Air Force “Ranger” Training Provokes Personal Moral Issues

March 1, 2007

1st Lieutenant S. Brian Willson, standing in front of members of his fire teams in Section 6, 823rd Combat Security Police Squadron, Phan Rang AB, Viet Nam, June 1969. USAF Photo

Introductory Note: This essay, in its earlier version, received harsh critiques from former members of “Operation Safeside,” the Air Force’s code name for its brief attempt to create a ranger-type unit during the years the United States was at war with Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Laos. There were four squadrons that comprised “Operation Safeside”: the prototype 1041st, and the subsequent 821st, the 822nd, and the 823rd. The program was disbanded in 1970. The originator of the USAF ranger idea was a highly touted former member of an elite ranger unit in World War II, a USAF Lt. Colonel.

An officer who served in his prototype 1041st squadron conveyed to me how determined this Lt. Colonel was to make the “Safeside” ranger units a successful addition to security of USAF missions around the world. One of the most important factors was to develop a highly motivated leadership cadre. He knew that for such unit in the Air Force to be successful, just as a ranger unit in the Army, it required highly motivated members, especially among the commissioned and noncommissioned officers. However, those who enlist in the US Air Force do so knowing more or less what they are enlisting for, ranger functions not normally being one of the options considered. Of course, special assignments are frequently created but they only function well with those who are obviously motivated to perform the new missions.

The first three squadrons, I have been told, were comprised of all volunteers, or nearly all. The fourth, the 823rd, of which I was part, was comprised of a large number of airmen who clearly were not volunteers. In fact, one of the 823rd officers with access to squadron personnel records characterized a number of the noncoms and officers as misfits. I don’t know if I was one of those, but I certainly was not a volunteer for the 823rd.

Most of those who angrily contacted me were members of the first three squadrons, i.e., those who were more or less gung ho volunteers. Some call me an out and out liar, some describe my accounts as “fiction,” some have accused me of being shameless and clueless, some state unequivocally that it is impossible for me to have been a graduate of the USAF combat security police training school, others that I could not have been a member of the particular unit I describe, some say I could not have been in Viet Nam at all. Some accuse me of being an “asshole wannabe,” others have issued various threats including that I should be the target of a stray bullet. One admitted honestly that “it is hard to believe that someone who went through SAFESIDE training could be so anti-American.”

These ex-military men (in this case) continue to believe as I once believed, but cannot fathom a changed perspective critical of the “Safeside” concept, the U.S. war against the Vietnamese people and nation, and critical of U.S. policies described as consistently imperial. They seem to experience my critiques as personal attacks. They are not intended to be personal.

In an effort to be as accurate and fair as possible in my accounts, I have had conversations with former members of my 823rd squadron, including its Operations Officer and one of its intelligence officers, and have again examined my personal notes and re-read various historical reports related to “Operation Safeside” and to the conditions I was exposed to and functions which I was performing in the Binh Thuy/Can Tho area of the Mekong Delta in South Viet Nam in 1969.

I have made no knowingly inaccurate statements. If information is the product of a rumor I will so state. I have removed all names of individuals in my direct chain of command. In earlier versions I recalled two events where there was physical contact between a superior and myself resulting in my falling to the ground, not hurt, but stunned. In my anger, and emotional state at the time, I characterized those actions as intentional. I have removed the idea they were intentional (not knowing whether they were or not), simply stating that physical contact was made during mutually agitated moments, but focusing on what was going on inside my own mind and emotional nature at the time, and how it gradually created a more critically thought out assessment of the military, the war, myself, and my society.

Essentially everything I have written in this essay remains true according to my memory and historical records, but with more sensitivity given to the language I use in describing acrimonial interchanges with superiors.

It is likely that persons who have been outraged at my comments have not been exposed to “dissenters,” either in the military or out, and likely do not genuinely believe in free speech, only speech that is in harmony with their own views. This is too common a trait in rhetorical “America.” There is rhetoric, and then there is reality. Most of us, myself included, were conditioned into a rhetorical fantasy about the “American” civilization that cannot stand up in the face of honest history and genuine critique.] BW   

“You should be ashamed of the way you are conducting yourself.” These are the words that U.S. military commanders and chaplains have used repeatedly in response to military personnel who are experiencing moral dilemmas relating to their military service. It never occurred to me when I entered the United States Air Force that one day those words would be directed at me personally.

In the fall of 1968, after serving nearly two years at Headquarters Air Force (AF) Systems Command in Washington, D.C. as an Installation Security Police staff officer, I received orders to report to the 823rd Combat Security Police Squadron headquartered at an airbase in central Louisiana. The several hundred members of that squadron were to be trained, in turn, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in a 12-week Air Force version of the U.S. Army’s Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia.

I had never heard of this unit, code-named “Operation Safeside,” and certainly had no voluntary interest in such Air Force “ranger” assignment. I was still waiting for orders to serve in the AF correctional program that had been all but promised when I enlisted. I subsequently learned that shortly after TET 1968, on February 18, as airbases were being hit hard, Seventh Air Force in Vietnam had requested deployment of a newly created “Operation Safeside” comprised of combat security teams to fortify protection of airbases.

Upon hearing of my assignment, a Major in my Washington office informed me that he had been a Captain in the original Safeside prototype squadron, the 1041st, and knew its originator and the importance of its members being gung-ho volunteers. Knowing that I was not a career officer, and had no interest in a USAF ranger program, he was concerned. That made me even more anxious.

Our training began on December 16, 1968. I immediately possessed anxiety about being in a combat-oriented Air Force mission, and shared those concerns with our 823rd Commander, a Lieutenant Colonel. I asked if it was possible to seek a different assignment. He informed me that he knew a young officer who had seriously sought placement in the 823rd, and that it was a shame that I, not the desirous officer, was in the squadron. I asked whether it was too late to make a personnel change. The Commander angrily dismissed the idea as impossible at that late date. I stressed that an Air Force assignment of this type was likely to be workable only for those who desired it and volunteered for such combat-oriented duty. He gave the traditional retort — “You’re in the military and you will do as ordered.” However, I soon learned that the three Air Force combat security police squadrons preceding the 823rd were made up of virtually all volunteers, unlike our squadron, comprised of a certain number such as myself who, if we had a choice, would not volunteer for such Air Force assignment.

I also wondered if there might be command-and-control issues when Safeside teams were deployed to augment long-standing regular security police squadrons led by experienced commanders overseeing already well-armed and trained units. The Commander quickly disregarded such questions, coming from a “loser” like me. So much for my striving to be a conscientious officer.

It seemed an unusual assignment for the Air Force. As a first lieutenant I was designated one of several leaders of “sections” (cp. Army platoon) comprised of fire teams and mortar units, part of a new worldwide mobile security force to protect U.S. air bases in hostile areas. There were four sections to a Flight, and four Flights to a Squadron, three of which were combat trained plus a fourth support Flight. It seemed like I was in the U.S. Army but I had taken an oath in the Air Force. Damn! Though we knew we were being readied for Vietnam, our trainers insisted we also be prepared for other humid/tropical areas such as Guatemala, or cold climates such as Korea. I didn’t have a clue at the time what was going on in Guatemala.

The School Commandant for our training program was a Lieutenant Colonel who had been a young Army Ranger during World War II. Some claimed he had been a member of Darby’s Rangers, but truth is that he was a member of a sister ranger unit to Darby’s group. He was promoting issuance of blue berets and Australian bush hats, which excited those men who were pleased to be in “Operation Safeside.” Unfortunately for them, Air Force higher ups later de-authorized those headgear uniform additions. However, I was relieved.

During one of our training briefings intended to psyche us up for our mission, the Commandant used the word “gook” when referring to Vietnamese and Koreans. Though this was not such an unusual racist term to hear uttered, I thought it unbecoming of our School Commandant. I hesitatingly expressed my concern about his use of the word “gook,” and tried to explain to him that I felt it a derogatory characterization directed at supposed allies. He quickly admonished me to mind my own business, which he reminded me was learning the art of defending U.S. air bases located in hostile areas around the world.

Along with hundreds of other Air Force rangers-to-be, I endured the 12-week training at dismal Fort Campbell, an hour at a time. Though I had successfully completed all the early firearms training — shooting at targets with M-16 machine guns, firing mortars and grenade launchers — I had been gritting my teeth to get through it. In early January, however, my sense of unfitness came to a head. During bayonet training I felt reviled that I would have to scream Kill! Kill! a hundred times while plunging a bayonet into a dummy. My body did not want to do it though my brain was saying, “Come on, just do it!” I paused as I was trying to muster up the determination. Seeing my hesitation the training sergeant walked over to be right next to me, very angry, and in an agitated effort to shout in my ear — I doubt if it was intentional — there was physical contact with the back of my legs and my knees buckled. I went down, and at that moment my brain caught up with my body. I knew I was not going to do this exercise, and that I shouldn’t be in this assignment at all.

I don’t know whether the training sergeant reported my “insubordination,” but I didn’t wait to find out. I decided to formally make known my concerns of unfitness, even revulsion, through the chain of command. I started with my immediate superior, “B” Flight Commander, a Captain, who arranged a meeting with the 823rd Operations Officer, a Major, who, in turn, arranged a meeting with our 823rd Commander.

Quickly responding to my continued “negative” attitude and the fear I might refuse further orders, the Colonel/Commander had warned me that with this kind of behavior you are looking at a place called Leavenworth for about 20 years. Subsequently during the meeting in the Lt. Colonel’s barrack’s office with the Major present, the fact that I had not completed the bayonet exercise had raised questions about whether I was a “traitor.”

My Commander was livid, furious with my attempts to describe a troubling sense of unfitness for the assignment. His voice was agitated as he declared, “shame, shame, shame on you. It’s like you’re working with the enemy VC,” or something to that effect. And the Major, reading from the UCMJ, informed me of the severe prison punishment I was facing for failure to obey lawful training and deployment orders — 5 years at hard labor. The Major, apparently knowing of my personal history with university professor and mentor, Howard B. Gill, suddenly asked, What would Howard Gill would think of you?” That question surprised me but did not allay my concerns.

As the Commander raised his voice further he scolded, “As a ‘regular’ officer you are a traitor to America.” [In fact I was a "reserve" officer.] He was increasingly losing his physical and mental composure. Accompanying his angry voice, his arms were thrusting back and forth, up and down, in a very animated fashion. I was in a very emotional state as I stood witnessing and reeling from his raving antics. At one point there was physical contact made, intentionally or not, and I found myself falling off balance to the floor where I even feared I might be kicked. The Commander himself, overweight and not in great physical shape, also had almost lost his balance after I fell. Stunned but not physically hurt, in a matter of 2 or 3 seconds I was quickly on my feet again facing a recovering Colonel. He seemed startled himself at what had just happened and, for a moment, seemed pensive, realizing that he had lost his composure.

