1st MIBARS - 7 August 1964 to 1 December 1966
Michael Tymchak
Battalion Commander

I assumed command of 1st MIBARS on 7 August 1964 in Fort Bragg, NC. I was surprised to find that my Executive Officer was Major John Betz. John and I served together in the 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division in Bamburg, Germany in 1950. In the following weeks, I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the battalion was composed of exceptionally high caliber personnel. While many of the officers and enlisted men were draftees, all were good soldiers who performed exceptionally well.

In the fall of 1964, we were part of the peacetime army. Our basic mission was to retain and improve our individual job skills and to maintain our authorized equipment. We accomplished this by conducting individual and unit training in the battalion area. Periodically, we sent a detachment to support military exercises in different parts of the country including Alaska. We also sent a detachment to Ramsey Air Force base in Puerto Rico to support the 18th Airborne Corps troops during the Dominican Republic crisis. Another interesting learning experience was to provide two weeks of active duty training to a reserve imagery interpretation unit. We wrote up an imaginary exercise complete with aerial photos and worked their tails off. To add to their active duty experience, I had their enlisted men bunk in with our people. When departing, the CO told me that this was the best training that he and his men had ever received from an active duty unit.

The primary units in Fort Bragg were the 18th Airborne Corps and the 82d Airborne Division. Both had high level visitors rather frequently. And since MIBARS was a one of a kind unit, we were often called upon to brief the visitors. I welcomed these briefings because it gave us the chance to promote aerial reconnaissance to people who usually knew little or nothing about our business. I conducted the initial part of the briefings and covered all aspects of our organization and how we worked to provide the link between the Air Force and the Army. I explained how the Air Force had the mission to provide long-range aerial reconnaissance for the Army and how MIBARS took over and handled the Army requests after the missions were flown. And to give our unit a boost, I informed all visitors that our personnel worked on the aerial photography taken during the Cuban missile crisis. These were the photographs that showed the Soviet missiles and their launching sites in Cuba. They were shown on TV by President Kennedy and were used to convince the world that the Soviets posed an unacceptable threat to the United States. Captain Paul Reed, CO of Detachment B handled the second part of the briefing. He parked his ES 38 photo van and his expandable II van behind battalion headquarters. He explained how we processed the film flown by the Air Force and how the imagery interpretation process worked. He had assembled a very interesting collection of aerial photos that the visitors could view through the imagery stereoscopes. Paul was a good briefer who did a fine job and gave our briefings an extra special touch.

Not all of our efforts were devoted to work. There was plenty of time to devote to the niceties of life. Saturday and Sunday were non-duty days. We also devoted every Wednesday afternoon to a physical sport of each individual's choosing. One particular part of the duty day that I personally enjoyed was our 10 o'clock coffee call in the mess hall. It gave me the chance to socialize informally with everyone over a cup of coffee. Another activity that the officer’s wives seemed to especially enjoy was the "Sherry Hour" where the ladies joined their husbands after the duty day was over on Fridays.

We started one program that is worthy of mention. Each incoming married MIBARS member, both officer and enlisted, was assigned a sponsor whose job it was to assist the incoming member and his family to get organized. The sponsor answered such questions as where is the commissary, how do I get my kids into school, how do I get a North Carolina drivers license, where can I park my dog, etc. To assist in the process, a booklet was compiled by Captain Reed's wife, Helen. This booklet showed where everything of interest was located and answered 99% of the incoming members questions. Helen did such a terrific job on the booklet that it was adopted by the entire Fort Bragg community after we left for Vietnam.

The end of our peaceful life began to unravel when, in March 1965, Marine combat units landed in Da Nang, VN. Shortly thereafter, we were asked by 18th Airborne Corps to provide one of their units on orders to deploy to VN, with six of our almost new 2 1/2-ton trucks. We received six clunkers in return. And, in the summer of 1965, we were ordered to send a detachment to VN. Instead of taking one of our existing detachments, I decided to call for volunteers. Captain Edward Moore volunteered to command the unit. We had no problem in staffing the rest of the detachment. Upon arrival in VN, they were assigned to the 2d Vietnamese Corps Tactical Zone and were posted to the airfield in Nha Trang.

