Cu Chi, Vietnam

         
     
   

Cu Chi Base camp 1967

   
Chapter XIII:  (source http://www.army.mil/cmh/books/Vietnam/tactical/chapter13.htm from http://www.army.mil/cmh/books/Vietnam/tactical/index.htm#Contents  )
 
Cu Chi
 
Vietnam was a different war. It was a conflict where the front line was not a trace on a map but was rather wherever the opposing combat forces met and fought. The secure rear areas of past wars that were so necessary for support were nonexistent in Vietnam. Only the areas that a commander actively secured could be used for support activities. This situation resulted in the base camp. The same security problem required convoy operations in a hostile environment, and better ways to conduct such operations had to be found. New techniques in automatic data processing were developed so that the machines could be used to support tactical activities. Finally, the widespread use of Army aircraft led to new and more efficient methods of maintaining the planes and helicopters.
 
The quiet of the 25th Infantry Division base camp at Cu Chi was shattered by explosions from incoming rocket rounds exactly one hour after midnight on 9 May 1968. Thirty rounds of 122-mm. and 107-mm. rockets, fired without warning from the surrounding area, rained down on the U.S. camp. The officer on duty at the 2d Brigade tactical operations center needed no confirmation from the bunker line as he switched on the base sirens and announced Condition RED. Forces on the perimeter were doubled, staffs of major units raced from their tactical operations centers, and troop units were readied to move to secondary defense positions. Word went out to a nearby fire support base, the local ARVN headquarters, and II Field Force headquarters that the base camp was under attack.
 
Two Cobra helicopters from Troop D, 3d Squadron, 4th Cavalry, in the air soon after the last rocket fell, radioed base camp defense and the artillery net. By this time the direction of the attack had been estimated, and previously positioned defense artillery had been fired. The two gunships searched the suspected enemy launch area and adjusted U.S. artillery accordingly.
 
As the battle quieted down, each sector of the bunker line called in to report all clear. An ARVN patrol in Vinh Cu, just south of the base, had had no contact. Nearby fire support bases, the Cu Chi subsector headquarters, and the units at Phu Cong and Ba Bep bridges reported that all was quiet. In two hours the camp commander de-
 
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cided that no ground attack was coming, and word went out to go to Condition YELLOW and finally, at 0300, to return to Condition WHITE.
 
The incident was another standoff attack.
 
Intelligence had forecast no high point of enemy activity, and there had been no indication of such. The rockets might even have been fired from unattended and locally fabricated launchers. According to a captured enemy rocket company commander:
 
U.S. forces in Vietnam are disposed in large fixed installations which always provide our forces with lucrative targets. Our forces are always certain that as long as the weapons hit the installation, the U.S. forces will lose equipment and manpower. Likewise, these large posts do not have sufficient forces to control the surrounding countryside, which makes our attacks easier.
 
The G-3, operations general staff officer, ordered a reconnaissance in force in the suspected launch area the next morning; everybody not on duty at the perimeter or in the various support units and headquarters went back to sleep. By noon, two slightly wounded mechanics were back on duty, and a battered five-kilowatt generator was hauled to the salvage yard. (The above story is a composite account of an actual attack on Cu Chi and typical results and reactions by the division.)
 
These standoff attacks were designed to destroy allied military assets and weaken morale at minimum risk to the enemy. Moreover, they demonstrated the enemy's ability to attack and inflict damage on major U. S. and Republic of Vietnam installations at a time and place of his own choosing. The propaganda value was high, and at times the damage was significant. A considerable part of U.S. military resources was used to protect these fixed installations.
 
Cu Chi was surrounded by a large cleared area, including a manmade lake backed up by Ann Margaret Dam, which was built by Lieutenant Colonel Edward C. Gibson's 65th Engineer Battalion. The bunker line consisted of observation towers, firing positions with overhead cover, an earth berm, barbed wire entanglements, spotlights, and minefields. The support battalions camped at Cu Chi were assigned sectors of the defensive perimeter with very specific, rehearsed plans for reinforcement and counterattack. Artillery, countermortar fire, sensors, communications, reconnaissance, combat patrols, air support, and pacification all worked together to permit a large logistic and command complex to survive in no man's land.
 
