What kind of jobs did special forces do in the Vietnam war? (for video game)

I’m not sure if this is the right board, so Mods, feel free to move this if it’s more of a Game Room or IMHO topic.

My friends and I have recently been playing and highly enjoying Arma 2, which is a tactical first (and occasionally third) person shooter. It focuses on halfway-realistic behavior and dynamics, which means that instead of one-man army “rambo”-style killathons, you die if you get shot once or twice, can carry a shockingly small amount of supplies, and generally play as a small part of a larger team. Game sizes range from a single soldier to hundreds of infantry with ships, planes, choppers, and various ground vehicles and static structures in support.

Now this game is reasonably easy to modify, and some friends have asked me to build a vaguely Vietnam-themed campaign for us to play in. The setting would ideally involve 10-17 people, and since they requested some kind of special/unconventional forces theme, I was wondering in general, what sorts of missions or tasks did the unconventional forces that the US deployed during Vietnam do?

Thus far most of the missions I have built are focused around scouting and making maps of strategically significant areas (including hydrographic surveys), covert demolitions (come in on a boat, run X km through the jungle, blow something up, get back out and extract safely), assassinating or kidnapping key enemy personnel, rescuing and/or extracting high-value POWs and key civilians, hunting for guerrillas, capturing key or useful assets like airports and radio towers, and operating in conjunction with south vietnamese commandos and other US forces in support of certain conventional operations.

So am I generally hitting on the areas that special forces would have been used in? Or am I completely confused? I know I’m not going to get it 100% right, but it would be nice for our campaign to at least have some half-assed accuracy going into it. :slight_smile:

That sounds close enough for a video game, except maybe capturing the airport. I’m not sure if there were any airstrips in South Vietnam or whether anyone ever took them.

Here is just an “extra” knowledge dump that may contain things that may make for an interesting scenario. There may be some keywords worth googling to find out more about, or maybe not.

The Green Berets usually worked training locals, and I mean Montagnard or civilian irregulars, not South Vietnamese troops, and took them out on various missions. While an “A-Team” was made up of around a dozen Green Berets, it may be working an area with several villages and patrols were often made up of only 2-3 Green Berets and 5-6 locals, but they could mix their teams for larger missions.

I doubt you could work the Montagnards into a video game, but it would be cool if you could. These locals were natural jungle fighters who grew up in the mountains and could often track people like a bloodhound. Imagine that Native American guy named Billy in Predator, exept better.

The Vietnamese had driven the Montagnard into the mountains a thousand years before and they still had a beef over it and there was nothing they liked more than killing Vietnamese. I’ve read about some that couldn’t stop giggling through firefights because they liked it so much.

Not only were they great fighters, but these were some of the most dedicated and loyal men in the country. From one book I read, by a Green Beret CMOH receipient named Miller, he was settling the team down for the night and mentioned “an orange soda would be good right now.” The next morning, he saw one of the Montagnards walk through the treeline, past the rest of the team and up to him, then he reached in his backpack, pulled out an orange soda and handed it to him. The guy had spent all night walking like 10 miles through enemy territory at night, back to the US base, sneaked through the perimeter and back to give the guy his soda. Then 10 minutes later it was time to go on patrol for the rest of the day and he never missed a beat.

If I had a team of those guys in a video game, I’d win it in record time.

The Green Berets did a lot of work in Laos and Cambodia as part of MACV-SOG. This group could also include SEALs, but the Army seems to have been the primary supplier of people for that. A “boring” mission might be to recon the Ho Chi Mihn Trail, call in an airstrike when a convoy passed then try to get back to safety when enemy forces came looking for them. If they were lucky, maybe they’d pick up a prisoner. A hairier mission might be “Scramble! A pilot went down in Laos in this area. Go look for him.” Usually being shot down meant the enemy was near and these guys may be dropped in the middle of the enemy without maps or any kind of support. I’ve read of this happening and the weather kept them from getting out for days.

The SEALs mostly hung around waterways in the Mekong Delta or the Rung Sat Special Zone doing recon and springing ambushes, and training ARVN commandos. They were extremely effective, but they were new and that seems to have been their normal day-to-day job.

Assassinating and kidnapping would be most common under Operation Phoenix, which SEALs were pretty active in. Again, this could include Green Berets, but SEALs were more common. The SEALs were also pretty active during the Tet offensive and even got into some door to door urban fighting.

