1st MIBARS In Vietnam!

Imagery Interpretation Section

The 1st MIBARS' Mission!

"1st MIBARS has undertaken a program of coordinated imagery interpretation operations in conjunction with personnel of ARVN [Army of the Republic of Vietnam] Corps Military Intelligence Detachments. "

-- General Joseph McChristian, J-2, USARV

1st MIBARS Information Booklet

Working With the ARVN:  "A 1st MIBARS detachment Imagery Interpretation (II) Specialist and an ARVN II Officer use the AR-91A High-Magnification Viewer in the Tactical Imagery Interpretation Facility (TIIF) to assist in the interpretation of a newly-received mission."    Photo above, mission statements,  and captions in quotations on this page credited to the Republic of Vietnam Aerial Reconnaissance Information Booklet, 1st MI Battalion (ARS), 1967.

Arriving In Vietnam in 1965 to Work With the US Army's MACV Advisors . . . and

For the US Army, there were two primary command shoulder patches in Vietnam -- the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) and the US Army Republic of Vietnam (USARV). MACV was established in 1962 to assist the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam in maintaining internal security and resisting external aggression. MACV personnel often served as "advisors" to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), with individual officers and senior non-commissioned officers being virtually embedded in ARVN units at planning and operational levels.  MACV advisors also assisted the Vietnamese civilian government.  USARV, under which the 1st MIBARS was located organizationally, encompassed discrete units of the US Army.

According to Gruntonline.com, a website apparently no longer active, MACV was activated to provide a unified command structure in Vietnam, not assuming responsibility for the military advisory mission until 1964.  MACV had authority over all U.S. military activities in Vietnam, regardless of service. It did not, however, have control over the US Navy's Seventh Fleet, US Air Force units in Thailand, or the USAF Strategic Air Command's B-52s used for air strikes in the theater. MACV closed down 29 Mar 1973.

USARV was established in July of 1965.  It controlled all of the US Army's logistical and administrative units in Vietnam. Although a separate headquarters, the same individual served as Commander of MACV and Commander of USARV. With the reduction in force levels, USARV was re-designated USARV/MACV Support Command and closed down in March of 1973.

-- Hitting the Ground Running For the USAF

. . . [A replacement officer] informed me that he had visited some of his old Air Force buddies from the 460th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing in Tan Son 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. [He] 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 [Air Reconnaissance Liaison Officer] to coordinate with the 460th and our unit commanders who would be providing the II's [Imagery Interpreters] to do the job. . . . 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.

LTC Michael Tymchak, Commanding Officer, 1st MIBARS, 1965-1966

Photo Credit: MIV

Above:  "B" Detachment Imagery Interpretation Section technical leads, a Chief Warrant Officer Grade 4 on the right, and senior NCO Grade E-7s center and left.  Top experts on ground characteristics and features evaluation in the I Corps Tactical Zone!

Operational control of combat operations was undertaken by Field Force, Vietnam, established in Nov 1965 as four "field forces" -- Field Force, Vietnam (I FFV or I Field Force Victor).  I FFV controlled operations in II CTZ (II Corps Tactical Zone) and II FFV in III and IV CTZ.  In the north, the I Corps Tactical Zone (I CTZ), was under the operational control of the III Marine Amphibious Force.  However, the increases in the number of Army units in I CTZ led to activation of the Provisional Corps, Vietnam, which later became XXIV Corps.  Initially posted to Phu Bai, XXIV Corps moved to Da Nang in March of 1970.

In 1966 and 1967, the majority of the ground fighting in I Corps, "B" Detachment's area of responsibility, was conducted by the U.S. Marine Corps, with the city of DaNang being under the administrative jurisdiction of the U.S. Naval Support Command.  Therefore, "B" Detachment dealt on a day-to-day, as-needed basis with the Marine Corps, the Navy and the Air Force.  Primary contact with the US Army consisted of MACV advisors assigned to assist the Army of the Republic of Vietnam's (ARVN) I Corps general staff which was located in DaNang.

Mission Statement of the 1st MIBARS In Vietnam

1.  Provide tactical interpretation and reproduction of imagery from tactical air reconnaissance operational elements operating in the Republic of Vietnam in support of COMUSMACV (Commander, Military Assistance Command Vietnam), MACV subordinate commands, USARV (U.S. Army Vietnam), VNAF (Vietnam Air Force), and ARVN tactical forces.

