Jungle Jim, Farm Gate, Ranch Hand and Mule Train (1961-2)
In response to communist support for nationalist insurgent movements in the 1950s and early 1960s, the US set about creating specialist counter-insurgent forces. The US Army formed its Green Beret Special Forces units and the USAF responded by recreating the Air Commandos, an organisation that had achieved considerable success in the China-Burma-India theatre during the Second World War. The 4400th CCTS was formed at Hurlburt Field, Florida on 14 April 1961 tasked with developing air operations against guerrillas and insurgents using either overt or covert military action. Code-named Jungle Jim, the Squadron formed several detachments that were deployed to various trouble spots in Africa and Central America to provide training to national forces supported by the USA. Detachment 2A, code named Farm Gate, was formed in November and arrived in South Vietnam on the 14th on what was originally intended to be a six month temporary duty detachment.
Detachment 2A consisted of 151 officers and men, eight T-28s, four SC-47s and four B-26s and set up bases at Bien Hoa and Tan Son Nhut. Ostensibly the detachment was in South Vietnam to train the VNAF in counter-insurgency techniques and the aircraft flew in VNAF markings (which was a simple modification of the US stars and bars) and had to carry a Vietnamese observer on all flights. However, within a short time of arriving in South Vietnam American airmen were flying operational missions against the Viet Cong and although training of the VNAF was undoubtedly being conducted, it was the USAF aircrew who were flying many of the operational missions. Farm Gate flew it first offensive sorties on 26 December when T-28s from Bien Hoa took part in a close air support mission.
The Farm Gate detachment was joined on 7 January 1962 by another unit, the Special Aerial Spray Flight, which consisted of six C-123B Providers converted to spray herbicide chemicals as part of a defoliation programme. The dense jungles and mangrove swamps that cover much of Southeast Asia provided ideal conditions for Viet Cong operations in that they masked their movement from the air and enabled them to move their forces with relative impunity. The modified Providers, usually flying in a tight formation to concentrate coverage, sprayed large tracts of jungle with a variety of herbicides in an attempt to reduce the foliage thereby denying its cover to the Viet Cong. Known as Ranch Hand, the Special Aerial Spray Flight flew its first mission on 10 January 1962 and the unit, which changed its designation several times over the next 10 years, became notorious due to the use of the chemical known as Agent Orange, controversy over which still rages today.
The last of the early deployments to Southeast Asia was a transport squadron of C-123 Providers that supplemented the C-47s of the VNAF. The 464th TCW deployed the 346th TCS under the code name Mule Train from Pope AFB, North Carolina to South Vietnam in January 1962. The squadron was later replaced by the 776th TCS and consisted of 12 aircraft at Tan Son Nhut and two at Da Nang.