The 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division
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Management Analysis of the 506th - 1971

   
 

3rd Battalion (Airborne), 506th Infantry (CURRAHEES)
1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles)


VIETNAM HISTORY
A Managerial Analysis Of The 3rd Battalion 506th Infantry

 

MANAGEMENT 900
DR. JAMES E. GATES
AUGUST 6, 1971
JIM McLAUGHLIN

Preface

Probably one of the most well-known symbols of the University of Georgia, other than the Georgia Bulldog, is Dean William Tate and his red baseball cap with all its Army patches and crests. Recently during a TV interview, Dean Tate noted that although all the insignias were from units within the 101st Airborne Division, which has been in Vietnam for more than 4 years, only one item, a metal crest, had actually been in Vietnam. Dean Tate went on to say that the crest, about the size of a 50 cent piece, was presented to him by a graduate student in the College of Business Administration, who had served with the 3rd Battalion (Airmobile), 506th Infantry (hereafter referred to as 3-506th Inf.) from September 1968 to October 1969. This is a story about the 3-506th Inf. and the men who made the unit into a great fighting unit, primarily during the period that the battalion operated in and around the city of Phan Thiet, Binh Thuan Province, RVN, from April 1968 to November 1969. The purpose of this paper is to show how an organization operated under stress and the author will not and does not care to discuss the political and/or moral issues involved in the Vietnam War.

This paper is dedicated to the men who served with pride in the battalion and especially to Sgt. John Allen and Sp. 4 Larry Leopoldino, both former members of Company. E, 3-506th In.
 

Analysis


The motto for 3-506th Inf. or Currahee battalion as it is called, is "We Stand Alone." From October 1967, when the battalion arrived in Vietnam, until January 1970, the 3-506th lived the Currahee motto and did in fact operate outside the 101st Airborne Division area of operation. When the battalion arrived in Vietnam at Cam Ranh Bay on October 1967, it was decided that the battalion would remain under the control of J Field Force Vietnam whose headquarters was in Nan Thanq. From that fateful day in late 1967 until January 1970 the battalion operated in more than half-a-dozen provinces within II Corps and operated with units from the 173 Airborne Brigade, 4th Inf. Division, the 44th ARVN Battalion, and the 23rd APVN Division. In December of 1968 the 3-506th Inf. left Phan Rang RVN and moved south to the airfield outside the city of Phan Thiet, the provincial capital of Binh Thuan Province. The battalion performed its duties in Binh Thuan Province from December 1967 until November 1969 when it was moved north to Ban Me Thuot.

I believe the best way to critique the operation of the battalion is to study it in relationship to generally accepted management principles. Although many authorities in the field of management have established their own set of fundamental concepts, most managers agree that Henri Fayol's principles are all-inclusive. Actually the word "principle" is somewhat misleading and is really only used for convenience.

Henri Fayol' s principles arc not immutable laws, but rather rules of thumb to be used as the occasion demands. Naturally some of the principles set forth by the French engineer will not be applicable to a combat situation whereas others will need to be strictly adhered to in order to accomplish a mission.

During the period that Lieutenant Colonel Manuel A. Alves, a hawk-nosed infantry officer from California, commanded the 3-506th Inf. Battalion there was little doubt in anyone's mind as to who was in charge. Sometimes within an Army outfit the Battalion Operations Officer (S-3) or the Battalion Sergeant Major will try to run the battalion, but when LTC Alves assumed command in December 1968, he let everyone know that he followed the principles of Unity of Command and Chain of Command. LTC Alves relied heavily on his company commanders, usually senior 1st Lieutenants or junior Captains, but he also made sure that his company commanders knew who their superior was, and that the orders would come from only one person within the battalion as long as he held the position of battalion commander.

Possibly one of the hardest tasks that faces a manager or leader is that of satisfying his immediate boss while at the same time keeping harmony within his own sphere of influence. As far as I can recall at no time was open hostility displayed towards LTC Alves, or Blackhawk as Le was called, other than the normal "bitching" that occurs within any Army outfit. In addition to being an excellent administrator with the 3-506th Inf. itself, LTC Alves was doing an outstanding job as battalion commander. Had he not been performing in such a manner, he would have been relieved of his command as Bn. CO (Commanding Officer) since the area of operation was of utmost strategic importance in early 1969. It was no secret that Lieutenant General Charles A Corcoran, Commanding General of First Field Force VIA, took a particular interest in Minh Thuan Province and regularly visited the 3-506th Inf.

