Smitty Steps Up (continued)
Smitty Becomes Comm Chief
A mortar platoon is only as effective as its ability to communicate from the Fire Direction Center -- sometimes a muddy hole in the jungle -- to each gun and with each forward observer embedded in the grunt companies, and with the battalion command post in its own muddy hole.
The guns would be arrayed anywhere they could find a wide enough angle of fire for their rounds to clear the jungle canopy, sometimes far from the FDC. The FDC communicated with the gun crews using Lima-Limas (land line field phones) or voice commands, sometimes amplified in noisy environments by a megaphone if a clever ammo sergeant has pilfered one from the Navy.
We used back-packed radios to stay in touch with FOs, listening posts and the battalion CP.
Managing communications until midway through our stay on LZ Susan had been Cpl Eloy "Rod" Rodriguez, a brave fellow who had survived Khe Sanh only to find himself on LZs Margo and Susan with only days remaining on his tour. Everyone feared dying as a short-timer, a fate considered to be monumentally unfair. But we all knew it would be the unfortunate cosmic destiny of some poor souls, identities to be determined.
"Short, Dark and Handsome" Cpl Eloy "Rod" Rodriguez was the 81s comm chief, and a good one. The role of comm chief is vital for a mortar platoon. After an action-packed year with 2/26, Rod had the fortune to survive LZ Margo and to rotate home one landing zone later. Photo by Alan Green.
With short days remaining in Vietnam, on LZ Susan Rod recommended that Smitty replace him as Comm Chief, and Gunny Fab and I agreed. Smitty himself wasn't so sure.
Although as a corporal he was a non-commissioned officer, he had never been in a leadership role and was worried that he wouldn't be able to do it. We told him that he already had the respect of the junior men and that the senior NCOs were behind him too. He reluctantly agreed to give it a try.
And one fine day Rod finally jumped aboard that bird that took him back to the Princeton, the first step in his journey home. The last we saw of him was a big smile as the chopper safely lifted off.
And Smitty became the 81s Comm Chief. He kept his PRC-25 radio but now his corporal stripes meant leadership as well as longevity.
And with our insertion days later into a new landing zone even deeper in hostile territory, into the DMZ itself, the leadership of men like Smitty would be the key to survival.