Then the Major made a statement that worried me, saying something to the effect that, “Nothing out of the ordinary has occurred here.” My fragile emotional state at the time internally interpreted those words to mean that if I were to complain about the physical and verbal abuse, it would be my word as a First Lieutenant against the words of a Major and a Lt. Colonel. Perhaps the Major was sincere, suggesting that he and our Commander were engaged in what they perceived as “constructive counseling” of a disgruntled officer. Perhaps it was more routine than I was aware, and therefore was ordinary from their perspective. Whatever the intent, I was stunned, experiencing emotional, even potentially physical terror. I had never been in a situation like this.

Later the Major admitted that the commander’s “royal chewing out” of me was based partially on a belief they both held that I was exhibiting traitorous “cowardice.” He also later acknowledged that my anti-war feelings, openly expressed in uniform, posed a real problem, and that the bayonet incident got around to the noncoms and officers, creating “morale problems” for the 823rd.

The Lt. Colonel/Commander, though more calm than previously, ironically but seriously accused me of being “a very disturbed man!” to which the Major seemed to assent. Then my Commander ordered that I undergo “morals” counseling with a chaplain. I did not know our squadron had a chaplain but soon I was in a Chaplain/Major’s office, only to experience another acrimonial moment at which he repeated similar angry words of our 823rd Commander, “Shame, shame, shame on you…The Vietnamese are being slaughtered by the VC and you have a duty to be part of stopping that,” showing me photographs of bodies, ostensibly of Vietnamese killed by other Vietnamese. Of course, I was very scared and anxious as this scolding continued, nearly in tears.

Baptist like me, the Chaplain expressed no sympathy. He did not want to hear my version of what had happened. The thought of being a “failure” was still part of my thinking, remnants of an old conditioned expectation to comply with orders and keep pace with the performance of my peers. I was simply seeking, apparently in vain, to express my sense that I seemed unfit for this particular assignment and wanted genuine counseling. It only seemed good military policy that when an officer (or any solider/airman) is feeling repulsed and unable to perform a particular duty that the military would not be so foolish as to force such person into a critical assignment where other lives are at stake. However, the Chaplain did not want to hear anything I was saying, and he simply repeated the Lt. Colonel’s words that I was “very disturbed.” He ordered that I be seen and diagnosed by a psychiatrist. Soon I found myself in a USAF doctor’s office, a Captain who was presumably a psychiatrist, at a nearby USAF military installation in Tennessee.

The uniformed doctor, a kind man, conversed with me over a period of several hours. It was the first time in months that I felt safe and actually listened to. He affirmed that I was of “sound mind,” and that it would be best for all concerned if I was re-assigned. He so recommended. Once my Commander read the psychiatrist’s report and recommendation for re-assignment, he was furious ever more. He said that since I was of “sound mind,” I would be expected to follow all training and deployment orders. It was too late, he retorted, to juggle personnel while preparing to deploy to Viet Nam as TET 1969 was approaching.

I was in a Catch-22 situation! Soon after, my Commander called me once again into his barracks’ office and presented me with a document, “Officer Control Roster Action,” stating that I would be placed on such list for 180 days because of a “self-admitted failure to accept the responsibilities commensurate with your grade,…specifically….that you do not agree with certain major concepts and policies of the 82nd Combat Security Police Wing. You have further stated that you cannot, in good conscience, support the wing mission….” He informed me that this action was formally communicated to the Squadron Operations Officer, and to the full Colonel who was our overall 82nd Combat Security Police Wing Commander.

When I enlisted in the Air Force in 1966 at 25 years of age (after an Army draft notice), I was already halfway through studies in law school and an associated master’s program in criminology. My hometown recruiter virtually guaranteed me an assignment in some administrative role dealing with Air Force defendants/prisoners. There were several Air Force correctional settings in both the U.S. and in Vietnam. I was advised that to get into that program I needed to select the security police career field. But as I discovered, and many veterans will tell you, representations of military recruiters are not worth much.

Once receiving copy of the Officer Control Roster action, the Wing Commander became alarmed. He perceived a situation that could produce “unnecessary unfavorable publicity to the U.S. Air Force or to the individual,” and embarrassment to Tactical Air Command Commander General Momyer. He quickly removed me from the “Officer Control Roster,” saying “it is inappropriate to place an officer on the Control Roster while he is attending formal school.” He also arranged a visit from my wife from Washington, D.C. to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, after my Commander had refused my request for a visit. My attorney wife and I had been married less than 2 months by that time.

My 823rd Commander had declared to me that the 823rd “Operation Safeside” mission was “classified” as to time, place and date of deployment, and therefore, he could not grant even a one-day visit. That he refused a visit based on explicitly claiming a classified mission which I had not previously known of infuriated me even more.

My pleas fell on deaf ears. I was being prevented from a change in assignment no matter how much I expressed my serious personal reservations to my superiors, concerns affirmed even by an Air Force psychiatrist who had recommended a different assignment. I felt stuck. Truly conflicted, I lacked the courage to refuse orders to Vietnam with the 823rd and begrudgingly “graduated” from the 12 weeks of training without ever completing the bayonet drill.

On March 7, a C-141 flew our “B” Flight (nearly 170 men in all) to Vietnam, initially landing at Cam Ranh Bay Airbase on March 8 before taking the short flight to Phan Rang, the in-country headquarters for our Air Force Combat Security Police operations, “Operation Safeside.” There, our Commander ordered my particular section and an additional weapons unit, comprised of 32 men in all, still ten men and an NCO short of what was authorized for my section, dispatched to Binh Thuy, a small Vietnamese-controlled airbase nearly 100 miles south of then-Saigon. Binh Thuy was in the hostile Delta region northwest of Can Tho city along the Bassac River. It was considered the most vulnerable of the ten primary USAF airbases in country, nicknamed “mortar alley,” having been attacked 18 times during the 6 weeks of TET 1968, and 47 times since receiving its first attack in February 1966, far more than any other airbase. We were arriving 2 weeks after the start of the much milder (as it turned out) TET 1969. Everyone everywhere was tense and nervous. Arriving just before midnight we immediately experienced mortar explosions outside the base perimeter, a rattling introduction to Vietnam. And to add to my anxiety I soon learned that the Commander of the nearby Army Military Police Company in Can Tho had been fragged on the day of my arrival. Luckily, he survived with only minor injuries, though others were killed.

I was immediately designated the night security force commander at Binh Thuy by the Major/Commander of its regular security police squadron, the 632nd. My anxiety motivated me to study every intelligence and action report I could find. Though I worked under the illusion that the more I knew the better I could position fire teams and machine gunners, it was what I learned about overall Mekong Delta military policy that staggered me.

Later, a member of the 823rd intelligence section at Tan Son Nhut airbase in Saigon told me that he believed that our Commander’s fury landed me at Binh Thuy as a punishment. I started to believe he might be right. Things got more entangled, and more intriguing as the days went by.

To be continued…!


    Posted March 28, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Permalink


  2. Posted March 28, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Permalink


    Yes, as a 1st Lieutenant I was commander of 823rd Combat Security Section #6, Flight B, and you were one of my Fire Team members. My roster shows that Sgt Frank DiClaudio was your Fire Team #28 leader. I have retained my records from that assignment. I do not know what a “complotter” duty was – never heard of it.

    You may not have remembered me personally but I was already quite anti-war in attitude, and tho I did not discuss these views with the enlisted men, I had plenty of discussions with my superiors, especially those located at Tan Son Nhut (Capt Joel Thomason)and at Phan Rang, our in-country 823rd HQ (Maj Maynard Allington, and Commander Kalmon Simon). I also irritated a number of the NCOs of the 632nd Security Police Squadron at BT, as well as its Operations officer, Capt Robert Tonner, and its commander, Major Rupert.

    You might not remember, but Sgt Dan Sanders was your initial Section 6 NCO until Tech Sgt Jim Dorrance arrived in April 1969.

    Because I was also operating as an intelligence officer, I spent a lot of time during daylight hours off Binh Thuy, both in Can Tho City, and in Vinh Long Province north of the Bassac River, whose southern flank, as you may remember, flowed at the northern end of BT’s extended flightline.

    I was routed out of VN due to my anti-war views on Aug 2, which was more than 30 days prior to the end of our 179 day TDY when we were to have returned to the USA, when I assumed you and the others returned. I lost track of everyone in the 823rd from that moment, tho I kept in touch with several of the officers of other 823rd Sections stationed elsewhere in VN. They are all deceased now.

    I was threatened with courts-martial, but fortunately for me one was never convened, and I was Honorably separated as a Captain on August 30, 1970.

    I did not write any reports on any of the men in my Section 6 since I was effectively removed on August 2. Your superior would have been Tech Sgt Jim Dorrance (now deceased, I believe). Our Flight Capt Commander Joel Thomason (my immediate superior) died in 1979 of Agent Orange-related kidney disease. Your Fire team leader DiClaudio might have submitted notes to Dorrance. I have no idea of DiClaudio’s whereabouts or if he is alive.

    The 823rd Operations Officer, now retired Lt. Col. Maynard Allington, still lives in FLorida, and we have corresponded on occasion since I have been writing my political memoirs.

    I can only attest that you were in my Section 6 as a Fire team member, and did not receive any disciplinary actions during the time of my stay there, March 7 or 8, thru August 2, 1969.

    What have you been doing with yourself the past 40 years? Are you filing a claim with the VA?

    I can describe the circumstances at BT during our security duty there if need be, since it was part of my job to keep records – 14 mortar and recoilless rifle attacks, with at least 3 of the attacks where rounds exploded INSIDE our perimeter. The enlisted mess hall was severely damaged in one of the attacks. There were several suspected sapper penetrations but we never received any damage from them.

    I think you might have been with us when we were dispatched to Phan Rang in June for nearly 3 1/2 wks to provide extra security and building new bunkers. There were 4 rocket attacks while we were there, including one that killed a Security policeman and his K-9 dog.

    I hope this is helpful. If you need anything more, or want to add questions of comments, please feel free.

    S. Brian Willson
    Pacific Northwest

  3. Posted March 28, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Jim Franczak,

    I have now added a photo to this essay of some of the 823rd CSPS, Section 6 fire team members standing in formation at Phan Rang AB in June 1969. Are you identifiable in the photo?

    Brian Willson

  4. Anonymous
    Posted May 16, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    I am a current member of the 822nd Security Forces Squadron (Safeside). I have deployed to Iraq with them more times than I would to admit. Thank you for talking about your time with Safeside. I have the same feelings for them now, that you did all those years ago. It’s very interesting to hear such a point a view as all we ever hear about is how Operation Safeside Airman loved every minute of their lives.

  5. Jim Kirby
    Posted May 20, 2010 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    I was in the 822nd CSPS.

    And let me assure you, I did NOT volunteer to be a part of any USAF “Ranger”/Light Infantry unit, and
    during the training at Schoffield Bks.;
    it soon became apparant that MOST of the Airmen there did not volunteer to be a part of any USAF “Ranger”/Light Infantry unit either.

