History of 709th Maintenance Bn.
EARLY FORMATION OF THE 709TH
By Ivan LaBree, 1st Battalion XO
In April 1966 I came from an assignment in Germany. I had been the CO of a nuclear weapons maintenance and storage depot. At the time we had five such depots in Germany. My whole career up to that point had been in guided missiles and nuclear weapons. So, I was really surprised to get an assignment to the 9th Infantry Division because I didnít know anything about conventional maintenance and supply.
I remember when I got back to the States, I called OPM and got a stuffed shirt bird COL (no offense Frank) who I said to, "I donít mind going to RVN but I didnít know anything about conventional ordinance". He said, " Donít sweat it Major, you will learn fast".
Anyway, I arrived at Ft. Riley expecting to report to a Division ready to go only to find out it was just forming up, we were all the initial cadre, and that the Division was expected to be ready to deploy by the end of the yearóand this was already April!!
They told me where the BN HQ was, and when I got there it was one small wooden building with a home made sign "709th Maintenance Battalion". When I went in I met a Major who was the interim CO, more like a reception person. He retired right after Sterling Post arrived, and I remember he and his wife were going to tour the United States in their RV for six months. (John might remember his name). The only other person I saw was 1LT Delong who was the first S-4 I believe.
I was originally assigned as Materiel Officer. We were informed in briefings that the Division was expected to be at full combat strength of some 21,000 personnel and "equipment-ready for deployment" by the end of the year. I donít know how others felt, but I was skeptical that it would actually happen. Anyway, as the days went by more people arrived and HQ and the other companies became active and organization and training began in earnest.
During the next few weeks COL Post arrived and assumed command of the Battalion. When I first met him I indicated to him my lack of knowledge of conventional ordinance (which he already knew) and his reply was, "Donít sweat it Major, you will learn fast". Where had I heard that before? Not much comfort for me, knowing where we were headed and limited on what contribution I felt I could make to the whole event.
It turned out I was saved by the arrival of MAJ Ed Chick, who was assigned as Materiel Officer, at which time I became the XO.
From that point on it was intense build up, training and preparation for deployment. We encountered problems training personnel coming right from the draft boards. Basic training took place in the 1st Brigade of the Division and a lot of our ordinance personnel came from service schools without any prior field training. All of this took place in 1966 from April/May until October when the advance party left for RVN.
This was the beginning and I can tell you that, looking back, everyone in the Battalion can take a great deal of pride in the magnificent job that was done in theater. In my entire career I have never served in such a great organization as the 709th. From the CO right down to the youngest PVT, this organization was the greater example of a well-oiled machine.
I think it was sometime in October the advance party left the US from Travis AFB, went through Elmendorf AFB, to Hawaii, to Guam, and then Viet Nam. This was a long, four-leg, nine-hour-legs journey to RVN. The whole trip we were in web seats and not much room to move around. Maybe this was a softening up flight because we sure were glad to get off that plane.
We were then trucked to Bearcat where we were billeted in large squad tents in a receiving area. The next day we saw the bare bones base camp. The 1st Infantry Division had been here before us, and, as at Ft. Riley, they took everything including the kitchen sink when they moved. We had nothing to start with except tents, which we got set up and then established a compound area. We also had to set up a perimeter defense for the sector we were assigned.
The first few weeks were just that--building up the base camp by Battalion and getting ready to receive the main body. Several of us were taken on recons to find our supply bases in Saigon and Long Binh. Once the main body arrived, everything moved very fast and operations got under way.
DongTam was the next major project. It was literally dredged up from the Mekong River by the Engineers and gradually made bigger to what most of you found as you were assigned there.
Thank You Ivan for helping the 709th Maint. Bn.
page started Oct. 6, 2010