Blackhawk realized shortly after he assumed command that he must follow the unity of direction principle and that the mission of the battalion must come before personal interests. Basically the mission of the battalion was to find the VC or North Vietnamese in the province and destroy any resources that the enemy might use against the 3-506th Inf. LTC Alves also realized that each and every soldier within the battalion had a somewhat different personal mission or goal, namely that of getting back to the United States in one piece as soon as possible. Blackhawk could never have accomplished his mission without the total support of the infantrymen in the field, and he immediately set about gaining that support.

Any combat veteran will probably say that his company, or his battery had the best esprit de corps and that the guys in his unit would do anything to help another guy in the same unit. LTC Alves assumed command of a battalion that was proud of its past history in Vietnam and a unit that had developed a great deal of espirit de corps. Possibly one of the greatest contributions Blackhawk made to the morale of the average "grunt" out in the field was to show him that he expected no more, of the field soldier than of himself. Daily he would have his Command and Control helicopter land in an unsecured position to visit one of the four line companies in the field. This contact let the average soldier know that LTC Alves was interested in their problems; and in fact, he encouraged soldiers to come to him with problems. Blackhawk followed a policy concerning the evacuation of wounded soldiers that instilled the utmost of faith in even the most scared trooper. Almost weekly,
if not more often, the Command and Control helicopter landed during fire fights to pick up wounded "grunts". On numerous occasions LTC Alves himself would leave the helicopter and help carry the wounded GI to the safety of the hovering helicopter. I can't think of anything that could build and maintain esprit de corps more than knowing that in case of any - emergency help was available personally from the battalion commander.

Another one of Fayol's principles that LTC Alves followed was that of remuneration. Obviously LTC Alves could not go around giving raises whenever he saw a trooper doing a better-than-average job, but Blackhawk did follow a policy of giving on the spot promotions to deserving men upon the recommendation of their company commander or platoon leader. In effect this was a pay raise since the promotion put him into a higher- pay scale.

In addition to promotions, LTC Alves, believed strongly in the use of awards and decorations. Usually a commander is limited to the number of promotions he can give, especially promotions to the rank of E-5, "buck Sergeant", and E-6, Staff Sergeant. Thus, in order to commend deserving GI's, he encouraged leaders to keep records of acts of heroism. Periodically when the line troops came in from the field he would have the two Awards and Decorations clerks from the Battalion Headquarters interview the company commanders, platoon readers and NCO's to see which men within their unit deserved awards. At times, after a particularly heavy fire fight one of the two Awards and Decorations clerks would accompany Blackhawk to the field and interview the leaders in order to expedite the processing of awards; and after the awards were approved he would almost always present the awards for heroism or valor himself to the individual foot soldier. Furthermore, there were monthly trips to the Army hospitals that served the area in which the 3-506th Inf. operated; and awards, mail, and personal belongings were taken to wounded men from the Currahee battalion.

In addition to the above mentioned principles of management, LTC Alves believed and endorsed Fayol's other principles, such as initiative, order, and centralization as much as the situation permitted. Blackhawk was a great believer in the principle of equity, also, as he felt that no private should have to do any job that he or anyone else under his command could not do. Because of his insistence of equity, the battalion was free from any major racial disturbances while LTC Alves was the Bn. Co, and this author does not know of any attempts made upon the life of a single senior NCO or officer during the period from October 1968 to mid-October 1969.

After someone made a mistake, LTC Alves used to remind his subordinates that the last perfect person was crucified about 1900 years ago. LTC Alves did have his shortcomings as a Battalion Command, however, and in order to study the battalion fully I feel that it is necessary to study the mistakes he made in managing or leading the battalion. In the 1st place, he had little or no time to spend with the administrative duties that are required of a Battalion Commander. Daily he would be in his Command and Control helicopter from 7:00 or 7:30 A.M. until late afternoon or early evening. Then in the evening he would have conferences with his Operations Officer and his Intelligence Officer, and if time permitted his Administrative Officer would try to meet with him to discuss problems dealing with lack of personnel or other administrative problems.

In December of 1968 when LTC Alves assumed command of the battalion, he was informed, and informed correctly, that the battalion had just successfully passed the Annual General's Inspection (AGI) conducted by the Inspector General's office from the division headquarters. Since the battalion was operating outside of the 101st Airborne Division's area and since Phan Thiet was more than 150 miles away from Division headquarters, the battalion really was not subject to unannounced inspections from officers within the 101st Airborne Division. Further, when the battalion was examined, the visiting general usually was interested in tactical reports; and, the only interest in administration centered, for the most part, around the daily personnel report and the status of replacements. Frequently within the Army if the Battalion Administrative and Personnel Officer, sends reports in on time and insures that division administrative policies are carried out as directed, higher headquarters will not bother the battalion. This is basically what had happened for months within the S-1 Office of the 3-506th Inf.