    Truth is, a friend of mine and I, then stationed at Otis AFB volunteered to serve a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam just to get away from the intolerable cold of the Cape Cod Winters.

    Were selections for assignment to the 822nd based on a “Gung-Ho” attitude?
    I do not believe so. And that belief is based on my months at Schoffield Barracks, where we got to know each other very, very well. Not one time did i ever hear of anybody volunteering for membership in an “Elite, USAF Light Infantry Unit”. I do feel many of us, perhaps most of us, were selected because we were less than ideal Airmen and the local Air Police units we belonged to would see this as a chance to get rid of us. I readily admit that I was probably one of those. But on the other hand, the buddy whom i volunteered to go to Vietnam with was a model Airman, which makes me believe that orders were cut for ANYBODY who had volunteered for duty in Vietnam as well as those who did NOT volunteer.

    Take care, Jim Kirby

  6. Posted May 20, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Jim, thanks for sharing this first hand perspective.

    Brian Willson

  7. Gilbert L. "Whip" Wilson
    Posted May 26, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    I was stationed at Little Rock Air Force
    Base Febuary 1968 Air Police and didn’t want to be there at a SAC Base in the South. Therefore I volunteered for Vietnam. Less than a week after volunteering I was on my way to Schofield Barracks,HI, March 1968. I like others didn’t know what I was getting into but the experiences in Operation Safeside have served me well.

  8. Ed Wentworth
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I was senior medic in the 822nd.I managed to survive Schofield Bks.Was not a Volunteer’Received worst performance report of my 22 years of service.Thanks Lt Oconnor.I was promoted while still in the 822nd at Seymore Johnston AFB.I would like to make contact with the medics I served with.

  9. frank ruiz
    Posted July 8, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    frank ruiz is my name,i was in plieku 68-69,names valenti,vassas,supan,pulliam,lawerence,suess,creasey,novak,yenter,macmakinsey,nco,shelly bowmen sprute,boo boo nick name,lt.kitterman,recall any names.

  10. felix esquivel
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    was at phu cat, 1968, in cobra flight, 37th sps had assumed all of 1041st duties, welcome home sir

  11. sohrab
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    want to break commando training What do I do?
    Please Help Me Please

  12. sohrab
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    I want to break commando training What do I do?
    Please Help Me Please
    Email: Sohrab _0505 @ yahoo. Com

  13. sohrab
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    I want to break Ranger training What do I do?
    Please Help Me Please
    Email: Sohrab _0505 @ yahoo. Com

  14. Larry Wallace
    Posted January 21, 2011 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    As one of the original members of the 1041st, I found it to be the best unit I served in. It was a tribute to the USAF.The training was hard and it gave me confidence I never knew I had. The experience proved to be an asset, while working security contracts in Africa, South Pacific, Saudi Arabia, after retiring from the USAF. I am proud to be called RANGER 2, which was given to me by my good friend, JIM DORRANCE.

  15. Posted January 21, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    If one wanted a career in the military, or assignments such as Safeside, then I am sure it was a great experience. For people like me who were not that fond of the military, or the USAF, and was ordered to the somewhat atypical Safeside USAF assignment, it was not such a great experience. I was drafted in 1966, and enlisted in the USAF as an alternative to avoid army-type duty.
    In my case I learned a lot about myself, likely because of the adversity I found myself in with Safeside superiors.
    As far as Dorrance goes, I have nothing but compliments for him even as we had quite different perspectives. He was a great NCO for me. More recently, after his death to bladder cancer, I have corresponded with his daughter.

  16. ssgt John R Mc Daniel 821st CMB secPol
    Posted March 5, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    i served with the 821st, cmb, sec, pol, at binhthuy,afb,it was a great honor to serve with a group of dedicated,guys,even though the training was tough, and intense,it made me a better, airman,and more aware,of how much ones,body, can take physical, and emotional,i loved the safe side rangers.i served,frm 69,sept, to april,1970.

  17. tim brady
    Posted May 25, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    A very interesting trip down memory lane for me, coming across this site,I was in the 823rd, in B flt,although not in your section…my section ended up deployed to Bien Hoa after arrival at Phan Rang, also a short deployment to Tan Son Nhut. I am pretty sure I remember you from training at Ft. Campbell, although it has been many years and my memory is not what it was. I did indeed volunteer for the 823rd and pretty much knew it would mean going to Vietnam, but truthfully I was about half nuts from walking around B-52s at a SAC base in Ft. Worth Texas….what a long, strange, trip it has been ,anyway greetings from a fellow traveler….

  18. Posted May 25, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    @Tim Brady. I believe your Section leader/commander was Captain Joe Gelsomino. Is that correct? Do you remember him? He became a career Ph.D. psychologist with the VA, but died in 2001 of an Agent Orange-related lung disease.

  19. tim brady
    Posted May 25, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Brian, that name does not ring a bell, however I do remember a Captain that was African-American, would that have been him??

  20. Posted May 25, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    @Tim. No, Gelsomino was White. Our Flight B Commander, as opposed to Section commanders like Gelsomino and myself, was Captain Thomason who was African-American. Incidentally Thomason died in 1979 of Agent Orange related kidney disease. The officers in charge of the at least 3 of the Sections in Flight B were Gelsomino, myself, and Lt Hammond, all White. Hammond later committed suicide. A 4th Section was the Weapons Section, of which 2 of the mortar teams were at Binh Thuy where I was.

  21. tim brady
    Posted May 25, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Brian, you have excellent memory recall of that time. I do remember a lt. Hammond but for the life of me cannot remember Capt. Gelsomino. I do remember now that you refresh my abysmal memory that the B flt commander was Capt. Thomason…I recall that during the rappelling training he lost his footing and ended up hanging upside down for awhile before the instructors could get him off the wall….had not thought of that for 40 plus years till I saw his name in your reply….

  22. Curtis Taylor (Snoop)
    Posted May 30, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Amazing stuff. I also had to appear before Col. Simon, for parking my motorcycle in my room and gasing out the barracks. The one who made my life a living hell at Pleiku and England AFB was Capt. Shafferman. I never could figure out how doing PE in the snow at 5 AM prepared us for 115 degree temps. To Phan Rang (sitting backwards)on a 141, then Pleiku, back to Phan Rang, then the Aussies took over. It took one day for those crazy suckers to paint kangaroos and such all over the APC’s. The best time was when the squadron was disbanded and we were left in Alexandria with no supervision. Did respond to a riot at McGuire AFB. But the Army stopped the hippies at Ft. Dix. Little did I know that I would become one. (hippie I mean) Thunder Chicken are you out there in Chatanooga.

  23. Posted May 30, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, Curtis.

  24. frank ruiz
    Posted June 16, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    during my training not one that i knew volunteered.went to pleiku august of 1968 do you know if b-flight was the only flight b-flight how many fire teams were there.see alot of pictures on the web at pleiku,don’t recall does anyone get information without costing money just for information.from pleiku tour was over went to seymour johnson,then went back to pleiku,then cam rahn bay left in december 1970 to be discharge.if you or anyone can get any information i would appreciate it.during my tour with 822nd 1968 august.i just don’t find any pictures of the flight i was on.

  25. Arnold "John" Houchin
    Posted June 18, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Hi Brian, I think I remember you from DC and Safeside. In regard to DC, the only connection may have been the Corrections Course taught by Howard Gill–I attended before 823rd Safeside.
    I was the Section One Flt A leader and was initially deployed to Phu Cat, then Tuy Hoa and then to Pleiku for a short while. After about two weeks I returned to Phan Rang and CONUS.
    Your thoughts about doing PT and ambush training in the snow brought back some menories especially since we had no cold weather clothing–field jackets without liners didn’t help much.
    I was a volunteer since I REALLY wanted to leave Lockbourne AFB in OH. Richard Hatcher also from Lockbourne volunteered for the 822nd.
    I keep looking for Les Gaskins who was the sect. 2, Flt A leader, but haven’t had success finding him. Regards, hope you haven’t been a victim of Agent Orange.

  26. vernon p, rivera
    Posted August 8, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I was with the 821 in Phan Rhang. I remember Major Baker as our commander
    Sgt. Emmons in charge of the medics.
    Dixon and Gusimano were the other medics
    I was sent to Phu Cat Airbase to assist medic corpsman Dixon. I volunteer for Medcap were we when with the Doctors to give medical care to the Vietnaese civilian in village around the Air Base.
    I learn a lot of lifes experience.

  27. glenn rosenwinkel
    Posted August 15, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Was in the 822 B flt. I was not a volunteer. The training we received at schofield barraks was a once in a lifetime experience and glad to have experienced it. Went to Pleiku then Phan Rang to seymor johnson and back to phan rang with the 821st. Got dscharged feb 70. Proud of the experienceI

  28. Rcihard Carter
    Posted September 6, 2011 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I was a member of section 6. Point of fact, I’m the tall skinny guy standing next to Sgt. Sanders.
    I did not volunteer, but never thought of myself as a misfit, so I don’t know the rational behind the decision of who becomes a member of Safeside. I have no regrets. The training helped to make a more confident soldier, and man of me. I was, and still am very proud of my service to my country.
    I remember you Lt. as a down to earth officer. I don’t recall any of the issues you have been sharing with us, but those all seem to have been private concerns, with no need for the enlisted to hear about.

    I have been trying to contact members of our Flight. If any body has contact with one of the following, I would appreciate some info. Gaylord Grover, Pete Hernandez, Joe Rickard, Teddy Taylor, or Tommy Roe.

  29. Posted September 16, 2011 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    How happy I was to find this site while researching “operation safeside” information. I was a part of the 823rd and am now a member of the safeside association. What a walk down memory lane this was, and it has occurred to me now as a result of reading this essay that my own movement to artist/left leaning veteran started right here in the 823rd, how ironic really to be trained to embrace war and it’s violence would in the end accomplish the very opposite in my case, and it seems in others as well. On a side note I found it sad and interesting at others like myself in the 823rd suffering from agent orange exposure. For the record I was assigned to Pleiku AB (central highlands).

  30. Posted September 28, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    does anyone remember major frank d. christenson 821st csps or lt. joseph, kinderman,i was also discharge 1970,brian wilson do you have roster of any names

  31. Gilbert L. "Whip" Wilson
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I was assigned to C Flight, Captain Dexter and I remember TSgt.Dorrance very
    well. All of us looked up to him as what a “Real Ranger” should be.While at Phan
    Rang he was preparing guys to go to jump
    school once they returned state side. He said to me “Whip come run with my boys”,
    which I did but I had no intentions of
    going to jump school because when we would be returning from “Nam” I would be a “short timer”. I was just thinking of
    Sgt. Dorrance today, I am sorry to hear
    of his passing.

