Viet Nam and Operation Phoenix: what was it?

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Dec 25, 2002
Decatur, AL
Don't know if the moderators will allow this. I have a pretty good reason for asking about it, but don't know what other forum to go to.

What was Operation Phoenix, what branches of the military were involved, and what sort of personnel were involved?

IOW, if you got drafted in 1970, volunteered for Viet Nam (when stationed in Germany), then re-enlisted in 1972, would that be enough to get you into "G2" and the Phoenix Program?
The Phoenix Program/SE Asia

Few details are known to the general public about this classified program. I've read a few non-fiction books about special operations/CIA missions in SE Asia/VietNam and I learned a few things;

The basic point of Phoenix opertations was to single out and identify the military/political leadership of the villages, cities and towns of South VietNam, Laos, Cambodia etc. The CIA/DoD also wanted to know how Viet-Cong forces were led and organized in these rural areas.

Many functions of the Phoenix operatives were civil affairs and nation building. Some tribes/groups in SE Asia(like the Hmong and Nung) were not liked or trusted by the residents of SVN(South VietNam aka RVN). These "lower classes" were treated poorly but some were payed well to help US troops/CIA officers.

The Rand Corporation and the CIA gathered research/information about who was VC/NVA in these places then they sent spec ops units out to "eliminate" them.

Many rumors and/or myths are made about the real Phoenix Program but the "top secret" or special missions that some SE Asia combat veterans or "experts" claim are not true.

I'd look into the books about Phoenix Program operations at your local library or through book selling websites like .

Rusty :cool:
While Operation Phoenix is/was fairly well known, the full scope (geographically and politically) has never really been shown. There were MANY of these clandestine ops going on, involving CIA/DIA, as well as army and "civilians" (ex-military, or military personel that had been temporarily removed from service and "sheep-dipped")...Many were conducted in Laos and Cambodia, even when we weren't supposed to be there. If you dig hard, under the freedom of information act, you can find tidbits about many of them, however all names have been replaced with numbers (or just redacted). According to the government this is because some of the people involved COULD be tried as war criminals, in some of the countries.
These operations continued way into the last years of the war, even after most of the US troops had been moved out.

Another interesting, similar, operation was called The Ravens ( or Operation Raven?). These guys (sheep-dipped US military) operated a LARGE forward air base, primarily for scouting, right in the middle of the Laotian jungle(with the cooperationof the local mountain tribes, who hated the NVA, or the communists in their own country. They still do today, and are still fighting. So the government pretty much, leaves them alone. There was actually a show on TV about it recently (and I was surprised at the amount of information that they were allowed to show.)

Don't ask how I know all this. My official records show that I was attending college in 1972-73, I've never been in the military, and I've never been to SE Asia. That's what the records show, and I'm sticking with it.
71 or 72 was the end of major troop build up and we were lowering our troop concentrations and by Aug 74 we were out of most of the hostilities, by Mar thru May 75 S Vietnam was done.
If someone enlisted by 70 and re upped in 72, they probably would have been an E3 or E4, not enough rank to do the "cool" stuff.
You want cool? Pull the lanyard on a 155 - now we're talking shootin'.

Hi Biker. If you were at Firebase Fuller, Vandergriff, or a half dozen others in I Corp, I owe you a beer.......Maybe two.
It was like if you identified the local activist socialist political leaders (called the cadre) thru all intelligence gathering means to cross check validity .
Then you infiltrate and hire and train the local gang members who have potential as assassins .
Then you dress like a commie and shouting the slogans visit said activists, drag them out and hold "peoples court" demonstrations, just like they did!
Hmmmm, might work over here!:evil:
Nah Kevin, I was 1/84 FA 9th Inf Div. But if I *was* there, I woulda put metal on meat for ya. Do I still get the brew?:)

There's some interesting stuff about the Phoenix Program in The Man Who Kept The Secrets, Richard Helms And The CIA,, by Thomas Powers, Knopf Publ., (c) 1979.