Also in the summer of 1965, we briefed Major General Davis, the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army. After the briefing, I expressed my opinion that since the buildup of our troops in Vietnam was progressing so rapidly, perhaps he should consider sending 1st MIBARS over to support our combat troops. General Davis appeared to agree and said that he'd look into the matter when he returned to the Pentagon. That night when I got home, my wife really piled into me. Seems that one of her bowling buddies (She was a member of the NCO wives bowling team) phoned her and told her that the wives were up in arms because I volunteered to send their husbands to Vietnam. As a good Army wife of a professional soldier, she understood why I did what I did. What ticked her off, however, was the fact that she heard about it from someone other than me. After a few days of icy silence, life returned to normal in the Tymchak household.

A month or so later, we received orders to prepare for deployment to Vietnam. The efforts of the entire battalion suddenly shifted from a peacetime mode to one preparing to enter a combat zone. We faced two main problems. First, we were under strength and secondly, we did not have all of our authorized equipment.

There was an interesting incident concerning one of our II vans. Seems that one of my predecessors loaned one of our II vans to 18th Airborne Corps. It was being used by the Commanding General as his sleeping quarters when he went out on an overnight field exercise. I visited the G4 and requested that the van be returned, explaining that we were on orders to go to Vietnam. The Colonel appeared reluctant to approach his three star boss to inform him that he was about to lose his air-conditioned sleeping quarters. Instead, he offered me a validated requisition, which in effect, was a piece of paper telling me that I was entitled to be issued one each expandable II van from the supply system. I explained to the Colonel that this particular van was built expressly for MIBARS and that there were none in the supply chain. That, in effect, made a validated requisition worthless. When the Colonel wasn't too receptive about returning the van to me, I told him that he left me no other alternative but to report my problem to the Pentagon. About three hours after leaving, we received a call to pick up our van.

Another potential supply problem concerned me. I wondered whether the supply system in Vietnam was prepared to resupply us with photographic paper and chemicals needed to process film. I also wondered how MACV would deploy the battalion once we reached Vietnam. Unfortunately, I could find no one who could provide answers. At this point, I concluded that the only way to get answers was to send someone to VN. I soon found out that this was easier said than done. Seems that MACV wasn't too interested in having visitors and had a policy whereby all visitors had to be preapproved by MACV. I was told that this approval was virtually impossible to get. Since time was of the essence, I decided to ignore MACV policy and published battalion orders sending my Executive Officer, Major Gerald Esterline, to VN. We weren't sure that our orders would be honored to get him on a flight to VN and back. Fortunately, Jerry had no problems and spent almost two weeks in Vietnam.

When he returned, he said that the supply system was not prepared to resupply us with our photographic needs. He also reported that the MACV intelligence staff was divided on how we should be deployed. There was talk of sending one of our detachments to Thailand. The intelligence staff was also not in agreement as to who should have operational control over MIBARS. The only piece of good advice that Jerry brought back was to bring over as many household refrigerators as we could get our hands on. Seems they were needed to keep the beer cold in the tropical heat. Fortunately, my S4, Captain Ronald Bodeen, visited the salvage yard in Fort Bragg and was able to find 15-20 old, but still workable refrigerators that we eventually took to VN.

We also completed and printed our MIBARS booklet. Our goal was to be prepared to inform the combat units on how we could best support them to accomplish their missions. After reaching VN, we updated the booklet and had it translated into Vietnamese.

We also requested and received approval from the Institute of Heraldry, Department of the Army, awarding 1st MIBARS with the Special Unit Designation of FLYING EYE BATTALION.