  32. Frank DiClaudio
    Posted October 30, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Hi Brian Willson: I am alive an well in South Philly. I was better known to you as Sgt.Frank DiClaudio, leader of Fire Team #28, 823rd Combat Security Police Squadron at Binh Tuey. I rotated back the following month after you got orders to return to CONUS, that would be Sept. 69′.I considered you a good 1st lieutenant who did fine work looking after us enlisted men in the 823 CMBT SEC POL SQ–ALERT* REACT* SECURE,our motto during Operation Safeside.Let me know if you remember me and any comments on my abilities as a Fire Team Leader under your command.You were brought to my attention again by my brother-in- law Lloyd who purchased your book, which you autographed for the former Marine at your talk 10/27/2011 in Philly. Glad your doing well.Plan to read your book after Lloyd finishes it.

  33. Lloyd Kaiser
    Posted October 30, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Hi Brian: Talk about small world phenomenon. You were just 1 degree of seperation from one of your Fire Team Leader’s, Sgt. Frank DiClaudio. I attended your talk in Philly on(10/27/11)and enjoyed your talk. I was the guy who asked you a question and was in Nam with marines and had just arrived back from Portland,OR. on 10/20/11. I had read your first 6 chapters of your book you signed. Two days later I accidently located a small plaque from the 823rd Combat Security Police Squadron issued to Sgt. Frank DiClaudio upon tour completion in Viet Nam. Amazing that out of almost 2 million men that served “in country” during the war that I would find an individual who you knew and served as Leader of Fire Team #28 under your command. I enjoy your book immensely, respect your courage on our battlefields(fighting for justice in Nam for the murdered civilians) & your unflinching commitment to Peace in Central America and other countries. I recommend your book,”Blood on the Tracks,” along with such many other luminaries to many to mention that were all activists for Peace;& Justice. Plus, the introduction by Daniel Ellsberg who published the Penetagon Papers back in 71′.Sincerely, Lloyd Kaiser

  34. Posted November 25, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I remember Frank DiClaudio, and a few of the other 823rd Section 6 team members. Because of what I was experiencing from my “extra duties” the time was traumatic for me. Lots of stuff I don’t remember details of, but what I do remember is pretty much included in my book chapters relating to Viet Nam. I kept most of the stuff I was experiencing quite apart from team members. Just tried to do my job as I was seething against the fuck’n war. Have had some other Safeside members from 821st, 822nd, and 823rd send me some ugly threatening messages over the years once they learn of my political views. NCO Jim Dorrance’s daughter has contacted me after her father died in 2006 of bladder cancer and told me that I had had a big influence on Jim as he developed his own anti-war views. Little did I know. Hope you Frank are doing well.

  35. Glenn Rosenwinkel
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    I left a comment a few months ago here and regret it. The reason being that now your writeup is now associated with my name on the internet. It is unfortunate that you imply that the members of the 821st and 822nd were placed in these units because they were misfits etc. I served with the 822nd in Viet Nam and also with the 821st a year later. In both situations I knew the men I served with to be honerable guys who were completing the assignment they were given to the best of their ability. We went through some tough training and also some very tough nights in Viet Nam. If there were “misfits” in either outfit I never met them. They were a great bunch of guys to serve with. I don’t remember any of us that wanted to be ther in Viet Nam but. I also don’t remember any with the attitude you portray. I was assigned to the 822nd because it was my turn to receive orders when they came down. I am sure this was the same with others. Others from my Dover AFB squadron also went. It was just our turn. The men of the 821st and 822nd were a great bunch of guys and I am proud to have served with them. I have no regrets.I

  36. James Melton
    Posted January 19, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Just reading the comments and noticed some of you served at Phu Cat. I was across the valley with the Army for a few months in late 67. I have made two trips back and stopped in at the Phu Cat air base now the Qui Nhon airport. The old air base has more things still in tack than any others I visited. It has a new control tower and I met a controller who took me up into it. They have two planes a day in and out, but have a tower……everybody has a job. pilots…….they still have a double NDB instrument approach! The old Agent Orange storage area is still there and nothing lives in the pond below it…..controller told me US was going to clean it up.

    Some army based there and rest area planted in trees. Only place I saw an old guard tower.

    I was back there in 2007. Contact me if you have questions. Anybody want to make a trip back? It is a great trip not too costly.

  37. Posted January 29, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    @Frank Diclaudio. Can you send me your email? And have you been in contact with HENRY J. (JIM) FRANCZAK who was in your fire team?

  38. Posted January 29, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    @Frank Diclaudio. You can send your email to my personal email as noted above –

  39. terry grady
    Posted April 6, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    I was in the 823 csps and did my training at Ft.Campbell. I was shipped from Myrtle Beach, AFB to Kansas for a month and then to Ft Campbell. I think the traning was May through July and we were shipped to Phan Rang in Aug of 1969. Was hoping someone would have saved a copy of our shipping orders with my name on it. Terrence R Grady Or does anyone know how I would go about getting a copy of the orders. Thanks.

  40. Posted April 30, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    may of 1968 was volunteered to be in safe side as were many others.left hawaii august 24,1968 to pleiku most of my tour,left march 24,1969,volunteered to go back january 24,1970 and discharged december 24,1970. yes there many gung ho personnel,lot of lifers and commanders who just wanted to command. ask your self,what was the purpose of enlisting during the nam crisis.just before i was suppose to enter junior college changed my mind and enlisted.what was the difference in the 821st,822nd,and 823rd,there is really no history ,mostly in my opion bragging photos of side does have there members but why is there not the original photos of the 822nd,or history of training that we actually did at schofield ,there is no history or stories of all bases that the 822nd were stories of the convoy that the 822nd secound took from pleiku to tuy hoa, 1970, we were like sitting ducks in the trucks,like in the towers,and bunkers,but we made it ,didn’t like it.i ask you this one question,what made you so special

  41. Posted April 30, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    @frankruiz. Special? I disliked the assignment and thought it was ill-conceived. I was 27 and only enlisted in the USAF at age 25 after being drafted into the army out of graduate school. Didn’t even know of the existence of Safeside.

  42. Steve Bevan
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    My name is Steve Bevan, I too was in the 823rd. I remember Jim Franczak, along with John Frye, Mike Posch, Larry Gore, Ollie Cline, Bill Glugston, John Wytonik, Don Flaherty, Ron Wilke, Calvin Chung, and Tsgt Charlie Johnson (Grits). We were in section 8. I believe our Lt. Fred Power. Sometimes the old memory isn’t what it used to be. You were right about Capt. Thomason hanging upside down on the repelling tower. He also had a hell of a time doing chin ups before chow. He was a big man.

    Posted May 29, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Permalink


  44. timothy R. Ramey
    Posted June 5, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    Your story is very moving. I was assigned to the 822nd CSPS. I would like to speak with you via phone. My number is (870)718-6683.

  45. douglas holman
    Posted July 6, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    i shipped out feb of 69 with the 823…we got a 3 day pass before we loaded on c141 cargo jets for nam. as we were landing in siagon, the base came under rocket attack and we had to pour on the gas and abort the landing………..we went to the phillippines and then came back.. would like to talk to others that were with me.
    my email is

  46. douglas holman
    Posted July 6, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    lantz grey…. i to was at plekiu….and suffering from agent orange effects…

  47. Posted July 6, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    Our section of the 823rd left Ft. Campbell on a C-141 or around March 7, arrived at Cam Ranh Bay on March 8, then went to Phan Rang for briefings, and arrived at Binh Thuy in Mekong Delta just before midnight on March 8. It came under mortar attack shortly after landing, and pilot screamed at us to get off quickly so he could become airporne ASAP.

  48. Richard Hatcher
    Posted July 8, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    I was at Lockbourne AFB Ohio, and volunteered for the 821st, NOT the 822nd as stated by a previous blogger.I found that most of the 821st men were honorable, with very few “mis-fits”. The training and SafeSide experience has been an asset during my civilian career.

    Richard P. Hatcher

  49. Posted August 20, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink


    Posted August 25, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Went to Schoefield Barracks from Havre AFB, Montana did the chin up bar for chow, ran the quad everyday after the daily dozen exercises! Pleiku, the night the 122 was 15 feet short of direct hit on the barracks and the taste of the smoke from the shell in the sand bunker (17 bags thick), dizzy riding the flightline perimeter with my squad, then to Phan Rang The mountain @ 10 o’clock from our living area, volleyball, football and guard duty. Seymour Johnson/ Goldsboro was okay, finished @ Pease AFB Home to Boston and 42 years later here I am. The 822nd was different, the logo scorpion was a little over the top. Im a air force veteran and have no regrets

  51. Arnold "John" Houchin
    Posted August 29, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    First, I need to offer my sincere apology to Richard Hatcher for thinking that he was with the 822nd. Memory does funny things with age! We were both at Lockbourne AFB as Lts–I’m sure about that.
    One of the other bloggers mentioned Joe Kinderman. Gaskins and I relieved him at Phu Cat as I recall. I think I ran into him as a L/Col at Wright Patterson AFB in the 1980′s.
    The rappelling tower brings back many memories for all of us. I was another who was upside down on “the tower”. I also think it was Capt. Gelsimino who yelled “…TAKE PICTURES!” as he jumped from the high board for water survival training. Safeside has many fond memories for all of us.

  52. T. Cardiff
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Re your 28 Mar 2010 post, the duty of “comm/plotter” was/is a position in the AF Central Security Control (security operations center or “command post” – CP) which receives radio or telephone communications from teams, deployed or posted guards and sentries as to their status, movements or observed situations, i.e. enemy or suspicious persons.

    The “plotter” part means that the commplotter personnel would mark or in someway annotate the position and situation of the units deployed forces on a map(s).

    Duties would also include making telephone or radio reports (Upchannel) to higher headquarters in the chain of command as to security and manning status. i.e. attacks, etc. Also, to communicate (Downchannel) with units/assigned in the field of operations.

    Does any of this seem familiar? However, with your US Army training, the CP job names were probably different. However, some soldier(s) did those jobs, I’m sure.

    Thanks for the great blog. Don’t necessarily agree with all written, but I wasn’t there and it was over 40 years ago.

  53. Michael P Burbey, CMSgt,USAF,Ret
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    When you joined the AF didn’t you take an oath to defend the Constitution and obey the orders of the of the officers appointed over you? I was a volunteer member of the 1041st(T). Thank you Col Wise for your vision. The confidence and knowledge I received in Safeside followed me throughout my 26 years in the military. When I was assigned to the Air Police career field, I wasn’t promised what it entailed. So why do you feel you should have had a cushy desk job. VN changed the whole concept of protecting Air Bases in country. By the way 1041st concept is still being used today. That old Lt Col’s visions weren’t to far off.The purpose of the training was to build your confidence and give you
    the inspiration and knowledge to lead your troops in any situation. I was and still remain a proud member of Safeside. We are a brotherhood.

  54. Posted October 15, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    @Michael Burpey: I took an oath to defend the constitution, but not to obey the orders of superiors if they were deemed illegal. I did not believe I should have a cushy desk job, but I did not enlist in the USAF to be in a ranger-style unit.

