"Rattlers in the Water"
by John "Gunner" Starnes

L/R: John Starnes, Ben Thomas, and Steve Franklin


During a get together in Powhatan, Virginia; Rangers Ben Thomas "Sparrow", Steve Franklin "Bubbles", and John Starnes "Gunner", had settled down for the evening with beers, looking at old war pictures from their 1968-1969 scrapbooks when they were in Vietnam with the Company.

Gunner showed a picture of students in Recondo School carrying a rubber boat into the South China Sea at Chu Lai Beach. Both Ben and Steve didn't remember the rubber boats in the company. The boats were stored under the
commo shack. The company had one RB-15 and four RB-7s as well as two stolen lifeguard surfboards and a couple of duece-and-a-half  inner tubes.

Anyway, the POI for waterborne training was the same as Ranger School: one Coxswain at the aft shouting orders to the starboard and leeward sides paddling with oars. LBE, rucks, and weapons in the boats with the M-60 machine gun and machine gunner at the prone forward on the bulkhead. The M-60 was secured on a nylon rope and snap link. We were taught service and function, inflation-deflation, then rigging. We performed high carry and low carry, loading, capsizing drills, paddling and maneuvering, beaching, camouflage and storage.

The swim test was also incorporated into the training. This was done by ordering us to swim away from the boats for 25 meters (with boots on), and then return to the boats. Very few of us inserted by water using the rubber boats, perhaps due to the proven air insertion method of the helicopters and rope insertion including extraction, which was quicker and got everybody in and out of a hot AO.

The other insertion methods were vehicular, foot, and  stay-behinds. These were used when the objectives were closer than the requirements of an air insertion. Insertion by parachute was left alone for obvious reasons. If you donıt know why, ask the French 6th Colonial (Parachute) Battalion who jumped in Tu Le, Vietnam!

On a personal note (not to stray away too far from the subject), I remember what saltwater feels like on lower-back ruck burns. The Americal Recondo Instructors knew it would sting, but they also knew the saltwater would help heal our ruck burns and quarter size blisters on our feet. SP4 "Roach" Wolch captured rubber boat training on 8mm film as shown on the video "Who Were We." The film shows some of the LRRPs in the Company

I recall SP4 "Muscles" Bladwin; one of the soldiers sitting on the RB-15 in preparation to paddle away on a heavy team mission. I also know that the RB-7 was used on one occasion to insert during the hours of darkness at the Batangan Peninsula, located some 10-12 miles down the beach. The team was, perhaps, "Team Lucky Strike" or "Pall Mall".

So, what does it matter now? Maybe not much, but for a special missions unit
such as LRRPs, it is its history that speaks of its elite soldiersı deeds. More so, it depicts the Divisionıs Long Range Patrol Company demonstration water insertion.

On another note, Sergeant Richard Lett was a qualified scuba diving instructor. We had the personnel and capability to train teams using that aspect of insertion should there be the need.  Our ties with the USMC 1st (Force Reconnaissance) Company, who trained with s in January-February 1968, was located just north of us. They, too, would have helped with our scuba training for this kind of mission.

Todayıs Rangers of E Company (Long Range Surveillance) 51st Infantry (Airborne), continue this infiltration technique. As our aviation fly boys used to say, "Rattlers on the Ground. How copy, over?" Well, everybody knows all snakes swim. "Rattlers in the water, break-out."