By Keith Houin
Public Affairs Specialist
Fort Polk Plays Role in Training During Vietnam War
March 29, 2019
FORT POLK, La. — Today is National Vietnam War Veterans Day. It is a time not just to honor those veterans, but to take a few moments to reflect on the history of that era both overseas and at home.
The United States involvement in South Vietnam started political and economic action in an effort to end the growing communist domination in Vietnam, and deter what President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the domino theory. The domino theory speculated if one country in a region came under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow in a domino effect.
After years of providing logistical and advisory support to French and South Vietnamese forces in the 50 and 60s in this effort, the U.S. found itself in direct combat operations after the destroyer USS Maddox was attacked by North Vietnamese Navy P-4 torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin on Aug. 2, 1964.
The U.S. conducted retaliatory air strikes against North Vietnamese naval and port facilities.
To meet the expected military requirements needed for potential ground combat in Vietnam, the U.S. military increased the role of numerous installations. Fort Polk was one them.
At the time Fort Polk was home to basic training, but in June 1962 Fort Polk was given a new mission - Advanced Infantry Training in preparation for war in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
Basic training occurred on South Fort and upon graduation, the Soldiers would be sent to North Fort’s Tiger Land for AIT.
There were two simulated Vietnamese hamlets that featured earthen berms, sharpened bamboo stake defenses, and booby-trap simulations. The largest village was Tiger Land covering between three and four acres, according to the book A Soldiers Place in History by Sharyn Kane and Richard Keeton.
Tiger Land was complete with a school house, shrines and farm animals as well as bamboo stake defenses, booby traps and tunnels. Everything a Soldier might encounter in and around a Vietnamese village was incorporated, Fort Polk Museum Director Greg Grant said.
Trainees would search the village for weapons caches and interview the villagers to determine whether they supported the North Vietnamese, according Kane’s and Keeton’s book.
Bunkers and perimeter foxholes would be manned throughout the night regardless of weather conditions. During the night enemy role players would make some type of probe on the defensive lines around the village, Grant said.
Instructors were all ways on hand watching everything they did. If the trainees did something wrong or something could be done better, the instructors explained it. Questioning the villagers, finding and defusing booby traps, finding the best fields of fire, and maintaining their weapons and equipment were things instructors would focus on, according to Kane and Keeton
By 1975, more than 1 million Soldiers, of the 2.5 million American troops who saw action in Vietnam, trained at Fort Polk. The training they received would help them survive what they would face in Southeast Asia.
Though the U.S. and its allies did not stop increased influence in Vietnam, not all results were bad. Tiger Land, was a foreshadowing to the mock villages that pepper the training area more than 40 years later to help train Soldier for current and future combat missions.