In Vietnam, the base camp was a place where the individual soldier could train, take care of his equipment, and get some rest and relaxation. It also provided a full-time home for the larger tactical headquarters and the support units. The reason for developing such a facility was given by General William C. Westmoreland:
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Because of the nature of the war, tactical units had to be scattered throughout the nation at widespread locations. The lack of a sophisticated transportation system necessitated major units establishing their own logistic bases rather than one central depot serving a number of units . . . 
 
No activity could survive unless it was protected against ground attack and tied into the network of combat support. Supplies, maintenance facilities, hospitals and rest centers, airfields, administrative offices, and artillery were all located within bases to protect them against the enemy's assassination squads, local forces, standoff attacks, sappers, and main force units.
 
Being a semipermanent and vital installation, Cu Chi was selected with an eye to water supply, drainage, vegetation, and soil composition. Enough land was acquired to allow expansion of the camp and adequate fields of fire. Like many such camps, Cu Chi was situated close enough to a local civilian community to require constant attention to the perimeter's defense. Finally, supply routes around Cu Chi were such that a base camp could also be developed and supported administratively and logistically. As one brigade commander summed it up, "The guiding principle is to conduct the business of the base camp so that it supports the maximum of the brigade's needs and detracts the minimum from the brigade's tactical operations."
 
The 25th Division's planning in preparation for the construction of Cu Chi was unique. At their vantage point in Hawaii, division personnel received large-scale map coverage of the future division area from the United States Army Pacific Mapping and Intelligence Center. These maps enabled the planners to select and analyze a base camp site. After the division's advance party arrived in Vietnam and inspected the site, the base development plans were put into final form. The assistant division commander for support, Brigadier General Edward H. de Saussure, headed a base camp development committee that included in its membership the chief of staff, the G-4 (assistant chief of staff for logistics), the division engineer, the division signal officer, and representatives from the major units that would be occupying the camp. The clearing of fields of fire and the construction of bunkers and wire barriers had first priority. The various battalion cantonment areas were selected, and the road and telephone line networks were designed and approved. Before the division left Hawaii, it obtained precut tent and latrine kits. The kits were assembled by each unit in the division, packaged or banded, and shipped with unit cargo to Vietnam. At the site, these tent frames and latrines were easily erected in the designated unit areas and "added immeasurably in establishing the living areas prior to the arrival of the monsoon season." Within a relatively short time after the division arrived at the Cu Chi base, work began on semipermanent buildings.
 
To improve base camp living conditions without waiting for an
 
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overworked supply system to function, the division had left for Vietnam with ice machine plants, 65-cubic-foot walk-in refrigerators, 10kilowatt generator sets, ice chests, and folding cots. Also taken along were filing cabinets, desks, chairs, tables, safes, tools, tentage, and communications equipment that came under the general heading of "post, camp, and station" property. Improvements in facilities and living conditions at Cu Chi progressed steadily. Maintenance shelters, fuel storage areas, ammunition bunkers, roads, and hardstands were built. Much of the construction was regulated by formal stateside procedures, and a great deal was done on a self-help basis because there were not enough engineers to go around. In the hot wet climate, SEA (Southeast Asia) huts were far cheaper and better than tents for semipermanent use. As these wooden huts were erected, Cu Chi took on the look of a real city.
 
Post engineer functions were performed under a contract administered by the Army headquarters at Long Binh. The contractor provided central power, certain building and ground maintenance, fire protection, and supervision of a variety of hired-labor jobs.
 
Although living conditions were austere, the fixed bases allowed a permanence undreamt of in World War II and Korea. The costs of operations to enhance morale were insignificant in comparison with their value. A large PX served the residents of the camp and frequently the fire bases and the troops in the field. Cu Chi had virtually all of the facilities found at permanent military installations outside Vietnam. The list included small clubs for officers, noncommissioned officers, and enlisted men; a USO club; barber shops; a MARS (Military Affiliate Radio System) station; a Red Cross field office and clubmobile unit; sports fields; miniature golf courses; swimming pools; and chapels. These troop support facilities, the occasional respites for the fighting units at division "Holiday Inns," the outstanding medical service, the one-year tour, and the rest and recuperation program contributed to the virtual elimination of incapacitating combat fatigue. More than 1,000 men a month left Cu Chi for five-day holidays in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Tokyo, Manila, Singapore, Penang, Taipei, Australia, or Hawaii. Additional rest and recuperation facilities were available at the beach resort in Vang Tau.
 