    However, when I was involuntarily ordered to Safeside, I did complete the training and followed orders to Viet Nam, and carried out my duties but not without being critical of the war, especially bombings of inhabited undefended fishing villages. These were Nuremberg Crimes of the highest order.

    I suspect the difference between you and me is that you were a lifer. I clearly was not. That substantially changes one’s perceptions, expectations and interpretations of experiences.

  55. Michael P Burbey, CMSgt,USAF,Ret
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    I wasn’t a lifer at the time i joined Safeside but because I felt I needed to do more for my country. I became a lifer because of what Safe side offered. I was probably one of your instructors at Fort Campbell. I felt obligated to prepare the troops for VN and give them the best training possible, like I was given. What illegal orders were you given?

  56. Posted October 15, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    I commend you for taking your job seriously.

    Before I left Ft Campbell for Viet Nam, I was having my first sense that the war itself was a crime against peace which I knew from our required studies as officers of the US Rules of Engagement (Nuremberg), prohibiting invasion of another country.

    Once in Viet Nam I became privy of the planes at Binh Thuy flying almost daily missions of bombing inhabited and undefended villages in Vinh Long Province. These were war crimes and crimes against humanity.

    My obligation was to make known to my superiors about these crimes, and that by carrying out duties to protect these planes, I had become complicit in the chain of criminality.

    I flew to Tan Son Nhut to formally lodge legal complaints about the conduct of the war, and my Safeside role in it, and to urge formal complaints thru my chain of command to 7th Air Force. I was told by several levels of my chain of command to shut up, that we were carrying out orders. I said the orders to participate in any way of the bombing of villages were illegal, and we have a legal duty, even obligation, to make known of crimes against humanity and war crimes once we know of their being committed.

    Our 823rd Commander threatened to court martial me and told me that he would do whatever it took to keep me from making Captain. I informed everyone that I would continue to talk about these crimes, mostly to keep my sanity. I figured I probably would be court martialed, but certainly making Captain was of absolutely no concern to me. I wanted out at the first opportunity, even if it meant prison which, my commander told me, was going to be 5 years.

    I was sent home from VN early, completed my 4 years, was honorably discharged as a Captain, and when I got home I ceremoniously burned my uniforms. Somehow a decision to court martial was scrapped.

    So, you can see, there are all kinds of people, not all toe the line as we were taught, and certainly as I was taught. I changed my perspectives based on my age and experiences, and at that point there wasn’t much choice to stuff my own feelings and perspectives. I was 28 years old, and wanted to return to civil life to finish law school which I had partially completed before being drafted in 1966.

    Nonetheless, I was always polite in my daily anti-war expressions.

  57. Michael P Burbey, CMSgt,USAF,Ret
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    As a civilian you had a right to protest the war, once you joined the military the oath you took was a different story. I was happy to hear that you didn’t let your feelings interfer with your duties. It seems your men respected you and they were not aware of your feelings toward the war. I respect you for that. But don’ t get me wrong, I don’t agree with your line of thinking. Jim Dorrance, fondly referred to as Ranger 1, was a good friend of mine.

  58. Posted October 15, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Once one knows of violations of the Field Manual 2710, (Rules of Engagement),Law of Warfare, Sec. 498511, a military person is obligated to disobey illegal orders. There is no legal choice at this point, even tho I know the law is not taken seriously. I took it seriously.

    The war in Viet Nam – the US invasion of a country that did not threaten the USA – was a criminal act in violation of the most serious prohibition of Nuremberg – crime against peace. This is incorporated into the Field Manual.

    I don’t expect you to agree with me. But I stand on my reading of the law, and my adherence to what I felt my conscience dictated. My immediate superior in Viet Nam totally supported me even as he disagreed with my position on the war. He was a great guy.

    And I guess you know that Jim Dorrance was my NCO in Viet Nam. He knew of my position but we respected each other. After all I was just a green 1st LT, and he was an experienced soldier. But I think he respected me as a thinker. And I think he agreed with me about flaws in the Safeside concept.

    A year before Jim died, he asked me to come visit him in Arizona. I didn’t make it, but he shared with me on the phone and by mail that his views changed a lot as he got older. His artist daughter has reached out to me to explain that my politics had had a big influence on her father’s shifts in politics over time. I was happy to hear this, tho it was a surprise.

  59. Michael P Burbey, CMSgt,USAF,Ret
    Posted October 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    What were the flaws in the Safe Side concept as you see them.

  60. Posted October 15, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    There was a conflict in dispatching Safeside Sections (in my case more than 40 men, that included 2 mortar crews, a medic, and an admin unit) to complement existing security police units at 7th Air Force bases, whether they wanted us or not.

    In effect, I had two bosses, the Chief of Security Police (a Major) at Binh Thuy, and his operations officer, a Captain who was my de facto complement, and the 823rd commander (Lt Col.) and his operations officer (a Major) at Phan Rang. The latter visited me on several occasions, as did my flight commander who was stationed at Tan Son Nhut.

    The Binh Thuy Operations officer and I possessed very different perspectives about base security, especially at night. I was the designated night security force commander, which included not just the men in my section, but the men in the base security police unit, and a section of Vietnamese security personnel. The base operations officer would sometimes choose to be on night duty as well.

    There were a number of occasions when he and I had very different views on where to position men on the perimeter, where to place the M-60s, where to position the small anti-personnel radar units along the perimeter, when to pop flares as suspected noises were heard off the perimeter, and when to call in Spookys. We actually argued vigorously, sometimes on the perimeter road in the wee hours of the morning, even physically scuffling at one point. Who was in charge? This was a design problem in the Safeside concept.

    I did not particularly respect the Operations Officer even tho I was a 1st Lt. So, when we argued, it was like the guy from the outside (Safeside night security commander) crossing the local guy (base security police unit). This was a conflict built into the Safeside concept, partly because we were required to be in Viet Nam only TDY rather than PCS, to satisfy Congressionally imposed in-country military troop limits at 543,400.

    So, we were dispatched to supplement someone else whether they wanted us or not. The decision was being made by 7th Air Force with little authentic consultation with local base commanders. I know our presence at Binh Thuy was resented at times. And, I had different views as to how to oversee night security, and I wasn’t going to roll over for this local operations officer who I significantly disagreed with. To me, our lives were at stake, mine as much as his, and my men as much as his men, and the stakes were high.

    I also studied all the intelligence reports I could peruse – from the CIA, from Army Special Forces Detachments, from South Vietnamese reports, and from our own intelligence office at Tan Son Nhut. I never found anyone else studying these reports, certainly not the base Operations officer.

    On one occasion during a mortar attack about midnight, I ran to my jeep to get to the perimeter only to find it missing. I ran to the perimeter as rounds were exploding on base, only to discover about 2 hours later as I walked the perimeter going from outpost to outpost, a jeep slowly moving with lights out, of course. Lo and behold it was the base operations officer driving. The local security police unit was short jeeps, so he just hopped into my jeep and took off. I actually grabbed him and pulled him out of the jeep (I was almost 6′ 3″ and 215 pounds) and left him on the road to walk. I wrote up a report for 7th Air Force condemning this officer’s behavior interfering with my duties as night security force commander. He pleaded with me not to send it, since he was a career officer. I did not send it but always preserved it in case I needed it later in future conflicts with this guy.

    The tensions was essentially created by mixing unwanted outside forces with locally established ones.

    The other issue is that Safeside never functioned per their originally trained mission as so-called “rangers” (much to my relief), and our training as “combat security” units was a lot of fluff and pretense. And the local unit strongly resented the pretense.

    That is my two cents.

  61. Michael P Burbey, CMSgt,USAF,Ret
    Posted October 16, 2012 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    So the concept was good but the uttlzation wasn’t. We didn’t have those problems at Phu Cat because we had our own mission and territory of operation. Sounds like your differences with the Ops Officer stemmed from your training vs his lack of. Safe Side was never intended to integrate with local forces but politics got in the way. I wouldn’t say the training was fluffed up, it was tough and through. This is where the confidence building came in. The 1041st also experienced a lot of resentment from other units, especially at local Army Posts we trained at. One Post Commander suspended all passes until his Units could out run us or at the least, keep pace with with us. This never happened and they couldn’t out drink us either.

  62. Posted October 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    As I said, I didn’t want to be in Safeside, but simply did my best even as I increasingly was enraged about the illegality and immorality of the war. I was not a macho kind of guy, didn’t like the racist attitudes of some of my superiors, and of course was forced to put up with their dislike of me because of my political perspectives.

    Nonetheless, I was conscientious even if for no other reason because of the dangerousness of our situation requiring me to be alert and attentive to details.

    I was ecstatic to get out of the USAF in 1970.

    Posted October 17, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    I was with the 821st CSPS did training in schofield baracks and Ft Campbell KY, and was in Phan Rang, Plieku, and Ton Son Nhut,, how do I get a password>???? need help gettin OLD.. phone 916-804-4425 someone call… I am in Yuba City, Calif was called Maching Gun Kelly…anyone remember anything..was in revetment bunker during TET..

    Posted October 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    I was with the 821st CSPS did training in schofield baracks and Ft Campbell KY, and was in Phan Rang, Plieku, and Ton Son Nhut,, how do I get a password>???? need help gettin OLD.. phone 916-804-4425 someone call… I am in Yuba City, Calif was called Maching Gun Kelly…anyone remember anything..was in revetment bunker during TET.. Home base was forbes Field TOpeka Kansas then disbanded, then went to 308th MIssile wing Little Rock AfB. finished in 1971

  65. Ken Bagwell
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    I was in the 823rd, and met with all of the 823rd personnel at England AFB, Alexandria La., then proceeded to Fort Campbell, Ky. After training I went to Phan Rang AFB, So. Vietnam. From there I went to Bien Hoa, then to Pleiku AFB….I have been trying to locate members of the group. After we returned to England AFB, the unit was disbanded…..any body out there please contact….

  66. Paul G. MaXWELL
    Posted November 11, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    I volunteer for safeside
    Enland AFB
    Fort Campbell and deployment to Phan Rang in 1969 back to Fort Cambell then assigned back to SEA at Binh Thouy
    I was a Sgt and then aSSgt
    Please respond

  67. Paul G. Maxwell
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Ken Bagwell
    Please contac me:

  68. William mc Laughlin
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    I was a 2d lt when I was with the 823d. I remember major frank willingham capt joe gelsimino and Joel Thomason I don’t have a memory of most of my time there. But I think I was at bin thuy, thuy hoa pleiku and Phan rang. Would like to make contact with officers who served there

  69. Paul Hersh
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    I was with the 821st CSPS. Trained at Schofield Barracks.Most of us were never volunteers. I would say a lot of us were cast off from our primary bases for various reasons. I got in an auto accident with a military vehicle and was gone within two weeks.

    The training was intense and I was in great physical condition. About a month in Viet Nam I was in poor condition again from sitting in guard towers. We just supplemented the Security police at the bases. None of the training was ever used.