October 1965 was a hectic month. We were busy relocating our families, preparing to turn over our buildings and leave Fort Bragg and packing up huge steel shipping containers with our authorized equipment and supplies. Fortunately, there was no restriction as to the number of containers we could take to VN. Since we would be on the end of a 9000-mile supply line, we took as many expendable supplies as we could get our hands on including, of course, our valuable refrigerators.

We were informed that we would sail from Charleston, SC on a ship (name unknown) along with our vehicles, steel containers and boxed aircraft. Our Fort Bragg sister battalion, the 519th was also scheduled to sail on the same ship. At the last minute, I received permission to remain in Fort Bragg since we were expecting some last minute replacements. The revised plan was for the ship to leave without us and sail to California where it would refuel and resupply for the 23-day voyage to VN. MIBARS would then fly to Los Angeles and board the ship.
The ship left Charleston with our equipment and the 519th aboard. It sailed through the Panama Canal and then developed engine trouble off the Mexican Baja Peninsula. The ship was able to limp into Long Beach, CA where our equipment and personnel on board were offloaded onto another ship, the General Leroy Eltinge.

Before leaving Fort Bragg, we assembled an advance party headed by Major Esterline. It was their job to fly to VN and make necessary preparations for our arrival. I instructed Jerry to see if he could find answers to my questions about deployment and operational control. And my S4 was told to see if he could set up some sort of a supply procedure whereby we could be assured that we could get photo supplies.
On 1 December 1965, the battalion flew nonstop to Los Angeles from Pope Air Force base. As I was climbing up the gangplank to board the Eltinge, the ship's Army Troop Commander met and informed me that I was the senior troop unit commander and, as such, would take command of the 1,515 Army personnel aboard the ship.

After formally accepting command of the Army personnel onboard the Eltinge, it didn't take too long before I had the opportunity to exercise my newly acquired authority. After supper in the Officers Mess, we were shown a movie. After the movie, mess personnel brought us large trays of sliced bread and trays of sandwich fixings. My sandwich tasted exceptionally good, probably due to the salt air. I then went below to the enlisted mess where I met with a couple of MIBARS men. They told me the chow was good, the movie excellent, but no sandwiches. I immediately sent for the mess officer and wanted to know why the enlisted men weren't getting the same sandwich material as the officers. He told me that there wasn't sufficient food aboard to provide sandwiches for both the officers and the enlisted men. I told him that if there was a shortage of food, to stop providing the officers with sandwich fixings. Either both would enjoy after movie sandwiches or neither would. The following night enough food was miraculously found, enough to provide sandwiches to all for the entire journey to VN.

The Eltinge was classified as a troop ship, austere. It was a most fitting description. The men were packed like sardines and there was little to do other than eat and sleep. We did have a disc jockey among the men who played music and read the news as it came in over the ships radio. And, of course, as befitting a troopship, blackjack, poker and crap games flourished. Our trip was scheduled to take 23 days from Long Beach, CA to Saigon. After a few days at sea, cabin fever began to show up, especially among the men who had boarded the ship in Charleston. Tempers were growing short and there were a few fights. On one of my visits to the bridge, I noticed that the ship was sailing within a couple of hundred miles of Guam. I approached the captain and inquired whether or not we could stop in Guam for a few hours. I told him of the disciplinary problems we were having and if we could have a few hours of shore time, it would give everyone the chance to relax and release a little steam. The captain stated that his orders were to go straight through to Saigon without stopping. Since he appeared to show a little sympathy for the men who were onboard a ship for well over a month, I continued on and mentioned that I was sure that he could come up with some sort of a good reason to justify the stop. A couple of hours later, one of the Navy men on board informed me that the captain had received permission to stop in Guam. Our arrival time was scheduled for 1500 hours and we were to depart the following morning at 0600 hours. Perfect!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I informed all of the unit commanders of the visit and instructed them to tell their men that the enlisted men would be back on board by midnight and the officers by 0100. I requested the Troop Commander to come up with some sort of a debarkation plan. When I received the plan a few hours later, it called for everyone going ashore to sign-out. I estimated that this would take two to three hours of precious time. I then informed the Troop Commander that a written plan was no longer needed. I told him that when the gangplank was lowered, to stand aside and let them off. As it turned out, the ship was emptied in about 15 minutes.

