Hello, FNG!

"Omigawd...here comes the FNG"

It was a universal term throughout Vietnam.  After Johnson deployed the initial combat units in 1965  with the proviso that they could return home after a year, a "problem" developed.   The units had no replacements.  This was not the era of deploying the Reserve units and definitely not the National Guard units.  At the time, it was not practical and certainly not "politically correct" to do so.   The solution?  Individual orders..."fill" replacements after they arrived in-country.  It's what the Army called going to the "Repo-Depot" or replacement shop.  Once you show up...you are sent where you are needed...unless you had friends in very high places.

So...where did these brave souls come from?   Well, I'll skip a futile discussion on how long this war...or "police action"...or "conflict"...was supposed to last.   Little did we know at the time.

My recall is that, in the early 60s,  the Pentagon was only "assigning" officers in the rank of Captain and above to Vietnam.  And, you had to be a Captain or above to volunteer to serve in Vietnam.  {SIDEBAR:  If anyone would like to enlighten me on how the early Enlisted fills came about, please do so.}  As the 60s progressed (and the war didn't), that bar was lowered to First Lieutenants.  By the time I graduated from ROTC, the bar was now down to Second Lieutenants.   When I reported for Active Duty in 1965, there was no bar.  Further, the "word" was out that any combat and combat service support branch personnel had better get their affairs in order.   Orders to Vietnam were looming.

Now, 1966 pre-dates the effective and practical use of computers.  {See: "FADAC" and "A Case of FADAC" if you want a chuckle or two about that.}   So, our "boys" in the Pentagon didn't have too many tools at their disposal to find the combat/combat support personnel and how long their had left on their contracts running around the Army Posts, both domestic and overseas.   But...aha...some brilliant individual decided to put the burden on each Post Commander to report everyone living in his kingdom.   Not a problem because that's how budgets were developed.   Bingo...now they knew where you were!

After in-processing at Camp Alpha {See: "Welcome to CAMP ALPHA"}, I was sent out to the field with A/2/35 replacing Lt Doug Turner, their "veteran" FO.  Thus, I was the FNG.  (The last two words are "New Guy").   After Doug left, I now had to undergo the "FNG test".   Doug failed to tell me about this, but I was able to figure it out for myself.   The "test" had one over-arching, basic question: "Do you know what the hell you are doing out here?"

Knowing that defensive artillery concentrations (defcons) placed strategically around the company perimeter are extremely vital to the protection of a Infantry Company in the field, this is what they wanted to know for now.  Top Kick comes over and suggests that I replace the defcons with new data; it had been a while since Doug checked them.   Fine with me; I'd rather know for sure where they physically landed because now I was the guy who had to call for them if needed.

So...I began the process Doug showed me...minus the 3200 mil error part.   {See: "Looking for Smoke"} Being a conservative guy, I put them a few hundred yards away from the company perimeter.   Not good enough.  1SG Huley, the company "Top Kick", comes back and says "they're too far out".   Okay, I'll drop 50 yards off the target area and re-set the concentration.   The HE rounds land...and once again the Top says: "too far out; bring them in closer!"   Okay...I get the picture now.   You see, once the HE lands, you can move it anywhere you so desire.  So...the reality was that I was being "tested".  Okey-Dokey, I can handle that.  This time I put the rounds within 50 meters of the position.  The HE lands.  Ker-Blammm......ZING-ZING-ZINGGGG!  The shrapnel from the 105 round comes flying between the trees and you can hear the miscellaneous small pieces flying overhead.

"CLOSE ENOUGH!!!  THAT'S CLOSE ENOUGH!!" yells 1SG Huley.   End of mission.  No more tests from the Top Kick.

Well, that's one down and one to go.  What about Capt Charlie Murray, the Company Commander?   Oh...he was much more "swa-vay" (suave) about his test.   He wants to test me without my knowing I'm being tested.  Here's how that went.   We march for hours on a search and destroy mission through the triple-canopy jungle.  The map shows, green, green and more green (military color for vegetation).  How the hell do you know where you are?   This extremely vital piece of information is not to be taken lightly.   Every FO is sternly warned to "know where you are at all times!"  So...you count footsteps...you estimate an hourly "rate of march" to measure progress...your compass is welded in your hand for azimuth headings.   Your eyes scan in every direction for even a hint of a benchmark, a stream, a hill...whatever there is besides green.   And then comes the "test".

The company takes a brief rest.   Capt Murray saunters over to me.  "Lt Dauphin", says Capt Murray, "Where do you think we are?"

Now, ya gotta pay attention here!  His question was not: "Where are we, Lt?"  That would imply that I had already passed the "test" and knew where we were.  His question was not: "I think we are here.  Where do you say we are?"  That's also no good.  That's a "rank-pulling" question.  If he pointed to Guatemala on his map, I'd surely say: "Yessir, that's where we are!"

No-no-no...Charlie is a West Pointer...no fool he.  His question was designed to give me the rope and see if I would lynch myself.  He already KNEW where we were.   What he desperately wanted to know is..."Does my FNG-FO know where HE is?"   Sorry, Charlie...I saw it coming.  Ft Sill would not let you out with a failing map reading grade.  Your Instructors would humiliate you severely in front of your classmates if you couldn't locate a spot on the ground on the artillery range.  Of course, this was Vietnam and this was a jungle...you'd better augment what Ft Sill didn't teach.   Thankfully, I passed the 2nd test.  Hell, I was using the same techniques he was.   In the future, Charlie re-phrased the question that put me on a more equal footing with his own skills in reading a map in the jungle.   It also bonded our friendship and I was no longer the "FNG".

Later I learned...in comparing notes with my fellow FOs in the field...they went through the same thing.  It was a rite of passage of sorts.

Lt Dennis Dauphin

2008 Reunion: Charlie Murray & Dennis Dauphin

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