The base camp, at times, caused considerable consternation to the combat commanders. It tended to devour their combat resources and become "the tail that wagged the dog," At Cu Chi the 2d Brigade commander was usually appointed to run the camp, and he named a full-time deputy to supervise the administrative details of camp operation, base camp defense, and personnel overhead. All commanders found that "semipermanent base camps require manpower, equipment, and services beyond the organic capabilities of battalions, brigades, and divisions." By 1968 the Department of the Army had
 
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PICTURE: Scenes Around Cu Chi Base Camp
SCENES AROUND CU CHI BASE CAMP
 
approved a personnel increase for base camps. This measure was a great help to the commander. The camp at Cu Chi and the two other base camps in the division at one time had an augmentation of ap-
 
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PICTURE: Special Services Activities at Cu Chui Base Camp
SPECIAL SERVICES ACTIVITIES AT CU CHI BASE CAMP
 
proximately 500 officers and enlisted men. This number was trimmed to around 100 by early 1969.
 
Generally, logistic support at base camps came from divisional and nondivisional units. As a rule the 25th Infantry Division Support
 
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Command (DISCOM) provided supply and maintenance support for nearby tactical operations direct from Cu Chi and the two other division base camps, Tay Ninh and Dau Tieng. The support command sent along forward support elements for operations farther away and also supplied all of the various landing zones, fire support bases, and other tactical unit locations. Forward support activities and logistic support activities from the 1st Logistical Command provided additional support. A forward support activity was a provisional organization set up in the vicinity of the forward operating base of a tactical unit. As described in one report: "It is deployed to support a specific tactical operation when the tactical organic support capability is not sufficient to provide the support required." By contrast the logistic support activity was a "continuing activity, generally located in a fixed base camp to provide direct and general supply, maintenance, and service support to US and FWMAF (Free World Military Assistance Forces) on an area basis." By way of illustration, the 29th General Support Group of the Saigon Support Command was the major nondivisional unit charged with "across-the-board" logistic support in the 25th Infantry Division's tactical area of responsibility. The 29th General Support Group set up forward support areas for the 25th Division on such operations as MANHATTAN and YELLOWSTONE. Although the 29th did not establish a logistic support activity as such at Cu Chi, subordinate units of the group were based there and furnished direct and general support supply and maintenance and certain services to the division base camp. A logistic support activity was, organized at the Tay Ninh base camp in support of the 1st Brigade and other tenant units.
 
The primary means of resupplying Cu Chi and the other base camps in the area of the 25th Infantry Division was by road. The 25th Supply and Transport Battalion and the 1st Logistical Command ran an average of four convoys, totaling 268 vehicles, a day on the highway between Cu Chi and the supply complex in the Long Binh Saigon area. Division supply routes varied, from those strictly in enemy territory to those that were fairly safe for allied forces during daylight hours. In contested areas, major military operations were conducted to open roads to convoy traffic. Usually, effective convoy operations were possible only because of the mutually supporting artillery fire support bases along the route. Patrols, ambushes, and local search and destroy operations were conducted near the road. These techniques allowed convoys to travel with minimum escort. If the situation warranted, permanent outposts were provided to secure critical bridges and defiles. These outposts patrolled the road to prevent mining and ambushing.
 
In August 1968 the 25th Division developed new, aggressive convoy procedures to reduce losses. The convoys were divided into smaller,
 
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self-sufficient march units. Ammunition and fuel vehicles were placed at the rear to prevent an entire convoy from being blocked by burning vehicles, and wreckers and spare tractors were added to keep traffic moving. Military police elements provided control. A major innovation was having the convoy commander airborne over each convoy, from where he directed all march units and security forces. Armored vehicles were outposted at critical points along the route rather than moving with the convoy, as had been the practice. Gunship cover was arranged ahead of time over potential ambush sites. In areas where the road passed through jungles and plantations, Rome plows were used to clear potential ambush sites well back from both sides.
 