  70. Larry Wallace
    Posted March 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I was a PROUD member of the 1041st. Best unit I ever served in. We have a reunion yearly and enjoy the friendship, we have always had. Jim Dorrance was a close personal friend and we stayed in touch, until his death. He gave me the nick name of Ranger 2, and it has remained so since 1966. I am proud to have served with the 1041st SPS.

  71. Larry Wallace
    Posted March 19, 2013 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    I have known of Brian Wilson for a long time. He should have never served in the USAF. We did not need his services.

  72. Posted March 19, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    I tried to convince my superiors that I was not a good fit for Safeside and the 823rd. My commander threatened court martial on several occasions, on ridiculous grounds, to assure I would never be promoted to Captain.

    It didn’t help that he was quite incompetent. His boss, the Safeside Wing Commander at the time (Gaskins), was quite aware of our 823rd commander’s shortcomings and shredded a derogatory report my commander had written about me. He even shared with me in a moment of candor that it had been totally inappropriate. SO, my commander did not accomplish his wishes. I was separated as a Captain. I was very happy to get out of the USAF, even as others like yourself were pleased with your service which is fine.

    Nonetheless, Jim Dorrance was my NCO, and we were on very friendly terms. Long after he retired, while in Arizona, he begged me to come visit him on several occasions as he shared in letters that he had come to respect my criticisms of the Viet Nam war, President Nixon, and the continued bi-partisan corrupt governments in Washington.

    Dorrance’s artist daughter has also been in touch with me and has shared a number of conversations she had with her father about his and my relationship.

    Whatever you think of me I am sure it is based on very little factual info, tho I do not know what Dorrance might have shared with you. I do know what he shared with me.

    My immediate superior in Viet Nam, a Captain at Tan Son Nhut, praised me highly for my efforts at Binh Thuy.

    Such is the way the journey of life unfolds. I am proudly anti-war, pro-peace, and continue to relate much better with Indigenous Americans than with my European ancestors.

  73. Bob Stichler
    Posted March 25, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    I remember the first meeting at Fort Campbell in a large auditorium. Our new commander walking up to the podium and saying, “Welcome and thanks for Volunteering”. Everyone near me said, Volunteer??? I didn’t and after reading other post, I realize how I was selected into the 823rd. All the training for what? I got to stand outside the Red Cross girls/entertainers trailer to provide security or sit in bunkers or guard towers. I was assigned to “C” flight. My NCOIC was SSG Dodd (not sure of the spelling) OIC was ??? Never saw him. After returning to England AFB, we had no duty. Fall out every morning, take roll, and dismissed for the day. Then we were ordered to clear out the “overgrowth” around the base golf course and kill the snakes. While burning the brush, many cases of poison oak rash. Again, we were trained for this???

  74. CMSgt Duane E. Williams, Ret, 823 CSPS
    Posted April 23, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I too was not a volunteer. At the time I had 1 foot on a banana peel and the other in a jail cell. I did not enjoy training, but, help me later in my career. Had many hours of Air Base Defense Training. I was at Phan Rang with ‘D’ Flight. Arrived in country Mar 69 and left in Sep 69 and retiurned in Jan 70, went to Phu Cat AB and came back to Phan Rang to outprocess and left Aug 70. I ran into Maj Willingham when on the SAC IG Team, but, no further contact. I can say that I was tolerable of the time but did not hate it. As with all assignments, I liked some better than others.
    I remember the cleaning along the golf course at England AFB. Fortunately I drove the truck to the dump each day.
    Also had a good time with the Green Berets Training at Tiger Ridge.
    I left Hollman AFB to go to Fort Campbell for training. My name was put on the orders because I had declined K-9 training. The unit commander wanted me to go. He got his chance because thos orders were blank and the unit filled the slot with whomever they wanted.
    This leads to the rumor of misfits. But enjoyed the company of misfits!

  75. Kenneth Bagwell
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    I was also in the 823rd CSPSq stationed at England AFB, LA>, then Fort Campbell Ky., I would love to find ole members of the group and some information about maybe a possible reunion…..

  76. Kenneth Bagwell
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    How can I find the old plaque we received from the 823rd….?

  77. brian
    Posted June 13, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I am glad you have no regrets. No problem there. I knew the intelligence chief of our 823rd section at Tan Son Nhut and he shared with me the disciplinary history of many of the personnel files of members of the 823rd, including that of our squadron commander who had been booted out of OSI for behavioral issues. I know nothing of the men in the 821st and 822nd. I did not want to be in this unit andI was a very inappropriate fit which a number of officers at my previous assignment at HQ USAF Systems Command also agreed with. It wasn’t so much that I was a misfit per se, but was not an easily obedient soldier when it came to taking orders from certain quarters. So, in that sense, I was not fit and the 823rd commander knew that but blocked any assignment out. So, yes, that is the military, but a so-called USAF (Vs Army) ranger unit to function properly, it is wise to have men who want to be there and are eager to learn the ropes. In my case, I did the best I could under the circumstances, and even my immediate superior in Viet Nam described my performance in outstanding terms, tho my squadron commander disagreed with him. However, my immediate superior was the one that I interacted with and who observed my performance.

    In terms of your attitudes toward me which of course reveal your own bias of contempt for people such as myself, so it goes. If there is some technical or geeky trick to disassociating your name from mine, I am all ears as to how to do it.

  78. Paul G. Maxwell
    Posted June 16, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    I don’t know if I ever met you!
    I remember working closely with Capt. Mike Wheeler either in Phang Rang or Binh Thuy
    I did two tour almost back to back
    Paul Maxwell 823rd

  79. martin j silberman
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    So, here is the problem; yes you enlisted and the Air Force told you they were putting you on a specific path. Things change. Meanwhile you took an oath and are subject to the UCMJ.Unless the order is inconsistant with the Code, you are obligated to carry out those orders, regardless how distasteful. Remember what they said: “we didn’t draft you”. “You enlisted.” The great oxymoron made made no shortage of questionable decisions.We suck it up, focus on the mission,stay alive, go home.

  80. brian
    Posted June 20, 2013 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    I was one of 4 Section Leaders in Flight B, whose commander was Capt. Joel Thomason stationed at Tan Son Nhut. My Section was at Binh Thuy, while the other sections in Flight B were at Bien Hoa (Capt Joel Gelsomino), and 2 at Ton Son Nhut (2nd Lt Kim Hammond) with the other being a weapons section, as I recall). Our Section was sent to Phan Rang in June for more than 3 weeks while Phan Rang was experiencing an increase in Rocket Attacks. In fact the day we arrived a rocket attack killed 2 security policeman and their K-9 dog, with about 6 others injured. Our Section returned to Binh Thuy in early July. The 632nd Security Police Squadron at Binh Thuy which our Safeside Section supplemented, was headed by Major Rupert and Operations Officer Bob Tonner. This is from my notes. I do not remember a Capt. Wheeler, but in fact I only remember 5 other officers in the 823rd, including Thomason, Hammond, Gelsomino, and Lt Edwards (Pleiku) and Capt Nenner, in the 823rd intelligence office at Tan Son Nhut. They are all deceased.

  81. brian
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    @Martin. Blind obedience to authority is dangerous. In Viet Nam the US forces, including ours in Safeside, were part of an invading force violating the supreme international crime established by Nuremberg. And targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure is strictly forbidden in violation of our own Rules of Engagement that incorporate Nuremberg’s prohibitions against war crimes and crimes against humanity. That is what we were part of, and I knew it from my own experiences observing the after-effects of bombing inhabited farming and fishing villages. Under the Rules of Engagement, we are duty bound to disobey illegal orders and to make known war crimes and crimes against humanity, as Bradley Manning did.

  82. Posted July 13, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    In my opion all safe side units had a job to do,whether we volunteered or drafted into safe side we all didour job and many of came home.there was the orginal 822nd that was station at pleiku from 68 to 69.yet any web site stating vspa does. Not tell exactly stories about us only Jan.1970 to Dec.1970 I went back to pleiku ,don’t how many went back ,but went back as the 821st,stayed at pleiku to train the Vietnamese ,then frompleiku took convoy to nha trang ,stayed there till November then to bin thuy,some where in between I ended up at tan son nhut ,during that time at tan son nhut I received the air force commendation medal from the commander of 377 th sps,and it is not in my dd214,yet I have the certificate from the air force with my name and a certificate of the time period I was at tan son nhut.I have sent emails to the air force about records or rosters or orders of the units,or fire teams that I was on.I was sent back a letter that the records I asked for that the air force doesnt keep records .so in my opion the 822nd wasnt reconized.

  83. Posted August 27, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    I Left schofield Aug.24,1968 to march 24,1969 ended up at pleiku ,don’t know what flight or fire team I was on.have written many names that were with me at pleiku,yet not one time have I ever received any notification of any personnel .second while at Seymour Johnson from 1969 to 1970 again have written asking for names of troops that went back .I know we went back as the 821st,but I ended up at tan son nhut how long fire team flight don’t know.what ever web I go to all is said is about heavy weapons.look I believe no one wanted to be there .volunteering or being drafted like or not it was our duty too obey and to defend this country in any way possible.all I ask for where r the other names ,besides heavy weapons ,kinderman lt,vasas,Mackenzie,valenti,creasey,supan,shupe,Shelley,Strickland,rauls,porter,scienskei,and major frank Christensen ,all pleiku ,how can all these names be forgotten ,after all all units were in a combat zone ,it seems that if u retired ur name is reconized,be up set at this article It is only my opion not my friends,

  84. Hound Dog
    Posted September 12, 2013 at 4:54 am | Permalink

    So you enlisted in the AF to avoid being drafted into the Army so you wouldn’t be exposed to the Viet Cong, right? I enlisted in 1969, certainly didn’t want to be a cop, but was made one anyway. You took the same basic I did. We were trained to follow all orders and made to understand the importance of cohesion and unquestioning loyalty to the benefit of our mission. The only questions I have for you are: (1) Why did you ever enlist in the first place (2) Did you refuse to cash your checks to demonstrate your disagreement with America’s plan in Nam? Proud to have served, proud to have been a cop.
    SSgt-Security Police Supervisor

  85. Posted October 18, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    At the of 65 I realize when I was volunteered into safeside that by joining the air force we all signed a check with no amount to be filled entering air force no one knew what was ahead.
    822nd training at schofield was hard ,but we suceeded and went onto do our job.needless to say under government orders as I do understand it later on to be politicas .some hate some understanding.forty three years have passed by and still am proud to have served .there r so many untold stories on how members of safeside were treated by higher echelon ,doesnt matter now ,just memories .to come I had to.adapt ,conquer and go on.Vietnam will always be a part of us as like losing a parent never to forget .I am glad I never knew you because what you did as an officer in my opion shows no honor in ur men or in yourself.quote from one of nco’ s ,a man with an excuse is in excuse him self.