Then a step down, you have your Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol, or LRRPs (Lurps) doing things that seemed even hairier at times. The were special units who were part of larger units, like the 101st Airborne. They operated in 6 man teams and were used to look for the enemy before sending in the rest of the troops. They would be dropped off to recon an area and try to stay hidden if they found the enemy. This didn’t happen a lot of times and they could easily find themselves in the middle of a couple thousand Vietnamese wondering how they were ever going to make it out. I’ve read of one where they were dropped in the middle of thousands of enemy that were amassing for a base assault, and another where a mine shredded the team and alerted the enemy to their presence. 6 guys who were severely wounded still managed to fight off hundreds of enemy.

So, that may not be any specific help, but you can probably google MACV-SOG, the Rung Sat Special Zone or LRRPs and find out details of some specifics missions that took place tht might be worth working into a game scenario.

Wow, thanks for the great answer Fubaya! That helps immensely, and is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for. :slight_smile:

If you (or anyone else) don’t mind, I do have a few follow-up questions:

Now that I know about them, I agree that the Montagnard sound like a massively cool thing to include. I think this would be reasonably easy to do, but I have a few questions when it comes to translating them into the game:

  1. Approximately how well-equipped and organized did they tend to be? Are we talking about a group that received systematic and increasingly advanced training to work alongside infantry and special units as equals, or more like a group of militia with an extremely high-level but narrower set of skills who acted like specialists in a more generalized infantry/specops outfit?

  2. What kind of roles do you imagine they would most frequently occupy in a patrol or team? I can certainly make them effective guides, and probably figure out a way to let them track enemies, but I’m trying to conceptualize how to best fit them in as part of a balanced team- would it be normal for them to occupy some standard infantry/fireteam roles (grenadiers, corpsmen, machine gunners/HW guys, AT/AA guys), or should I be thinking more along the lines of scouts/riflemen with some specialized equipment and skills that the regular army/navy/marines don’t have?

  3. I think you’re probably right about the airports, but do you know what sorts of locations, if any, would have been worth using specops guys to occupy/destroy?

And finally I love your idea about the LRRPs and the Ho Chi Mihn Trail. I don’t think I have to worry about my players finding it “boring,” however. One of the first maps I made when we started playing was intended to demonstrate that Arma 2 doesn’t play like a standard FPS, and it was a series of objectives that were broken in the middle by a “short” patrol mission that was ostensibly to give the players something useful to do while their superiors digested the info they brought back from the first mission.

Long story short, they were scripted to run afoul of booby traps that crippled their humvee and killed the only guy with a radio, and a short hop from point A to B turned into a five hour-long session of sneaking terrified through the jungle that ended with two-thirds of the player-controlled characters and most of their AI comrades dead, and has made my friends so massively paranoid about my maps that “routine” patrols have now become some of the scariest things we do. :slight_smile:

This is a good book to check out (strikingly expensive new, strikingly cheap used). Impressive story about Roy Benavidez, a “LRRP,” IIRC, who has an impressive story.


They really were the team and had standard infantry/fireteam roles. I remembered the CMOH winner’s name, Franklin D. Miller, and his team consisted of 3 Americans and 4 Montagnards (or 'Yards, as they were called, and I can actually spell it so I’ll use that).

I don’t know that they had any formal training. I think the Green Berets would be stationed at a firebase near their village and they would recruit them and train them themselves. I think they taught them weapons and everything about fighting on the ground in the jungle as a team, but probably didn’t do anything specialized. They used the same weapons, but it was probably limited to normal small arms like guns, grenades, mines, booby traps, LAWs, mortars etc. They were just extremely good at sneaking around and using those weapons.

A lot of them didn’t even speak English and one would work as a translator/leader of the Vietnamese half of the team, but I’m sure they understood hand signals and knew enough about working together that they didn’t need to talk much. Reading about a team filled with 'Yards reads the same as an American team except the names aren’t Tom Dick an Harry. It usually reads like “We received fire from the treeline and while Johnson was on the radio, I motioned for Nang to move the machine gun up and cover the team. Tre joined him with the grenade launcher. I looked for Kai and Dok and saw them moving to the left to cover the flank.” (those names are completely made up and may not sound anything like 'Yard names)

They just knew what to do by training and working together, or understood through hand signals or the interpreter if needed. For a game, I think you could treat them as equal to Americans except they wouldn’t use the radio, they’d just be shooters.

