by John H. Price III
Toward the end of Military Police Advanced Individual Training, in January 1971, my class was notified that we would participate in a week-long field exercise to practice all of the techniques we had learned over the past several weeks. We packed our field gear, drew M-14’s with blank ammo and boarded buses for a week in the woods at Fort Gordon, GA.
Two companies of trainees, about 160 men total, exited the buses and formed up by platoon in the training area parking lot. The first sergeant called out four names, including mine, told us to grab our gear and meet with one of the cadre standing alongside a nearby jeep. My first thought was that we were in some sort of trouble, but I was wrong. We had been selected to be the “aggressors” for the training exercise. Our job was to make our fellow MPs as miserable as possible for the next week. Rather than sleeping in tents like the rest of the MPs, we were based in a plywood mock-up of a helicopter fuselage. One corner of the helo was piled high with C-rations, water cans, 7.62mm blank ammo, smoke grenades and hand grenade simulators. This was shaping up to be the most fun I had in the Army, and I was excited to get started.
Our DI was an expert on guerilla tactics and outlined the operations we would mount against the superior numbers of MP’s we would harass. One thing we did frequently was to rig booby-trapped road blocks, which quickly became my specialty. I concealed smoke grenades and hand grenade simulators under tree branches, rocks and blown-down timber we used to construct the road blocks. At first it was easy to “blow up” the MPs who had to clear the debris to enable their convoys to continue down the road. Later, they became more careful as they dismantled our road blocks, so I had to become increasingly sophisticated in placing the smoke and explosives. One trick I employed was to use a decoy grenade which was relatively easy to find, creating the false sense of security in the MPs who thought they had disarmed the roadblock. Then, the second or even the third grenade would detonate as they hastily removed the remainder of the debris. Of the dozens of road blocks we constructed and I booby-trapped, not one was successfully disarmed. I had mixed emotions about that, because if I could do this as effectively as I had, how would these guys ever survive a real booby trap in Nam?
The bitch about a road block is that there is the possibility of ambush each time you roll up on one, so you have to be quick in clearing it, but at the same time, you must be methodical in case it’s booby trapped. From concealed positions on high ground, we usually just observed the MP’s dismantling the road blocks, but on a couple of occasions, we did mount ambushes. I learned a hard lesson during the first ambush. Our M-14’s had rock-and-roll selector switches for full auto fire. With the blank adaptor in place, there was adequate gas pressure to cycle the action of the M-14 reliably in semi-auto mode, but there was a tendency for it to occasionally fail to eject a spent round in full auto mode, meaning you had to cycle the action by hand to eject the spent round and chamber a live round. During the first ambush, we were spread out about five meters apart across the top of a hill, with me on point, furthest from our DI. SOP for an ambush was to each fire a couple of magazines into the stalled convoy and beat feet before they dismounted from the deuce and a half trucks and returned fire. I had a jam, was clearing my weapon, and did not hear the command to retreat. When I looked up, I was all alone and taking heavy fire from the convoy. I sprinted toward our jeep as the DI was putting it into gear, and jumped in. He opened up on me immediately, telling me that I had endangered the other aggressors and that in combat, he would probably have left me behind to save the rest of the team. I was very embarrassed for having been called out, but realized the DI was right. I would never make that mistake again. Situational awareness keeps you alive.
We alternated between daylight and nocturnal operations to keep the MPs off balance. Some days we slept in our helo hotel for most of the day and harassed the MP’s at night, ambushing their patrols and conducting brief raids on the main force to wake everyone up and keep them awake the rest of the night.
One full moon night, we were concealed in a dense stand of scrub pine at a crossroads waiting to ambush a patrol. The aggressor next to me attempted to lob a hand grenade simulator into the middle of the patrol, but hit a branch in the tree directly above me. I heard the simulator strike a couple more branches on the way down and then it bounced off my steel pot and exploded about two inches from my right ear. I was instantly blinded and deafened by the blast and there was a question as to whether I would be able to complete the exercise. I was scared, not knowing how badly I had been hurt, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to finish this exercise, I was enjoying it too much. My vision slowly returned over the next hour, although my hearing never fully recovered. Had it been a real grenade, my head would have been blown completely off. Another lesson learned. I had a few unkind words for the fellow who made the errant throw, but that was nothing compared to the ass chewing the DI gave him, pointing out that he had not only “killed” me, but took himself out as well with his bullshit grenade toss.
Our final night in the woods was the best. The DI had planned an assault on the MP command post. One of our aggressors, a former track man from Notre Dame, was to low crawl toward the CP while the rest of us conducted a diversionary attack designed to lure the security forces guarding the CP in our direction. The track man would enter the CP, seize the unit colors and use his speed to escape before being captured. The plan worked perfectly, although the MPs were adamant they had shot our man before he cleared the perimeter. Our DI over-ruled them and said that the aggressors had won the final exercise. We were all proud as hell to have our little band of four guerillas beat out over 150 MPs.
While riding back to our barracks the next day I had a chance to hear from one of my platoon buddies about how much our small group of aggressors had been able to disrupt the much larger force. Their inability to disarm the booby traps I set was very frustrating and our nightly “visits” had everyone sleep deprived and short-tempered by the end of the week. The clear lesson was that a highly motivated small force could negatively influence a much larger element. This is the cornerstone of guerilla warfare and we all had a chance to see it first-hand.
My week as an aggressor taught me a lot more than I would have learned had I been one of the poor saps riding around in the convoys we harassed. I never found out who selected me, but I sure was grateful for the experience.