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1st Force Reconnaissance Company

Swift, silent, deadly

Activated on June 19, 1957, 1st Force Recon, as it is popularly known, until 1965 was the only unit within the Department of Defense (DoD) organized and trained to conduct deep reconnaissance missions. The unit’s first major missions took place during the Vietnam War, include the reconnoitering of Cam Ranh Bay to determine its suitability as a major port for U.S forces in South Vietnam.

By early May 1965, two platoons were assigned to U.S. Special Forces A-Team, A-103, conducting specialized reconnaissance and combat raiding missions. The Recon platoons operated from Da Nang, Phu Bai, Chu Lai, Gia Vuc and Kham Duc in the I Corps zone. Their mission was to collect any enemy intelligence in the mountain approaches to the Marines’ area of operation along the border of Laos.

“These men are first and foremost good Marines.”

– Maj. Byron A. Norberg, USMC

In November 1965, 2nd Platoon was attached to the Special Forces detachment A-106 at Ba To. A combined patrol from Ba To was attacked on the night of Dec. 16, 1965, and three Marines, a Green Beret sergeant, and 10 members of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) were killed. By mid-Dec. 1965, 3rd platoon had arrived in the Republic of Vietnam and was attached to Special Forces team A-107 at Tra Bong. The last two Force Recon Company platoons (4th and 5th) arrived in June 1965.

At the time of its deactivation on Oct. 26, 2006, 1st Force Recon had received numerous decorations, including the Presidential Unit Citation (Navy), the Navy Unit Commendation, Meritorious Unit Commendation, and other decorations. The 1st Force Recon Marines at the time either became part of the Deep Recon Platoons (DRP) of 1st and 3rd Division Recon Battalions, or the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion (1st MSOB) of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC).

1st Marine Special Operations Battalion

Members of 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion practice breaching on board ship at night, Naval Base Coronado, Calif., June 7, 2013. The 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion traces its heritage to the Marines of the 1st Force Reconnaissance Company. U.S. Marine Corps photo

But as important as those decorations are, arguably 1st Force Recon’s most important contribution was in the development of many of the special operations tactics in use today. With stunt parachutist and Marine Corps reservist Jacques-André Istel, 1st Force Recon pioneered the “free-fall” HALO (High Altitude-Low Opening) parachuting technique in 1958 that allowed for a more secure and accurate insertion of a deep reconnaissance team. It also developed new methods for amphibious patrols to leave and enter submerged submarines and new procedures for entering a moving submarine. Another innovation was the insertion of troops from hovering helicopters through a thick forest using rappel lines.

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DWIGHT JON ZIMMERMAN is a bestselling and award-winning author, radio host, and president of the...