Reflecting on my own experiences as an enlisted man and my many years as an officer observing soldierly behavior under like circumstances, I knew exactly what to expect. The bars would do a land office business in a few hours. I estimated that 30 to 40 men would not make it back on board by the specified hours. And I certainly did not want to place myself in the awkward position in having to discipline someone for doing what I wanted them to do and that was to release a little pent-up steam. After the ship was emptied, I called the Guard Commander and instructed him to change the approved boarding times from midnight to 0100 for the enlisted men and from 0100 to 0200 for the officers. Thanks to the extra hour, everyone made it back on board on time. And all were present and accounted for when we counted noses after we sailed. Mission accomplished! The rest of the voyage was relatively peaceful.

We docked in Saigon on the evening of 23 December 1965.

After docking, my Executive officer and S4 met me and informed me that no final decision had been made concerning our in-country deployment and operational control. And Ron told me that he had made some progress regarding the photo supplies, but that more had to be done. At least, it was a start.

The following day was devoted to reclaiming our shipping containers, vehicles and boxed aircraft and transporting them to locations arranged by the advance party. The men were billeted in Tent City while the officers and senior NCOs were scattered around in various houses.

The following day was Christmas. We were informed that General Joseph McChristian, J2, MACV invited the new unit commanders and staffs to have Xmas dinner with him in Tent City where the men were billeted. I was looking forward to meeting the general since it was quite clear to me that he would be the one to decide my questions about deployment and operational control. I had heard from various officers who knew the general that he was a West Pointer, very personable and an all business, no nonsense officer. During dinner, I heard General McChristian mention to Colonel Richard Adams, CO of the recently arrived 525 MI Group, that he would like to see the troop accommodations after dinner. When I heard that, I realized that this was a golden opportunity to show the general that 1st MIBARS was on board and as a professional Army unit, we were ready and able to do our job. I turned to Major Esterline and told him to gulp down his dinner and take the staff with him to the troop area and prepare 1st MIBARS for inspection. I wanted bunks made up and the men fully dressed standing by. The general and unit commanders visited the 525 MI Group and 519th areas. Both were in a condition that one would expect on a holiday. The men were in various stages of undress and were sitting around on generally unmade bunks. General McChristian spoke to a few men, but didn't stay too long at either unit. When we arrived at the MIBARS area, General McChristian was greeted by Major Esterline and my entire staff. Jerry called the staff to attention and reported to the general that 1st MIBARS was ready for his inspection. I then introduced the general to each staff member and turned him over to my Headquarters Company Commander, Captain Juan Horta-Merley, who escorted the general through the men's sleeping area. The general spoke to quite a few of the men who handled themselves in a very professional manner. I could see that he was favorably impressed and pleased with his reception. And as he was leaving, I presented him with a copy of our MIBARS booklet and mentioned that it would be revised to reflect our presence in Vietnam. He later told me that he read the entire booklet on the way back to his office.

Later that Xmas day, one of the last-minute replacement officers, Captain Gordon Stuart, informed me that he had visited some of his old Air Force buddies from the 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing in Tan San Nhut airport. While there, he discovered that all of the films that the 460th had flown since arrival in VN were stored in film cassettes on a hanger floor. The films were not cataloged into a film library and therefore were virtually useless as far as retrieval was concerned. Seems that the Air Force did not have enough imagery interpreters to establish a film library. Captain Stuart suggested that we establish a film library for the 460th. He stated that not only would we be doing a big favor for the Air Force, but our personnel would also benefit by being able to familiarize themselves with our new environment. I thought it was a great idea and gave the job to my Senior ARLO, Major Roy Latham, to coordinate with the 460th and our unit commanders who would be providing the II's to do the job. If memory serves me correctly, we had between 25 to 30 officers and men on the job, which took us 3 or 4 weeks to finish. At the time, I knew that having the films cataloged into a film library was important, but I didn't realize how important until a few months later. This eventually turned out to be one of the most valuable contributions that MIBARS as a unit made to the war effort in VN.

