones on the Fort Bragg military reservation in North Carolina. Five classes a year train about 50 students each in a grueling three week class. For the first two weeks, class begins at 4:00 A.M. with a five-mile run, physical training, breakfast and classes. In the final week, the day begins with a helicopter jump, with assessment of patrolling practically nonstop until students arrive back at the school. Graduates tend to lose 30 pounds or more of weight during that time.
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 Millett command the school.
The course stressed improvised demolitions, the art of patrolling and intelligence gathering, recognition of enemy vehicles, woodlands survival (including a segment on snake handling), land navigation, rappelling, firearms skills of allied and enemy weapons, 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, antitank, and sabotage missions, escape, and evasion techniques. 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 worn 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 right 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 (1965-1970)
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 was three weeks in length with 260 hours of classroom and field instruction that required a high level of physical fitness, knowledge of patrolling techniques, first aid, land navigation, radio procedures, and weapons familiarity, and concluded with an actual combat patrol to demonstrate the students' skills. The first week was conducted on the school compound and consisted mostly of outdoor physical training and in-door classroom training. The second week was spent outside the compound on Hon Tre Island in the South China Sea practicing subjects, such as foreign weapons familiarity, tower and helicopter rappelling, ambush and escape-and-evasion techniques, and other field activities. The third week was spent in preparing and conducting an actual instructor-led combat patrol in the mountainous jungle between the massive naval air bases at Nha Trang and Cam Ranh Bay where the enemy often took position to mortar each base. During this patrol each team member switched positions to learn all responsibilities and were graded by the instructor. Graduates of this school received the MACV Recondo patch and identification number.
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 MACV Recondo course had a failure rate of 50 percent. Recondo School was disbanded once General Westmoreland was replaced by General Creighton Abrams in 1968, who favored a more conventional approach to the war. However, Recondo School succeeded in graduating over 2,700 American and 333 allied troops who shared their knowledge with their respective LRRP / Ranger units, ensuring every LRRP unit in Vietnam spoke a common language of long-range patrolling.
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 1975 to 1978 which was 21 days long and included 272 hours of intense training. Originally the Recondo School was reserved for soldiers from the 1st Brigade of the 9th Infantry Division which also known as the Recondo Brigade. However, according to MG Volney F. Warner, the 2nd and 3rd Brigade commanders were constantly complaining because their NCO's would reenlist for the 1st Brigade and not for their present unit. MG Warner finally relented and made the Recondo School open to all soldiers on Fort Lewis. 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 2d Battalion (Ranger), 75th Infantry, a separate unit also located at Fort Lewis. The program of instruction included intense training in patrolling, ambushes, small unit tactics, first aid, 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. Intense physical training was provided with log drills running up and down a very steep hill leading down to the Puget Sound, long distance formation runs averaging 7 minute miles with full equipment and rifles and intense periods of physical exercises. Riverine and boat insertion tactics were taught and raft drills were conducted in the Puget Sound even in the middle of winter pushing the students to their absolute breaking point. The final survival phase consisted of the killing of rabbits and chickens and a small steer to psychologically prepare the students to survive under the most austere of conditions. 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 90 percent attrition rate with about 40% of the losses among those who initially attempted the arduous physical fitness and water survival pre-tests and another 50% loss among those who actually began the course. 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 worn on the right pocket of the fatigue shirt or left pocket of the dress green uniform.
- 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
- Chambers, Larry, Recondo: LRRPs in the 101st Airborne, Ivy Books, New York, 1992.
- "Feature - RECONDO". Vietnamgear.com. January 29, 2007. 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.
1. Warner, Volney F. GEN (Retired), Interview October 2016.