In the fall of 1968, a convoy operating under the revised procedures began to assemble. Unknown to the men, the enemy was preparing an ambush in a rubber plantation seventeen kilometers to the north. This attack was to be the first test of the new procedures. Before the convoy moved out, the area commanders flew over the most likely ambush sites. Combat elements were positioned at several possible sites, and the route was swept for mines and booby traps.
 
The last stretch of road over which the convoy was to pass was flanked by relatively flat terrain where a rubber plantation had recently been cleared of vegetation. The first and half of the second march units had entered the plantation when mortar rounds began falling all around them. Recoilless rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and automatic weapons were fired at the convoy from both sides of the road. The training and orientation of convoy personnel quickly paid off. Vehicles short of the ambush halted and organized local security. Drivers moved damaged vehicles off the roadway, allowing other vehicles in the killing zone to continue to their destination.
The enemy force was immediately engaged by the convoy's security elements. Previously positioned reaction forces moved against the enemy's rear while preplanned artillery fire, gunships, and tactical air strikes took their toll. When the battle was over, the division counted seventy-three enemy dead and had captured large quantities of weapons and equipment. Allied losses were light. The enemy ambushers were soundly defeated.
In the following months the enemy attacked several more convoys. In every instance he failed to halt the fleeting target because he was overwhelmed by a massive U.S. reaction. The division had turned a defensive situation into a highly profitable offensive maneuver.
 
The use of convoy operations as a tool of pacification was a unique innovation. In the 25th Division the convoy was often used even when aerial resupply would have been easier. The reason for this maneuver was to open and expand the road network to strengthen friendly forces in the area. As soon as it became relatively safe for military
 
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convoys, civilian commercial vehicles could also use the route. This action had a direct and often phenomenal influence on the South Vietnamese people; they flowed back into the area, repaired their homes, and began to farm the countryside.
 
The electronic computer as an increasingly effective management tool was introduced into the combat headquarters in Vietnam. The Field Artillery Data Computer, already familiar to the artilleryman, the UNIVAC 1005, and the NCR (National Cash Register) 500 were used by the Tropic Lightning Division for routine artillery fire and survey programs and administrative management; and they were ultimately used to assist the commander in making decisions. Automatic data processors at Cu Chi became involved in providing information to many elements within the division as well as to command elements in Vietnam, Hawaii, and the United States. They used standardized Army data systems that interfaced with command and support elements external to the division and with programs developed by their own personnel for the support of division elements.
 
The standard systems provided support in the areas of personnel, finance, and logistics. The standard Personnel Management and Accounting Card Processor (PERMACAP) system linked the division with ASMIS (A)-Major Army Subordinate Command Management Information System (Armywide personnel reporting system)-to provide information on the individual 25th Division soldier through channels to the Pentagon. It also produced recurring reports and rosters for personnel management within the division. The programs and procedures for the system were developed and maintained by the U.S. Army Computer System Command (USACSC). The UNIVAC 1005 computer equipment was mounted in mobile expansible vans parked outside the division's tactical operations center. The PERMACAP system provided timely and accurate data, reduced clerical effort, and eliminated duplication in the personnel support area.
 
Another standard Army system used at Cu Chi was the direct support unit-general support unit (DSU-GSU) system operated by the 725th Maintenance Battalion. This system provided stock control and inventory accounting for repair parts. The same programs and equipment are used by Army personnel at 150 installations in the United States and five foreign countries. The DSU-GSU system uses an NCR 500 computer and a variety of components from other manufacturers. On 29 October 1966 the 25th Division received its system, which soon began to provide timely, complete, and accurate spare parts handling as well as increased management reports to commanders. The system also fed data to higher headquarters and, in turn, to supply depots in the continental United States.
 
The standard system used to pay the soldiers of the 25th Division was called Military Pay, Vietnam. It was developed by the U.S. Army
 
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Finance and Comptroller Information Systems Command and used the UNIVAC 1005 computer.
 