After Xmas, I was determined to get the deployment and operational control questions resolved, but I didn't know where or how to get started. I knew that MIBARS was originally organized to support a European style war where AF recon squadrons would operate from widely scattered bases. A MIBARS detachment would be stationed with each of them to process the Army's aerial reconnaissance requests. But we faced a different type of a war in VN with the entire Air Force recon effort being flown from one base, Tan San Nhut in Saigon. It didn't make a lot of sense to have our entire battalion remain in Saigon just because the AF flew all recon missions from there.

For the first time, we learned that Vietnam was divided into four Vietnamese Corp Tactical Zones. Detachment D was already deployed in the 2d zone and was successfully providing support to all Vietnamese and allied units in the area. It seemed like a natural fit to place our three remaining detachments into the three remaining tactical zones. Each detachment would then support all units within their zone while our headquarters would remain in Saigon and work in cooperation with the Air Force. We batted this new concept around and convinced ourselves that this is the way to go. Now to convince General McChristian.

My chance came within a few days when General McChristian requested that he be briefed. I met the general and it was quite apparent that we had made a favorable impression when he visited our area in Tent City on Xmas day. He also mentioned that he was told about our efforts to assist the 460th to establish a film library. He was unaware of the problem and complimented me on our initiative to help where help was needed. During my standard briefing, he was most attentive and asked quite a few questions. I decided that this was the most opportune time to finally resolve my deployment and operational control questions. I outlined our concept for deploying a detachment to each of the remaining three Vietnamese Corp Tactical Zones with the headquarters remaining in Saigon. He appeared most receptive and remarked at one point," You're the professionals". I asked that, with his approval, orders be cut so that we could get underway with our detachments deployment. I also requested that Detachment D be reassigned and brought back to MIBARS control. I raised the operational control question and told him that I was aware that some members of his staff wanted to have operational control over MIBARS. I pointed out some of the difficulties that this would bring, not only to his staff but to me as the battalion commander. I recommended that we remain assigned to the 525 M.I.Group and that the 525 retain operational control. The general was receptive and approved everything that I requested. Our Tent City display of professionalism paid off!

January 1966 was a busy month. We were trying to get organized. Our people were working on the film library while the detachments were preparing for deployment to their respective zones. Detachment A (Capt. Warren Leigh, CO) was selected to go to Bien Hoa in support of the 3d Corp zone, Detachment B (Major Edward McConnell, CO) to DaNang and the 1st Corp zone and Detachment C (Major James Choquette, CO) to Can Tho in the delta region to support the 4th Corp zone. Detachments A and C drove overland to their new duty stations while we had to send Detachment B to Da Nang by ship. Detachment D reverted back to battalion control and operational control was established by the 525 MI Group.

One problem that we faced initially was the lack of our own home compound. The 525 occupied the compound at 121 Chi Lang while waiting for a new compound that was being built for them on the outskirts of Saigon. The plan was to give us the compound at 121 Chi Lang after the 525 moved out. That suited me because the location wasn't too far from the airport. And also, there was a barracks building being built on the property that would provide excellent quarters for my men and space for a mess hall.