  86. Posted January 29, 2014 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    does anyone from the 1041 recall a guy big dan moultrie he is 6ft6 served 67 68

  87. JP Shiels
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    i was with the 823 ft b feb 69-aug 69 trained at ft campbell

  88. JP Shiels
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    i was with the 823 flight B trained at Ft Campbell went to Phu Cat in 69
    Stationed at Minot 67-68 before joining safeside

  89. Posted February 12, 2014 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

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  90. Chuck Williams
    Posted March 8, 2014 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    I volunteered in 1969 to join forces with the 822nd safe side unit at Seymore Johnson A F Base.. and 1970 went to Fort Campbell Kentucky to finish up on my special training.. you have your ups and downs in about everything in life… some liked it and others complained… when it comes down to it all and all….. I was just so proud to have been able to serve my country …

  91. Chuck Williams
    Posted March 8, 2014 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I volunteered in 1969 to join forces with the 822nd safe side unit at Seymore Johnson A F Base.. and 1970 went to Fort Campbell Kentucky to finish up on my special training.. you have your ups and downs in about everything in life… some liked it and others complained… when it comes down to it all and all….. I was just proud to have been able to serve my country….

  92. Ken Hoffman
    Posted March 10, 2014 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    I was at S-J Apr 69-Aug 70. Took the training at Ft Campbell. Does anyone remember Walt Seay — I believe he was original Safeside cadre and was our trainer at Campbell. For that matter, anyone out there remember me?

  93. John Crowl
    Posted April 8, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    I was with the 823rd in 1969 but cannot remember the date I was in country I was a sergeant at the time.

  94. Posted April 21, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

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  95. Posted April 23, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

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  96. Paul G. Maxwell
    Posted April 26, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    I remember Walt Seay as Cadre

    I also knew John Crowl

    Some things I remember and others not so much

  97. Leslie Gaskins
    Posted May 24, 2014 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Arnold “John” Houchin

    Hello John:

    I am in Denver. We last had dinner in Sacramento in 1971.

    Where are you know? Unfortunately I contracted multiple myeloma, according to the VA a result of the Agent Orange at Phu Cat, one the three worst bases for the dispensing of the poison.

    Email me.


  98. Leslie Gaskins
    Posted May 24, 2014 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Arnold “John” Houchin


    I am in Denver. Haven’t seen you since our dinner in Sacramento.

    Please email.

    I contracted multiple myeloma in 1/2008, the VA says presumptive Agent Orange. Phu Cat is one of the three most contaminated bases for AO.

    Look forward to hearing from you.


  99. Arley Owens
    Posted May 24, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    I served with the 823rd and just found this web page. Lt. Gaskins was over our Section. I was stationed at Phu Cat and exposed to Agent Orange. It was always a mystery to me how I volunteered for the 823rd. The folks at Ellsworth AB said we volunteered to go TDY to England AB for six months. Although once I was in I gave 110% I met some great people and still communicate with them. 823rd CSPS Second To None!

  100. Posted June 21, 2014 at 4:46 am | Permalink

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  101. A Rdz
    Posted June 24, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Hello, I have been trying to find more information on my grandfather. Last name Daniels, he has a small plaque that says 823 CMBT SEC POL SQ
    T SGT B. R. Daniels
    It says he was in Vietnam Nam Feb – Sept of ’69
    Does anyone remember him?

  102. Jim Cote
    Posted June 26, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I was stationed at Niagara Falls Intl Airport during which time I reported to my flight chief TSgt Joe Parrella – he had recently been made NCOIC Security and I was slated to be his clerk – on the Friday prior to the move to the clerk job he came to see me at the Bomarc site and said – good news/bad news – first you can’t be my clerk – good news is you’ve been selected to be with an elite group – you’ve got orders to go to Hawaii and join the 822nd – when I was in Air Police School at Lackland – members of the 1041st had arrived – our training NCO – said – those guys are going to go through special forces training and then to Viet Nam – anyone want to volunteer to join them – well, not one had went up – In May of 1968 I arrived at Schofield Barracks – we were greeted (about 100 of us) by a TSgt who welcomed? us – by saying “you are all volunteers” I looked around at the other men and we all kind of acknowledged we had not volunteered – someone spoke up and said – “Sgt there must be a mistake, none of us volunteered” – his reply was a quick – “sure you did – don’t you remember when you took that oath the day you enlisted – that’s when you volunteered to serve as needed” – I knew few who wanted to go through the training – none whom were gung ho – We left for Phan Rang on the first flight – and 7 1/2 months later we were on the last flight that evacuated the 822nd in March 1969 – I did find out however, that Sgt Parrella had in fact volunteered for the 823rd and was one of the group that relieved us – when I got home – I was to have 30 days leave – and report back to Niagara Falls and get orders there to report to Seymour Johnson AFB – however – early outs were offered to anyone with a DOS of 30Jan70 or prior – I opted for the early out so my orders to Seymour Johnson were terminated – during the “retention interview” I was with about 5 other Airmen – the Lt doing the interview made a valiant effort to retain the other Airmen – I was the last he spoke to – when he asked why I would want to get out – I was quite honest – I said “I joined the Air Force because I wanted my military time to be like a normal job – for the last 10 months – I lived the life of an Army Soldier or Marine – had I wanted to spend my time training in the field to do patrols and hand to hand combat I would have joined one of those forces – and if I opt to stay in and re-enlist the Air Force will send me right back to that life” He looked at my records and said “I see what you mean” – Prior to joining the 822nd I had received 4 ER’s – my first rated me 8′s and 9′s – the three subsequent ER’s rated me straight 10′s – I enjoyed the Air Force and probably would have re-enlisted – the original intent of going in was to get into Air Police (my recruiter said “Law Enforcement FOR SURE”) because I had visions of becoming a police officer like others in my family – but prior to the 822nd I was leaning to an Air Force career – while in Viet Nam with the 822nd – I reported to a TSgt Campbell – my ER from him was straight 5′s – I never understood the reason for his rating and when he gave it to me I had already made my mind up that the Air Force was not going to be a career if I was in this unit – so I did not argue (not that it would have done me a bit of good – or for that matter what would it change – maybe a couple areas moved up to 6?) – for me the entire time was a de-motivator – I look back at that time now and have to say I’m proud that I completed the training – I’m proud that I served in Viet Nam – but, given the option I would have never chosen that path – on the other hand – civilian life has been very good to me – I started my own business and it has been very successful – so had I gone for an Air Force career none of that would have happened – maybe I have the 822nd and Sgt Campbell to thank for helping me make that decision

  103. Jim Cote
    Posted June 30, 2014 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    just want to add another comment – Sgt Parrella as I understand retired as SMSgt – I also understand that a few years ago he was killed by an intruder who attempted to rob his house while he and his wife were shopping – Sgt Parrella was terrific leader and a great motivator of men – without doubt the most respected person I ever served under and/or worked for – he gave everyone an opportunity to prove their capabilities and excel -

  104. Posted July 12, 2014 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

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  105. Felix Gene Rabanal Sgt
    Posted August 3, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    I was with the 821st from 67 thur 69. Based out of Forbes AFB Kansas. Tour in Vietnam Phu cat, Phan Rang, binh Thuy, during the TIT 68 . Was anyone in the same unit? Let me know.

  106. Tim Duncan Ssgt
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Two tours in Vietnam, the second was with 823rd. England La. Ft Campbell, Phan Rang and Pleiku. Upon return to England reassigned to Nellis AFB with Major Willingham, Scammerhorn and several others. Don’t know where or when I picked up agent orange, but unfortunately it appears I’m in good company. We did respond to the K9 incident at Phan Rang. I can’t say enough about Brian’s efforts. Appreciate it.

  107. Rick Adams
    Posted September 20, 2014 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    Gents, anyone in Safeside, if you did not know it there is a Safeside Association. We have reunions and have a website. The website is
    Under the Service tab you can fill out an information sheet and, if you would like, join the association. In order to keep track of all members of Safeside, I would ask that you fill out the info. sheet. That way if someone would like to contact you I can put them in touch. I would contact you before giving out any of your info. I am the Membership Chairman, thus I keep the main roster for the group. Look forward to hearing from a lot of you.

  108. Rick Adams
    Posted September 20, 2014 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    Contact me at

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  113. Robert (Bob) Jones
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Just found this site and it was refreshing to read all the emails. I was in the 822nd and while the training was pretty gruesome I came out of it a much more confident person and that has served me well throughout my military and civil service careers.

  114. Ed Christie
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Buddy of mine passed away yesterday. Obituary says he was in 823rd. Larry Holligan, of kidney failure.
    He and I worked together in early 1970s
    with Alexandria La. police dept.
    He was a firearms instructor in the academy.
    If you have any stories about him I’d be glad to forward them to his daughter here in Alexandria.
    Nam 66-67
    EAFB 67-68

  115. Pat Kemp
    Posted February 7, 2015 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    RE: Ken Hoffman’s reference to SSgt. Seay:
    HA! I remember him from Ft. Campbell and he remembered our group, I’d imagine. The first morning he came into the barracks, picked up a large garbage can and started banging on it while screaming his “Good Morning!” bullshit. We awakened to him and his standard methods one time but, the second day-he awoke to our unexpected response. Our response was one boot thrown at him, from everyone, which knocked him back through the double-doors and out into the hallway. Next day he came in-flipped on the lights and exited without a word.
    As far as opinions about Vietnam, the unit itself and our personal involvement at the time, in the conflict, were moot points. I never met better people, had better assignment(s) or enjoyed my time in the military more than my time with Safeside. We all came home alive so, what more could any troop ask for during those tumultuous years?
    In 1971 I was assigned TDY to Clark AFB and then to Takhli RTAFB where I volunteered for a perimeter security construction crew and had a small group of Thai workers and another regular SP, to work with, until an accident sent me back to Clark AFB for medical treatment. 3 Thais died, 10 were injured in the fuel fire and that was a memory that I have never forgotten. If it wasn’t for my Safeside training I would have missed that experience which had positive and negative outcomes. I, also, met one of my Ft. Campbell Instructors who ended up working for me on my crew. Imagine that–me giving orders to one of the Safeside Cadre. The only order I gave was for him to choose what he wanted to do while on my crew. I call that payback with a smile.
    The only complaints I had during my 4 years in the Air Force was having to come back to an ungrateful country and a broken Veterans Administration. The Safeside Association brought those friends from the past back to the present and I am grateful for that fact.

    Pat Kemp
    822nd (1969-71)

  116. Posted February 23, 2015 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

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  118. jim kirby
    Posted April 8, 2015 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I remember Frank Ruiz and “Mac” MacKenzie VERY well. Many other names are familiar. Anybody remember Allen W. Gutfranski (“Ski”)?
    Don’t get me wrong. I was proud to have been in the 822nd. The training at Schofield did wonders for my mind and body. I did NOT care for Seymor-Johnson or Goldsboro!