Here's a hint... if somebody pronounces it the "Operation Fonix" (as in "hooked on..."), then they probably weren't in it. ;) :)
As I understand Operation Phoenix, it was a program designed to take the war directly and personally to the command and control structure of the Viet Cong and NVA in the south. The intention was to capture and kill and destroy the infrastructure being developed to govern the south during a time of war. Now in terms of strict counter insurgency tactics, Phoenix was the thing to do. Problem is it got out of control when the South Vietnamese became overly enthusiastic in eliminating its opposition. Popular press discredits the program while other who are a little more savy in things related to counter insurgency deem the program pretty much effective.
The reason I was asking is that a guy I work with (who is exactly my age, 55) was in Viet Nam.

He's told me little bits and pieces about what he did there. He mentioned being in G2, and having a lot of intelligence access. The other day he mentioned Operation Phoenix.

In his short description of his experience, he said that he was pretty much alone most of the time, and lived in a Vietnamese village.

He's alluded to killing the enemy, but never talked particulars in any way.

As I mentioned in the first post, he said he was drafted in 1970. He's also told me that he was stationed in Germany, but then volunteered to go to Viet Nam. Also, he says that he re-enlisted.

The reason I'm curious about Operation Phoenix and what that all means is that this guy is a very liberal Democrat. He's very anti-Bush and anti-war.

When we discuss politics in general, and the Middle East in particular, he's been able to frame the debate in terms of "I was there and you were not." Thus, I'm immediately at a disadvantage in debating him over our actions in the Middle East, as I've never been in the service.
"I was there and you were not."

I've never felt that way and certainly never said it as a way to win an argument. Sounds like his side of the debate is weak on merit and he is grasping at straws.

I wonder what he thinks my political opinion is worth? I only risked my life to save the lives of others during that era. I joined by choice and participated in thousands of search and rescues... If he says it's worthless he'd be right, I couldn't get a dime for it. :D
Next time he brings up something like that, ask him how old he was. If he can't tell you, he's probably full of smelly-poopie. I have several friends who spent time there. Everyone of them can tell you exactly how old they were when they went, how long they were there, and how old they were when they left - without even stopping to think.
Er, he said the guy was 55. Luckily I was #6 in the draft lottery when Nixon stopped the draft - that was in '73. :)
(who is exactly my age, 55)

If he is 55 in 2006, he was born in 1951, and was 18 in 1969. Maybe he was drafted in '70. That may be true. However, it doesn't make much sense to send a young draftee into something special like a covert int mission. Maybe I have a misconception, but intelligence work seems like one of those things done by guys who have a bit more experience and motivation than a young draftee would.

Secondly, and in my eyes far more importantly:

"I was there and you were not."

$5 says he is full of crap. I am 22. I remember being a stupid 15 year old asking the dumbest (and in hindsight, ignorant and unintentionally insensitive) questions ever to a few men who really had been in places like Korea and Vietnam. They *never* gave me an attitude like that. I have *never* met a real veteran who had that attitude. (Some politely refused to speak of the things that happened, but they were always polite.) A liberal Democrat who plays the "I was there and you were not." card sounds like a guy trying to shut you up with guilt. Look at what the anti's do, they trot out a parent of a kid killed in a gang war, and call for gun bans, because she suffered, and you haven't. It is a leftist tactic to make you look/feel bad if you debate them because they suffered and you didn't. Their suffering means they are automatically right in their own eyes.

He may have been there, but I doubt it was anything special. He probably had a service like good ole Liberal Sen. Max Cleland. (You know, drop a grenade on yourself, then go home and play the pity card.)
I was a bartender for longer than I should have been. I heard the most improbable BS war stories you can imagine. Everybody that bragged was something high-speed low drag, SEAL , Army SF or something. I never met anyone that was a truckdriver or cook in VN, the loudmouths were all superspooks.