The 25th Division started early in the war to develop many uses for its automatic data processing equipment in support of operational planning. By 1970, Major General Harris W. Hollis had concluded:
 
In no other war have we been so deluged by so many tidbits of information for we have been accustomed to an orderliness associated with established battle lines. Here, though, we have had to make our decisions based not upon enemy regimental courses of action, but rather upon the numerous isolated communist squad-sized elements. So with the scale down of the level of operations, we have had to increase our reliance on objective analysis of logical courses of action.
 
The computer reduced the time required to analyze and interpret information. The commanders obtained a better picture of the enemy and were able to exploit valuable information quickly. At Cu Chi all the input for computer analysis was taken from existing reports, and with the computer working on a 24-hour schedule, no significant interference with other activities occurred. A typical application was the use of the UNIVAC 1005 to analyze the threat from deadly mines and booby traps in the division area.
 
The maneuver unit operation summary program analyzed the date and times of combat operations, size and type of operations, type of support provided, and, most important, results obtained in each case. The program identified the most successful type of operation in each of the twenty-six subdivisions of the area of operations. A major by-product of the program was an indication of changes in enemy tactics soon after they occurred.
The enemy base camp denial program used dates and time, unit size and designation, type of terrain, co-ordinates, type of operation, fire support, and results of contacts. It indicated which types of operations were most successful in each enemy base camp area. It provided records of these operations and indicated which areas would most likely contain significant enemy forces. As a result, scheduling and planning of operations in enemy base camp areas improved.
 
The UNIVAC 1005 was also used as a file update and printing device, with little computing being done. Lists of known and suspected Viet Cong were updated and printed on a recurring basis to provide a ready source of current intelligence. This form of automation permitted simultaneous and timely use of division intelligence by several elements of the division in various operational areas and allowed for rapid updating of information to be passed to other headquarters.
 
In addition to its own computer effort, the 25th Infantry Division took advantage of many outside computer operations. A typical example was the division's use of the computer-generated MACV Hamlet Evaluation System. 
 
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PICTURE: Interior of UNIVAC 1005 Computer Van
INTERIOR OF UNIVAC 1005 COMPUTER VAN
 
Another major activity at Cu Chi was the intensive Army aircraft maintenance program. All divisions in Vietnam required this massive effort, and each division base camp devoted a major portion of its area and resources to aircraft maintenance. Lieutenant General Julian J. Ewell in his debriefing report wrote:
 
Aircraft maintenance is the most important single area in the division, due to the fact that the tempo of operations is dependent to a large degree on a high aircraft availability rate. With a fixed base system as in Vietnam, one can optimize the aircraft maintenance system (hangars, hardstands, lights, etc.) and achieve peacetime availability rates under combat conditions. We flew the fleet 90 hours per month per aircraft (and were edging up to 100 hours) and kept the availability rate over 80 % . Hueys and Cobras could be kept up in the high 80's. This required a virtuoso maintenance performance with iron control over every aspect of both aircraft operations and maintenance.
 
The aircraft maintenance program in Vietnam started at the top with the 34th General Support Aviation Maintenance and Supply Group, which provided limited depot-level maintenance, general support, backup direct support maintenance, and supply support for all Army aircraft in Vietnam. Support was also given for airframe,
 
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power-plant, armament, and avionics repair. From early 1965 the 34th General Support Aviation Maintenance and Supply Group grew to four aircraft maintenance and supply battalions with a total of ten direct support and five general support companies, because the number of aircraft increased from 660 in 1965 to over 4,000 in late 1968. Backup maintenance was given to both the division maintenance units and the 1st Aviation Brigade. The brigade, in turn, provided supplemental logistic and tactical airlift throughout Vietnam.
 
Concepts relative to Army aviation in land warfare had never been thoroughly tested in combat; therefore, Vietnam was something of a laboratory for the discovery and development of many innovations in aviation operations. As a report by the Pacific Command on the war in Vietnam states:
 
Several actions were taken to speed maintenance and repair procedures. Direct support maintenance detachments were provided to all separate helicopter companies. This additional maintenance capability was immediately reflected by a corresponding rise in aircraft availability rates.
 