A few weeks later, the 525 moved out and we took over the compound. By then, our detachments were in their new locations and only our lower grade enlisted men were still billeted in Tent City. My Headquarters Company commander, newly promoted Major Horta, was not too happy with the way our men were being treated in Tent City. It seems that they did more than their share of KP and myriad other fatigue details. He wanted to bring the men back to our new compound and to billet them wherever he could set up a bunk. I approved his plan with one condition. No men were to sleep in the one story building behind the main building, I wanted that space to be used by our printing press and supply storage. What concerned me was that the rear wall of that building faced an alley that was used by hundreds of Vietnamese daily. A similar building just a block away was used by a US Signal unit to sleep their night shift. Around 1030 one morning, a Viet Cong parked a bicycle on the other side of the wall where two men were sleeping. The hollow frame of the bicycle was packed with an explosive. When detonated, the two men were killed instantly. I didn't want to take the chance on that happening to any of our men. Major Horta revised his plan and we brought our men home.

Meanwhile, our detachments were quickly in place. I instructed each commander to visit each battalion and larger size units in his zone. Their instructions were to brief all units on our capabilities and how we could help them to accomplish their combat missions. This was extremely well received. And in his publication, 'ROLE OF MILITARY INTELLIGENCE, 1965-1967", General McChristian wrote, "Through the efforts of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, we developed a magnificent photography program. In spite of potential charges of parochialism, I extend a large share of the credit to 1st Military Intelligence Battalion (Air Reconnaissance Support) (MIBARS), which greatly facilitated co-ordination of the photographic effort throughout the country".

One incident worthy of mention took place in Tactical Zone 4 in the delta region. Major Choquette, CO of Detachment C, briefed a Vietnamese infantry battalion in accordance with my instructions. After the briefing, the battalion commander stated that his battalion was going on a search and destroy mission in two weeks. He said that his maps were old French maps made in the 1930's and were hopelessly out of date and useless. He asked whether we could help. Major Choquette got the coordinates of the projected area of operations and flew directly to Tan San Nhut and the 460th film library. Since he had personally worked on establishing the library, he soon found that the area under consideration was photographed two weeks before. After enlisting assistance from some of the Headquarters Company II's, Major Choquette set out to make an aerial map that the Vietnamese battalion commander could use. They worked all night reproducing photos from the negatives on file, making a mosaic, identifying prominent features on the mosaic and finally entering artificial grid lines used for identification purposes. When finished, one hundred copies were printed. Major Choquette then flew back directly to the Vietnamese battalion. He placed a roll of new maps on the desk of the commander in less than 24 hours after the briefing. This was a prime example of what we were capable of doing and showed the value of the film library.

We also started to develop photo interpretation keys. Keys are basically a dictionary of object shapes that assist the II to identify the objects that he sees on the photo. Keys make the interpretation process faster and more efficient. We shared the finished product with the Vietnamese Imagery Interpretation Center, the MACV Intelligence Center and anyone else who could use them including the Intelligence School at Fort Holabird.

Shortly after we brought our men home from Tent City, Major Horta and Sgt Dean, our mess sergeant, suggested that we build some sort of a facility on the roof of our headquarters building. They envisioned a place where the men could relax after work and in the evening with a cold beer and possibly a movie at night. Major Horta was interested in keeping our men at home and out of trouble. I thought that it was a great idea, but we were faced with a bare roof. One of our people had met an executive of Pacific Construction who had the contract for building minor construction projects in Vietnam. The man came over and inspected the roof to insure that it was strong enough to hold a group of people and a small building. When we told him that we wanted a little club for our men, he informed me that he was not authorized to build that sort of a building. But he also added that a radio shack was on the list of authorized buildings. Fortunately, I immediately realized that we needed a radio shack. I asked Major Horta and Sgt. Dean to assist in the design of a radio shack to insure that it would be easily converted into our club. When finished, the club was a huge success. Sgt. Dean added sandwiches, potato chips, etc. to the menu. Also we had movies quite often. I personally enjoyed many a cold beer with the men since the club was located directly above my office.

