404th Radio Research Detachment (Airborne)

173d Airborne Brigade (Separate)

Attached in Direct Support [sic]

    The command and tasking relationship between ASA and supported commands caused a lot of confusion and hindered support for smaller Radio Research units like the 404th by imposing an unorthodox system of assignment and attachment that contravened long established Army practices.

    During Vietnam [and today] U.S. Army units operate under two types of relationships -- command and support. A command relationship reflects the chain of command and degree of authority. U.S. Army units can operate in one of three command relationships -- assigned, attached, or operational control (OPCON). ASA Headquarters retained assignment and operational control of subordinate units; ASA attached subordinate units, called direct support units, to supported commands like the 173rd Airborne Brigade. This led to an interpretation that Radio Research units, like artillery units, were placed in direct support of brigades and divisions.

    Attachment is a support relationship defining the manner in which a maneuver unit like an Army division is to be supported and the mission of the attached unit. Attachment is straightforward and usually specifies that the supported command, say a division, will provide all consumables needed by the supported unit (rations, fuel, ammunition, common spare parts and such). Prolonged attachment specifies that the supporting command will also provide administrative (personnel assignment, promotion, awards, military justice, common skill training, and equipment replacement) to the supported unit. Attachment also specifies that the supported command will direct missions and priorities to the supporting unit. Missions and priorities for Radio Research units were directed by ASA.

    Generally, both assigned and attached units are provided either direct support (DS), general support (GS) or general support reinforcing (GSR) missions by the command to which they are assigned or attached albeit GSR is usually reserved to artillery. *4 

    This process worked well since the time of Napoleon. ASA changed the rules. ASA created a vertical rather than integrated command structure unique among all other Army major commands. ASA retained tasking authority, personnel assignments and other administration and operated an ASA unique logistics system. In Vietnam it was empirically clear that ASA units assigned to separate brigades and divisions were in direct support except for mission assignment. That’s a contradiction and often placed Radio Research detachments in particular in an untenable position responding to both ASA strategic missions and combat missions assigned by supported commanders. The contradiction was justified, according to ASA, because of the vagaries of the electromagnetic spectrum (a unit located a hundred miles away may hear a signal better than a unit located closer, but that’s rare in front line operations). ASA also argued the uniqueness of cryptologic skills and the special protection required of signals intelligence required special direction. Mostly it was justified because most brigade and division commanders were told they had no experience using ASA units and early in the war they did not. All of these detractions were quickly overcome when ASA was deactivated in 1997 and signals intelligence units were completely integrated with the Army.

    All Army units attached to the 173rd Airborne Brigade received practically total support from the brigade. The Brigade provided personnel replacements, assignments, promotions, awards, administration, logistics, military justice, equipment, food, fuel, just about everything. The 173rd Brigade provided operational direction to every aspect of support by attached units like the 172nd and 628th Military Intelligence Detachments. By contrast, operational control, personnel administration, and some logistics for the 404th Radio Research Detachment (Airborne) was retained by ASA. The Brigade could “ask not task” the 404th for intelligence, but ASA could and often did preempt that tasking either by reassigning or not assigning personnel and equipment or tasking surveillance outside the brigade’s area of operation. Suffice, the 404th never refused a request by the 173rd.

    The creation of an “army within an army” also contributed to lost personnel records, missed promotions, awards, and even today (2005) problems claiming VA benefits for some veterans. Combat support units were not intended to be attached or placed in direct support for seven years. The Army Intelligence Organizationing and Stationing Study (IOSS) corrected that fallacy in 1975 when the deactivation of ASA was directed. *5 


4 - Direct support (DS) is a mission requiring a force to support another specific force and authorizing it to answer directly to the supported force's request for assistance. General Support (GS) is that support which is given to the supported force as a whole and not to any particular subdivision thereof. General Support Reinforcing (GSR) is almost exclusively an artillery mission to support the force as a whole and providing reinforcing fires for other artillery units.

5 - To request copies, check for awards, or to correct individual Form 20, 24, Enlisted or Form 66 Officer Qualification Record please contact: Department of the Army; Board for Correction of Military Records; 1901 South Bell Street, 2nd Floor; Arlington, VA 22202-4508.

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