Initially, direct support aircraft maintenance detachments were attached to nondivisional aviation units. Next, many detachments were completely consolidated with the service platoon of the parent aviation company, allowing better use of supervisory personnel. Responsiveness to the aviation unit's over-all flying mission was greatly increased. Studies made in 1966 revealed that for divisional units the number of aircraft available had risen approximately 15 percent. The studies also showed that the maintenance system of the separate aviation units was capable of more complete direct support maintenance than was the conventional divisional maintenance system. The nondivisional units provided, in effect, a one-step maintenance system by integrating organizational and direct support aircraft, avionics, and armament maintenance efforts. A study by the Army Concept Team in Vietnam recommended approval of decentralized direct support aircraft maintenance for all standard infantry divisions in Vietnam. Major General George 1. Forsythe in his debriefing report wrote, "Sufficient advantages accrue from the decentralized maintenance concept to warrant implementation at the earliest practical time."
 
The recovery of disabled aircraft was another mission performed daily by aircraft maintenance units in Vietnam. The 56th Aircraft Direct Support Maintenance Company recovered over 350 downed aircraft in 1968 alone. The former commander of the 56th, Lieutenant Colonel Emmett F. Knight, tells how "Goodnature Six" and many other direct support units accomplished the mission of recovery.
 
The aircraft recovery team is organized around the UH-1H. It is the rigging ship and carries the team, tools and equipment required to prepare a downed aircraft for airlift. The rigging ship provides weapons for fire support while on the ground and the necessary radios to control the operation.
 
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PICTURE: Recovery od Downed Helicopter By CH-47 Chinook
RECOVERY OF DOWNED HELICOPTER BY CH-47 CHINOOK
 
A normal mission might begin with a radio or phone call to the Direct Support Company's operation officer. This request includes all necessary information: type of aircraft, location, extent of damage, security situation, etc. The recovery officer (airlift commander) is notified immediately and begins his planning. He makes a thorough map reconnaissance, does some rapid time-distance planning and places a call to the unit supplying the CH-47 (Chinook). He will pass the mission, including time on station which he has calculated, to the Chinook unit control station.
 
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Meanwhile, the copilot of the rigging ship will have the recovery ship wound up. Takeoff is initiated within minutes after the mission is received . The flight plan is opened and radar monitoring is requested. Artillery advice is checked periodically along the route.
 
As the flight progresses into the area where the downed aircraft is located, contact is made with the ground forces operating in the area. The troops at the site report on the exact situation as final approach is initiated.
On the ground the rigging crew from the UH-1H begins preparing the downed aircraft for the imminent pickup by the CH-47 which should arrive on the scene momentarily. The pilot of the Chinook receives advice and assistance from the recovery officer while on approach, as the rigging crew completes the hook-up, and during departure from the area, All elements are then notified that the extraction has been completed.
 
Nearly every aircraft which crashes, is shot down or forced to land in enemy controlled or contested territory will be recovered for repair or salvage. The effort will be coordinated by the aircraft maintenance direct support unit.
 
Between 1965 and 1971, the CH-47 (Chinook) rescued downed aircraft worth approximately $2.7 billion.
A related innovation which helped to sustain the number of division aircraft available was the development and use of a floating aircraft maintenance facility. This facility was a Navy seaplane tender converted into a floating depot for aircraft maintenance. The ship, the USNS Corpus Christi Bay, arrived on station in Vietnam on 1 April 1966. By July production reached 34,000 man-hours per month of manufacturing, disassembling, repairing, and rebuilding operations. During fiscal year 1969, a total of 37,887 components valued at $51.9 million was processed. Ninety-one percent were returned to serviceable condition. The 34th General Support Group reports indicate that the floating aircraft maintenance facility alone was responsible for an additional 120 aircraft available daily in Vietnam.
 
In the final analysis, the base camp and its many facilities were many things to many people. It was a "Holiday Inn" to the soldier in the field and a base of operations for the logisticians. It represented a drain on resources of the combat commander, but it permitted the aircraft mechanic to do his job. It was a phenomenon of the area war.