We suffered our first casualty sometime in the spring. I was sending Major Esterline and most of my staff to one of the detachments to resolve a personnel problem. They were flying in one of our Beaver aircraft and fortunately, were piloted by one of my best pilots, WO Donald McMillan. The aircraft took off at Tan San Nhut. It was about 75 to 100 feet off the ground and starting to turn when the engine conked out. Don was able to crash-land right side up. The engine immediately caught fire and everyone was able to get out with minor burns and scrapes except Major Esterline. He was in the co-pilots seat and had difficulty in exiting the plane. He was badly burned and was sent to the Burn Center at the hospital in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. After two months or so of treatment, Jerry returned as good as new and resumed his duties as my Executive Officer.

A couple of months after our arrival in VN, I began to wonder what would happen personnelwise when our one year tour was over. Since the majority of us arrived together, it seemed logical that we would leave together after our one year tour was completed. That bothered me because I didn't want to leave my successor with a battalion of inexperienced replacements. We had to find a way to insure that enough experienced people were on board once our year tour was up. I wanted to insure continuity not only in the headquarters but also in each of the detachments. It turned out to be an interesting project. When we left Fort Bragg, we could only take an individual to Vietnam who had 91 days or more to serve. Those with 90 days or less were transferred out. My personnel people started by listing every assigned individual by unit, MOS and by date of scheduled rotation. This permitted us to pinpoint potential problem areas. We transferred people between detachments. We exchanged some of our people with a November 1966 rotation date with the MACV Intelligence Center who gave us people with shorter rotation dates. What we ended up with was not perfection, but gave me some assurance that some continuity of operation would result after the mass November 1966 rotation date.

Some where along the line, one of our detachments came up with the idea of a detachment pocket patch. I thought that it was a great idea and asked each of our five unit commanders to design a pocket patch that reflected his unit. The results amazed me. We ended up with five patches that looked as if they were designed by the Department of the Army's Institute Of Heraldy. I wore my Headquarters Company patch proudly and still have all five cloth patches in my scrapbook. I also have them in metallic form on a wall plaque that my staff gave to me when I rotated.

In the summer of 1966, we were still anxiously waiting for the barracks building to be completed. The Vietnamese builder had many excuses, the favorite being a shortage of concrete. But, as the completion date was finally in sight, I asked Major Horta and Sgt. Dean to brief me on their plans for our new mess hall. Sgt Dean outlined a standard stateside mess with metal trays, a chow line and large tables with benches. What I heard wasn't exactly what I had in mind for our new mess hall. I asked my S4, Capt Bodeen to join us and began to tell the three of them what I wanted our mess hall to look like. First of all, the front of the building facing the street had two large plate glass windows. I instructed Capt Bodeen to place a number of our large steel shipping containers along the fence. I wanted to prevent the Viet Cong from looking into the dining room at mealtime when we would present a juicy target from the street. I then outlined what I would like to see our mess look like. Curtains on the windows, four man tables with individual chairs, salt, pepper and sugar on each table, porcelain dishes and silverware. The system that I proposed would have the men come in and sit wherever they wanted. On each table would be sheets of paper on which the meal menu was printed. The individual would then check off what he wanted to eat and the waitress would take his order to the kitchen where a plate would be prepared. (We could hire as many Vietnamese as we wanted.) The waitress would return with the plate. After the meal, the waitress would clean the table and take the dirty dish to the kitchen to be washed. I then asked Capt Bodeen whether he could get all the things that I wanted. His reply was just what I expected, " If it's out there, I'll get it". I then told the three of them to visit the White Elephant, a building where the MACV colonels were billeted. I explained that what I had described was the colonel's mess. I said that if it's good enough for a bunch of bird colonels, it should be good enough for MIBARS men. And it was. We ended up with a mess that was as good as, if not better, than any mess in Saigon.

By the summer of 1966, we had time to polish our operational procedures and become more efficient. Our activities seemed to settle down to a daily routine. I visited each detachment every month and had the commanders come to headquarters for a conference every three months. This provided a forum for the exchange of experiences and permitted all of us to learn from each other. It also gave my staff the chance to bring everyone up to date on the latest supply, personnel and operational matters.