However, at the Legion Post that I belonged to, the real heros never bragged and their stories were usually about how screwed up the services was, how they got over on the system or improbable exploits with alcohol and local bargirls.

I remember one hero who had more medals than John Kerry(he sez), he could not rember which company he was while a 'green beret', who the CO was of the "green berets" while he was there in VN nor where he processed in country.

If they have memory lapses or become overly vague about details, they are lying and I have quit mincing words when I run into these people. You are a pretty sick puppy is something that happened 40 years ago is still important to you today.
Probably get some straight info from Soldier of Fortune magazine folks; they'll answer emails when somebody's "reality" could be questioned. They despise phonies.

Odds are poor that a young guy would have been in the Phoenix program, particularly on a first tour. Experience and maturity were factors in the selection process.

SomeKid, he never said "I was there and you weren't." He's never even come close to saying that, although he bases his arguments on that fact.

As I said, I may be reluctant to challenge him because I feel guilty for not having gone to VN. I was available pretty much anytime the draft board wanted me, but never got picked.

jaysouth, I have no doubt whatsoever that my co-worker was there. I'm just trying to figure out what he was doing, as I don't want to be too direct with my questions to him.

"...their stories were usually about how screwed up the services was, how they got over on the system..."

Now that's a subject that he brings up often. ;)
You might ask him where he took his basic, his MOS, what's written on a claymore, the effective range of a bloop gun...or just shine 'im on.
If he's BSin', who gives a damn about his opinion? If he's not, I'd be surprised. He might have been in Nam, but he was likely a housecat.
Kinda like everyone who has been reincarnated was Cleopatra or Napolean - never a laundry attendant at a San Fransisco massage parlor during the gold rush.

Go pick up Stalking the Vietcong by Herrington,who was a young Army officer who essentially did go straight to the Phoenix program,though not nearly as direct a route as the man in question seems to have dubiously taken...It's not shoot em up action but an outstanding book if you've wondered about the motivations of the VC and how they operated on a village level.I think if more people in the US had that insight,the war would have been waged far,far more effectively.

Isn't it amazing how the armed forces manages to operate with no clerks,bakers or truck drivers to support the 800,000 special operations forces we must have? I once met a guy at a bookstore who must've got his reading crossed up and was telling me about his Hmong strikers with him in Lebanon in 1983.I would guess he must've been 14 when promoted to Major:scrutiny:
SomeKid sez....

I am 22.
& a bunch of other stuff :D

I am 40 right now & spent 12+ years in the National Guard way back when (got out 8 years ago). At the early time in my unit (mid 1980's), roughly 10% of the people had seen some sort of service in Vietnam. The one's that had been something other than a truck driver (we were a Transportation platoon but there were some that transfered in) NEVER elaborated on the stories (ones with the SF or AA patch on their right side). So SK's pontifications ring true :D .

Frankly your coworker is 99% more than likely full of it. There is no shame in doing the job that you were assigned to do, the shame comes when you try to do what he is doing. Don't call him out but be VERY aware of his character when dealing with him in the future.
SE Asia combat vets/Phoenix/SOG

I agree nutbars and losers who cling to false claims of being "war heroes" or spec ops super troopers make me want to puke too, :barf: . I busted a jerk who claimed he was a US Navy SEAL and was a Vietnam combat veteran. My local newspaper printed a correction, :D . I had help me out. THANKS GUYS!

I worked with a SE Asia/US Army veteran last year who asked me about Phoenix too. He was coy about what he did in SE Asia but would never brag or tell "war stories" about his service. This veteran told me how annoyed he was with some of our co-workers that acted like super commandos and talked about how they fought the Vietnam conflict by themselves, :scrutiny: .

A good non fiction book about SOG(Special Operations Group aka: Studies and Observations Group) by MAJ John Plaster(a US Army/SF combat veteran) explains in detail about US DoD/spec ops in the area during that time period, 1966-1973.

Check it out!

Rusty :cool:
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