I’m just going from things I’ve read about and I’m sure there were targets I’ve never heard of, but some would include weapons caches (could be destroyed or booby trapped and left) and I’ve read about them looking for and finding a radio antenna, downed pilots, anything that had intelligence value like the HQ element of an enemy force, tax collectors, I seem to remember a story of them trying to capture or kill a North Vietnamese officer who had a girlfriend in a certain village, they often went looking for heavy weapons like anti-air or rockets.

Hmm, seems like the more I’m trying to remember, the more I realize I’ve forgotten.

That would be a great “downed pilot” scenario. They* would often scramble to a chopper, get in the air and look for the smoke from a crash, get on the ground and find the sun was setting, they had no maps, little ammo, little water, no food, they could hear the enemy all around them and a monsoon was starting and they were wearing shorts and flip flops and knew the choppers couldn’t come get them until the weather cleared which may be next week. Maybe that’s exaggerated, in reality they usually had boots :slight_smile:

  • “They” doesn’t have to mean Special Forces, some units had teams specifically for reacting to downed aircraft or they might scramble whoever was hanging out on the base. But if a plane went down near any small special team that could be fast and flexible in unknown situations, they’d probably be called in first.

Nobody mentioned the tunnels yet ? The vietnamese army had mole genes, they dug all over the place to provide food and shelter to its men, as well as provide covert movement possibilities. You can see one in the movie Platoon, in the beginning when Charlie Sheen stumbles into one and gets stuck.
Guess who had to go in with a flashlight, compass and silenced handgun to try and map/clean them out ?

Not that it would make for good video game experience - VietCong used them in two levels. They were the worst thing in the whole game - in fact, the prospective of having to play through them again keeps me from re-installing the game at all, despite the fact that besides that, it’s really quite good.

Can’t add much to the great replies already posted - just that I recall that Special Forces, LRRPs, etc all had very high kill ratios. They carried massive firepower and could choose the time and place to engage the enemy - if at all.

Thanks for all the great replies! I don’t think I’m going to be able to use tunnels, since I don’t know Arma 2’s editor that well and as people have mentioned, they’re rather tough to implement in a fun way, but I’m going to try and include almost everything else that people have suggested.

As far as the Montagnards go, I think it would be tough to equip them in a way that makes them “feel” appreciably different than the US military guys, and so what I’m going to do is make the PCs all-american, but require them to work with groups of friendly NPC Montagnard every so often. There’s even a built-in mechanic for using interpreters, so I could set it up so only 1-2 of the PCs speak Vietnamese, and losing their interpreters will make sections of the campaign much more difficult.

In any event, it should be a lot of fun- I’m planning to start the campaign with a scouting and demolitions mission to get the group used to the setting and standards, give them a complicated assassination mission to plan for, and then add a frantic “grab the downed pilot” objective that they have to hit on their way to the extraction point after they’ve killed the official and hundreds of (presumably) angry VC are swarming through the jungle to secure the area and/or find the assassins.

And of course the extraction goes bad, so I’m planning for most of the rest of the campaign to involve the team being vectored from one marginally safe forward area to the next, picking up targets and missions of opportunity until they finally get a chance to extract their now-mangy asses from the area. ^^

Don’t forget to add the
“kill a rogue special forces officer who is carving his own kingdom deep in the jungle”

Tony Poe, the real-life inspiration for Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, worked largely in Laos. He lived in Thailand for some years after the war and was even part owner of Bangkok’s Madrid Bar, the old CIA spook hangout that’s still in business – the Air America offices were just down the street in Patpong – before eventually being expelled from Thailand for unknown offences and died a broken alcoholic stateside.

One of my favorite Tony Poe stories is how he used to like to take the head that was freshly cut off an enemy combatant and fly close to the house of another known combatant. While the pilot would go in low and slow, he would take the head and toss it at the house. He said if he aimed it just right, it would bounce off the front porch into the house through the open front door. What a card! :smiley:

He also used to pay a bounty of US$1 for each enemy ear the locals would bring him. Said he stopped that when one day in a village, he noticed a lot of the children were missing their ears. Seems the locals had been turning in any old ears they could get ahold of to collect the reward.