  119. Cindy Smith
    Posted May 25, 2015 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    My sisters and I are searching for information about our Dad, Jay Winthrop Smith, USAF who passed in 1976. We believe he was in the 1041st, serving as a pilot and was a 1Lt or perhaps a Capt at Phu Cat. We think he was dropping paratroopers there, but not sure. If anyone has any info about him, or knows guys that knew him, we’d very much appreciate getting connected. Much thanks.

  120. jl
    Posted June 17, 2015 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    What I have gathered from all this is that the military doesn’t know its stuff. Ignorance to allow one unit against the other. I will never like officers; check out those duf bags on T.V. (a treasonous general is allowed to keep his retirement, while the enlisted guys are looking at San Quinton ??) Lessons learned, big guys don’t have time for enlisted issues. AND that is where the problems for effective combat performances lie. Without biting my tongue I say we did good. Not knowing the degree of conflict we were going into. Why, because lose lips sink ships. Crap,we should have been told we were the biggest baddest, best armed unit to set foot there. (Some units didn’t like us but they liked the 50 cals, the laws, the bee hives, etc) On the level of what sector should be ours and theirs was another issue that higher ups should concentrate on. Unit cohesiveness: Plain lazy upper crust crap not to develop unity. They still do it these days. For Desert Storm reserve activation some punk was telling me to obey him because of his rank. Yet, he was ignanignant. And the commander of a reserve Safeside unit telling me to send him a resume to join his unit. Shit. So, it falls back on the dumbed upper leadership. They have no desire to establish the above and beyond knowledgeable base of operation they push down our throats. They talk a lot of stuff, but at the end of the day they go back to their secure officers club and act like they are manning armies back in the dark ages. Maybe thats why the war companies came up with drones.
    So, the 821st enlisted, as I recall had troops going every which way. Protecting bases, doing patrols, on helicopters, on the Mekong delta. So, the Ammo dump that blew up close to me made me rethink mortar fire. Anyway, the AF didn’t allow money for historical security police films. Very little if any, other services got their write ups but us AF security ground pounders.
    So, stay well and live long, cause they would take that away from us if they could.
    By the way, Not that it makes any difference, since I was brainwashed, but I volunteered. I mean,”que pasa,” I am from the Rio Grande Valley. Right.
    To all those that are alive and dying off, I respect you for ever. I hope I didn’t get off the subject. But you know where the buck stops and those are the guys that never get hung.

  121. sgt john egan
    Posted July 7, 2015 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    i was with the 823 in novv68 at fort campbell ky we wennt to nam in feb 69 mt com officer was lt housen i was in a ft our sq leaders were sgt hill sgt lushh sgt person sgt c conner

  122. sgt john egan
    Posted July 8, 2015 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    i was with the 823 cmps sq doing training at fort cambpell ky i was in ft a tsgt curry was our sgt in charge and msgt marchel our com was lt col i cant think of his name off hand i was in the bat on the top floor across from the motor pool i was with randy brooks peter smith roger webber glen mc cannn curtes street strwart sherk harvey hamlet pinkey glen astion joe schane bennett dobbins thomaas pratt peter smith hussam davis i cant think of any one ealse if any of you guys see your name please drop me a line my e mail is also i remember lt housen he read me art 31 on my post one night because i got in a little trouble in town

  123. Posted July 23, 2015 at 11:13 am | Permalink

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  127. Bob Husson
    Posted August 19, 2015 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    I was stationed at F.E.Warren, AFB, in 1968 when after Tet they asked for volunteers to join the 823rd and were promised combat training in Hawaii. I volunteered hoping to spend my off time on the beach with my wife and new son. Instead they sent us to Ft. Campbell for combat training. Do you know you can sleep on frozen ground. Does anyone remember getting to the firing range when the ground was frozen and by that afternoon you were up to your knees in mud. I was assigned as a machine gunner and loved the training. Of course I hated the early morning runs, push up in the snow, and pull ups before you could eat breakfast, but my father was a lifer in the USAF and I was proud to serve in his foot steps. I was sent to Phan Rang and put in a machine gun tower from dusk to daylight. Was almost killed by mortar fire. Got into mortars because I fell asleep while on post and thought I was going to LBJ. I served with guys who didn’t want to be VN, but Brian Wilson you joined the USAF because you were afraid you were going to VN in any other branch of service. I never served with any other military policeman with such cowardly thoughts. I only hope I didn’t serve with you in the 823rd.

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  130. Melvin L. Thompson /823 csps / Ft. Campbell
    Posted September 10, 2015 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    My name is Melvin l. Thompson and I was trained at Ft. Campbell also and ultimately ending up at Phang Rang, Ton Sa Knut and Bien Hoa.
    I remember Steve Bevan, Larry Gore, John Wytonik, Bagwell from clarksville, Burnell Reed and many more.
    I was present also when Capt. Thomason got hung upside down during our repelling maneuvers.
    I don’t have any regrets for serving my country and I’ d do it all over again if I were a younger man.

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  132. Marlin Runions
    Posted October 5, 2015 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    I was in the 822nd CSPS based at Seymour-Johnson AFB, NC. I went through training at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii Jun through Aug 1968. I was in group II, flight 6. TSGT Villareal was the flt Sgt. Some of the names I remember are SSGT Bowman, SSGT Hannah, Henry, Two guys named Moore,(not related), Anderson, Caudill, Howard who was our mail runner,and many more I have forgotton. Near the end of the training we were assigned specialized training and were organized into groups that would serve together in Viet Nam. My specialty was the M-60 machine gun. I was in section II. 1st Lt Kinderman was section OIC and MSGT Portwood was NCOIC. Our section departed from Hickam AFB on a C-141 Starlifter Aug 25th a Sunday as I recall. There were two stops on the trip; 1st on Wake Island, and 2nd at Clark AB, the Phillipines. After arriving at Phan Rang we stayed approx. 2-3 days & was deployed to Tan Son Nhut. Stayed there approx. 2 months,back to Phan Rang approx. 1 one month, then to Pleiku approx. 2 plus months. Some of the guys I remember: Suess,Rauls, DeCarlo, LaFaver, Ruiz, Gepner, Trostle,Morris(we were roommates at Carswell in Tex), Kirby,Sprute, Gutfranski, Saylor,Brown, & many others who have faded from memory.
    Some of you may remember when we returned to Phan Rang after Pleiku to prepare to go home we were deployed again without notice & were bounced around for about 2 weeks from Bien Hoa,Bien Thuy,Cam Rahn Bay & finally back to Phan Rang & we left a few days later. I think somebody pulled one off to get himself home sooner.
    I like many of you out there am proud of my service to our country. I will not forget my experiences at Schofield or in Nam. It was great serving with you guys. With my best wishes to all former and present Safeside troops…Drive On!!!

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  134. James (Jamie) Leslie Dorrance Jr.
    Posted December 2, 2015 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Hello Brian,
    I am TSgt. Jim Dorrance’s eldest son; please respond to this text so that we might discuss some errors regarding my father’s death and how he came to reconsider at least some of his political and/or international views. Thank you in advance for your consideration.
    Sincere regard,
    James Leslie Dorrance Jr.

  135. Posted December 2, 2015 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Hi James Leslie Dorrance, Jr.

    I would rather continue this personal conversation on email. Thank you.


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  137. Ron Townsend
    Posted December 27, 2015 at 1:44 am | Permalink

    I served with Capt. Thomason in Vietnam. He was a very good officer to work with and for while in the 823CSPS. The last time I talked to him was just before my discharge at Luke AFB Arizona and if I had seen him sooner I may have stayed in the Air Force to serve with him again. My experience as a fire team leader in “B” flight was a lot easier to deal with because of Capt. Thomasons great leadership. Sorry to hear of his passing.

  138. Bernie Garbauskas
    Posted January 24, 2016 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I served w/821stcsps at Forbes,Ft Campbell then phan Rang, Tuy Hoa. Iwas on
    B flight Fireteam 18 as M60 man. Don
    Isaacs asst m-60, Tony Silva rto, Jerry
    Chambers. NCOIC was Tsgt Taylor, Capt
    Ogur was CO. I recently joined SS Org
    in 2015. Didn’t know about it. Also Sgt
    Belcher was fireteam leader. I recently
    retired as a HS science teacher. Would
    like to hear from guys that I served with. I made SGT at Tuy Hoa. And I
    volunteered for SAFESIDE! Thanks

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  141. Posted February 27, 2016 at 9:04 am | Permalink

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  142. Steve Packard
    Posted May 18, 2016 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    John Morris and I graduated from the US Air Force Academy in June 68 and Army Ranger School in Sep. We were training officers at Ft Campbell until volunteering to go to VietNam in Sep 69. John went to Phan Rang then Pleiku. I was the Section Leader at Binh Thuy from Sep 69 to Feb 70 then Phu Cat until Aug 70.

    I felt that 90% of the SafeSide people at both bases were competent and conscientious. Some were outstanding. The NCOs at both bases kept me out of trouble. I was disappointed at the way we were integrated into the host units, but they had primary responsibility for the security of those bases and we didn’t have the resources to fully secure even the smallest air base over there.

    The US military is not responsible for politics – just following the legal orders of our commanders and elected civilian leaders. I don’t recall any illegal orders.

    I retired while serving at USCENTCOM in June 88. I am proud to have served with SafeSide as well as the other assignments.

  143. Joseph Mark DeMarino
    Posted June 16, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I served in the 823rd, arriving in Vietnam in February ’69, departing in August same year. I was assigned to PhuCat. I appreciated Brian’s essay because I was not aware of the politics behind the formation of the unit. You showed the courage of your convictions. I volunteered so as to escape the approaching winter on the plains of South Dakota. Looking back, the training at Ft Campbell was minimal, yet, we did our duty once in country. I was not aware Agent Orange was stored there and fortunately do not have any ill side effects. Lt. Gaskins, be well. A shout out to Tony Mehlbauer, John Cangelosi, Tom Fucito, and all others in our flight. Your friendship will not be forgotten.

  144. Ken Trickey
    Posted September 4, 2016 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    I “volunteered” to join a unit for training to go to Vietnam, called the 821st Combat Security Squadron. I’ve never experienced such a incompetent bunch of jerks in my life. Trained at Schoefield, sent to Phang Rang, Phu Cat, Ton Son Nhut, etc. We were not trained for anthing but but guard towers. I was going for career AF but that ended it! Thank God!

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  146. Robert L. Martin
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    HEY,GUYS Glad to read much about SAFE SIDE GUYS! its been a long time. I was a volunteer in MAY of 1969 for safe side combat security police sq. at Fort Campbell Ky. training till Aug. off to Forbes AFB than deployed to Phan Rang Ab VIETNAM home base shipped out with the 821st safe side to Binh THuy ab Sept 69-APRIL 70 SERVED WITH a great bunch of guys the best there is!!!! Hey! john McDaniels do you remember me Rob Martin along with James WAy andd ssgt. Rutherford how about Richard Beck?

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