Occasionally, we were called upon to assist someone who needed our help. We helped the Army engineers to select a location to build a new port on the river north of Saigon. US Aid requested our assistance in selecting an area where an entire Vietnamese village could be relocated. And the Navy wanted our help to develop their river and canal patrol system in the delta region in south Vietnam. There were other similar requests, but I can't recall the details.

After placing a great deal of emphasis on who would have operational control over our battalion, an explanation appears to be in order. In my initial briefing of General McChristian, I recommended that operational control remain with the commanding officer of the 525 M.I. Group. Fortunately, the good general agreed. Colonel Richard Adams was the CO of the 525. He wasn't very knowledgeable about the aerial recon business, but expressed complete faith in MIBARS to do the job. I never asked his permission to do anything, but kept him posted on everything we were doing. We had his full support. This relationship turned out to be perfect for me and the entire MIBARS effort, I couldn't have asked for a finer man to work for and with.

War or no war, we were subjected to an annual Inspector General inspection, 7 through 11 November 1966. I wasn't overly concerned because I knew that we were in good shape operationally as well as administratively. I had complete faith in every member of my staff and my detachment commanders. And I wasn't disappointed. We came through the inspection smelling like the proverbial rose. In a letter to me dated 23 November 1966, Colonel William Neale who replaced Colonel Adams as CO of the 525, stated that the Deputy Inspector General. US Army, Vietnam stated and I quote "that your battalion is the finest that they have ever inspected in this country".

My staff gave me a surprise going-away party at our quarters in the latter part of November 1966. General McChristian also attended. When called upon to speak, I expressed my appreciation for the loyalty and support that my staff gave me. I also thanked the general for his support and commended him for his wisdom in providing us the opportunity to work without interference from him or his staff.

On December 1966, we had a Change of Command ceremony on the roof of our barracks building. I passed the MIBARS colors to LTC Eugene Kelley and finally brought to an end my 28 months of command.

Five days later, Major Latham and I boarded a plane to return back to the states. Other than a couple of NCOs, who decided to extend their tours, we were the last of the original battalion to depart. I asked Roy to board the plane ahead of me. I reminded him that when we first arrived in VN, I promised that I would bring everyone home safe and sound and that I would be the last one to leave. Both promises were kept.

My next and last contact with 1st MIBARS was on 1 May 1972 when I attended a ceremony honoring their return to Fort Bragg. After 6 1/2 years, 1st MIBARS was back home.

In the forty plus years since my command of 1st MIBARS, I've had many opportunities to reflect upon my experiences. I've always considered this assignment to be the highlight of my 30 year career as a professional Regular Army soldier. My main source of pride was the officers and men who made up our battalion, for without their hard work, support and loyalty to me, I was nothing. I was proud of our many accomplishments and the fact that our work and efforts were acknowledged by the award of two Army Meritorious Unit Commendations and the Presidential Unit Citation for the first year in Vietnam. As far as I know, we were the only Army intelligence unit in VN that was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. And to add to the prestige of this award, it was the Air Force who recommended us. After receiving approval, the award was made official by being published on Air Force orders. And, I was fortunate enough to be awarded the Legion of Merit by General Westmoreland personally.

While all of these awards and decorations were great, there were two very separate accomplishments that gave me the most personal satisfaction. The first was our deployment and how we utilized our four detachments. The concept was hastily formulated, but much to my surprise, it lasted for the entire 6 1/2 years that MIBARS was in Vietnam without change. This has always amazed me.

My second accomplishment was a bit more personal. I was the horseshoe pitching champion of 1st MIBARS. I had a standing challenge to take on all comers. Quite a few tried, but I was never beaten. On second thought, maybe this accomplishment should be rated first, not second.

Michael Tymchak, Colonel, U.S. Army, Retired


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