Recondo (usually assumed to be a combination of the words Recon and Commando) was founded by Major General William Westmoreland in 1958 to ensure that the critical patrol and reconnaissance skills taught at the Army’s Ranger School were taught and reinforced throughout his command, which at the time was the 101st Airborne Division.
Westmoreland chose Major Lewis Millet to command the school, which was staffed by Ranger-qualified soldiers of the 101st. At the time, Ranger School was eight weeks long, and lacked the capacity to to train soldiers in the numbers that Westmoreland wanted. The original Recondo was between 2-4 weeks long (as it evolved), and trained soldiers in patrolling, navigation, demolitions, communications, hand to hand fighting, escape and evasion, and POW resistance (later scrapped after an Inspector General investigation). Other units took this model and implemented it, including the US Military Academy at West Point, the 82nd Airborne Division, the 18th Airborne Corps, and the 25th Infantry Division. Graduation rates for the 101st Recondo ran as low as 10 percent, with another 20 percent completing – but not graduating – the course.
By far the most famous – and dangerous – Recondo school was operated by Military Assistance Command – Vietnam from 1966 to 1970. Instructed by members of the 5th Special Forces Group, MACV Recondo was three weeks long, encompassing over 260 hours of instruction. The first two weeks mirrored many of the skills taught in previous Recondo courses, but the final week – dubbed “You Bet Your Life” – was an actual combat mission of opportunity. This mission was planned and conducted by the students, but graded by instructors – and the enemy. Clearly the students learned something during their first two weeks: an article published in Green Beret Magazine in 1968, two years into the school, stated that only two students had been lost to enemy fire at that time. The MACV Recondo course didn’t just train US Army soldiers, though; over 300 friendly forces trained alongside the over 2,700 Americans that graduated. Graduates received a patch and unique Recondo number upon graduation. Graduation rates ran as high as 60%, although this number was somewhat inflated due to the fact that most MACV Recondo attendees had already attended and passed a rigorous unit selection and preparatory course beforehand.
Although Recondo was disbanded in 1970, its legacy remained. The members who graduated usually returned to their home unit’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs or “Lurps”), and the common training they received at Recondo set the standard and ensured commonality among the many LRRPs spread across Vietnam.
Continuing their line of SOF tribute patches, RE Factor Tactical has just released their Recondo PVC patch, styled after the patch awarded to successful graduates of the MACV Recondo school. Check it out in the store today!
About the author
Joel is an 12 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.
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