Gunship Pilot with MACV-SOG Special Forces Teams into Laos

1967, the 119th preparing to insert MACV-SOG hatchet force (Photo by Stephen Pettit, Juliaetta ID)

By Gordon Denniston
Originally published in the April 2015 issue of the Sentinel

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Special Forces and helicopter crews assigned to Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) engaged the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the famous “secret war in Laos.” The “trail” was the principal supply line used by the NVA to move men, arms and supplies from the Communist North into South Vietnam.

As we know, this “trail” was actually a massive network of roads, camps and storage areas. Cross-border MACV-SOG Special Forces reconnaissance missions were tasked to identify the exact locations of the NVA roads, troop movement, and facilities. Other MACV-SOG missions in Laos had a different objective… they aimed to directly engage the NVA in their own territory.

Ho Chi Minh road and bomb craters (Photo by Gordon Denniston, Daphne AL)

Generally, each of the three MACV-SOG units (Command and Control [C&C] North, C&C Central, and C&C South) were headquartered at a “Forward Operating Base” or FOB, and had three ground components. The reconnaissance teams (RTs or Spike Teams) were usually composed of two or three USSF with 6-12 indigenous troops, usually Montagnards from various tribes. The “Hatchet force” was platoon-sized, usually three USSF with 20-30 indigenous troops. They were intended to be a reaction force to help rescue RTs that were in trouble. But, they were also used to engage in other direct combat actions.

Finally, each FOB had one to four company-sized units that were referred to as “SLAM” or “Hornet force.” These men were recruited mostly from Montagnard tribes and were directly commanded by Special Forces MACV-SOG men. In this respect, MACV-SOG differed from other Special Forces units such as Mike Force or the A-Team Striker companies. In those units, Special Forces troopers were nominally “advisors,” though in practice USSF usually commanded while in the field. These Hatchet and Hornet force units gave the FOBs a punch for cross-border opportunities.

MACV-SOG operations were largely declassified a few years ago [in the early 1990s]. Indeed the unit was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation in 2001 in a ceremony at Fort Bragg that was well attended by survivors. Many of the MACV-SOG missions have now been publicized and much is now known of the Special Forces men who staffed that organization. Members of MACV-SOG were awarded nine Congressional Medals of Honor and twenty-three Distinguished Service Cross medals.

The Crocodile patch of the 119th AVN Co.