The AGI conducted in October 1968, was, in fact, no more than a quick check to see if the battalion needed any assistance from Division Headquarters. The S-1 Officer at the time of the inspection showed the Inspectors that he was in the process of bringing the records up-to-date, and since the Division was at that time more interested in tactical success, the inspectors overlooked the below-average condition of the administrative files within the S-1 Office. To compound the problems, during the period from September 1960 to April 1969, the S-1 Officer for the battalion did not really take his job seriously, and the enlisted men who worked for him did not give him their full cooperation. In addition, the Battalion Executive Officer, to whom the Battalion S-1 is directly responsible, was preoccupied with the base defense of Landing Zone Betty, the home of the 3-506th. Normally this would be a full-time job for a senior captain or major, and since the battalion commander !
and the battalion` executive officer received no bad reports from higher headquarters concerning the activities of the S-1 Office, they assumed that things were functioning well.

Toward the end of LTC Alves' tour of duty as Battalion Commander, three unrelated events occurred that helped the situation within the S--1 Office. First a young captain came out of the field after having served more than six months as company commander of the heavy weapons company. Second, the tone of the war changed, and the 3-506th Inf. became involved in what is now referred to as Vietnamization. This meant that LTC Alves had more time to spend on his other duties. Third, a new major arrived to assume the duties of battalion executive officer, since the previous battalion executive officer had extended his tour in Vietnam and had received a new assignment. Although the new Battalion S-1 had never held that position Blackhawk felt that he could assume the responsibilities that went with the job and let him staff the S-l Office with additional men where necessary. Although it took more than four months to straighten out the mess in the office, the job was completed prior to the departure of the S-1 Officer in October of 1969. This author is confident that the situation in the S-1 Office could not have been corrected had not LTC Alves taken a personal interest in the situation and encouraged the new 5-3 Officer to use initiative where necessary.

There is one principle of management that almost no Army officer, and especially Blackhawk, has any control over in a combat situation. This principle is that of stability of tenure of personnel. For obvious reasons, people will not keep their same assignment for 12 months. Privates are promoted to higher positions some field soldiers come in from the field to become clerks; lieutenants are promoted to the rank of captain and are assigned new jobs; and, of course, men are wounded and killed in combat. I thoroughly believe that the confused situation within the S-l Office as described above could have been prevented had there been some stability of tenure of personnel within the S-1 Office and especially the S-l Officer himself.

Finally, there remains one principle of management which needs to be discussed. Authority is not to be conceived of apart from responsibility. In explaining this maxim, Mr. Fayol stressed that those who have authority to issue orders, should be willing to accept responsibility for their consequences. LTC Alves was a strong believer in this principle and felt that if a man was promoted to a position of authority, he must naturally assume the responsibility that went with the job. Generally speaking, in the Army, as in other fields, responsibility is feared as much as authority is sought after. When Blackhawk assumed command he made it perfectly clear that he was not only going to command the battalion, but was also going to assuume the responsibility for everything the battalion did or failed to do. Naturally therefore, he expected his junior officers and senior NCO's also to follow the rules that authority should he equal to responsibility.

One method of judging whether a man was ready for a promotion was to let him temporarily assume a position of responsibility and authority to see how he operated. Many times within the battalion a man who was being considered for" a promotion was given a temporary job that called for responsibility along with authority. For example when the squad leader of an infantry squard had to leave the field for a short period of time, such as going on a six day Rest and Relaxation to Sidney, a potential squad leader was given the job temporarily. After the six or seven day period was over his performance would be evaluated.

All-in-all, the 3rd Battalion 506th Infantry was a well-trained and well-organized combat unit throughout the period that LTC Manuel A. Alves was the battalion commander. I seriously and honestly believe that one of the main reasons why so few men from the 3rd-506th Inf. were killed or seriously wounded while in Vietnam was the excellent leadership exhibited by Blackhawk in the management of the battalion.

In early May 1971, the rich and colorful History belonging to the 3rd-506th inf. was brought to a close at Camp Eagle, RVN. During the ceremony the battalion colors were furled and encased; and later that month they were sent to Fort Lewis, Washington where the final deactivation ceremony of the battalion was held. While most of the men who served with the battalion are now civilians again, some like LTC Alves still remain in the Army. Recently I learned that LTC Alves was due for promotion to the rank of full colonel. I not only congratulate him on his promotion but wish him the best of luck commanding and managing a brigade size unit.

 
 
 
 
       
 
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