2.  Provide liaison with tactical air reconnaissance elements, requestor and user tactical units.

3.  Brief and debrief Air Force tactical air reconnaissance crews flying in-county mission in the Republic of Vietnam.

4.  Delivery imagery and reports to requesting agencies.

5.  Perform other missions as assigned.

Photo Credit: MIV

Above: Imagery Interpretation team at work in "B" Detachment's Tactical Imagery Interpretation Facility (TIIF) in 1967.

The Imagery Interpretation Specialist's Job In 1st MIBARS

"The function of a photo interpreter in Vietnam was fairly straight forward: find anything that looked like it might have something to do with the war and figure out what and where it was.  The Air Force provided roughly 80% of our workload (I'm guessing), with Army Mohawks giving us the rest.  The hand-held stuff wasn't really given to the everyday IIs;  it was pretty much taken care of by the guys that flew the missions.  I have no idea who ever actually ordered the missions, but typically it was bomb damage assessments (which would be mostly Air Force related) and ground planning."

Roger Houglan, "B" Detachment, Imagery Interpretation, 1967 - 1969

The 1st MIBARS and MACV Advisors In the Field

Photo Credit:MIV

The MIBARS mission required close examination of aerial photographs (i.e., imagery) of the battlefield, or other areas of interest to ground commanders and military planners, analysis for features of tactical or strategic interest, and the transmittal of written reports/or annotated imagery to headquarters staff organizations or tactical units in the field.

Left:  In this photo, taken in 1967, the "B" Detachment Imagery Interpretation Section Officer (also the Executive Officer),  at right wearing the subdued USARV shoulder patch, explains findings to a MACV advisor -- who is wearing a full-color MACV shoulder patch -- assigned to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam's (ARVN) I Corps Tactical Zone headquarters.

This briefing is being held in the Tactical Imagery Interpretation Facility (TIIF) using a light table and a stereoscope.  The stereoscope provided a 3-dimensional effect when used in viewing closely overlapping and paired photographs.

MIBARS Job Requirements: Capability, Flexibility and . . . A Sense of Humor 
The business of the Imagery Interpretation (II) Section was to examine and evaluate aerial photographs -- in the form of paper prints or positive transparencies -- for features of military interest.  This program of photo interpretation was the bread-and-butter mission of "B" Detachment and other 1st MIBARS field units.

II enlisted personnel, as military intelligence specialists, were generally recruited by the Army from the ranks of the better educated or motivated troops, or those willing to sign up for more than the two-year period required under the draft by the Selective Service System.  In addition to the more mundane administrative or work details assigned by the 1st Sergeant, they labored at their craft diligently and without complaint, bending over photographic light tables day after day, seated at drafting tables and typewriters,  meticulously writing reports and labeling selected photographs,  and interacting easily, as circumstances dictated, with MACV advisors, ground commanders, ARVN personnel in coordinative or learning roles, Forward Air Controllers, and other intelligence operatives.  

Intelligence work was not always easy during the Vietnam War.  In late 1966, a new officer arrival to "B" Detachment -- one not assigned to the Imagery Interpretation Section -- who overheard a conversation about "Arc Light," asked what the term meant and was told quite pointedly by the officious II Section Chief that it was classified and that he had no need to know.  The following day the new arrival pointed out to the II Officer that the DaNang Post Exchange was selling a well-known American bi-weekly news magazine that carried an article on Arc Light -- complete with details of the operation and accompanying maps.  When apprised of this, the II Officer -- now embarrassed -- bemoaned the fact that there was "no confidentiality in this war."

Interpretation Operations In III Corps

Detachment As area of responsibility was mainly II Corps and some III Corps.  We supported the 173rd Airborne and the 1st Air Cavalry.  Im sure there were other units too, I just can't remember. We handled the Iron Triangle located near Ben Cat off RT 13.  We looked into Laos and Cambodia using SLAR [side-looking airborne radar] trying to monitor the Ho Chi Minh trail.  We also did work for an engineer battalion that was repairing the road to Ben Cat for an assault on the Iron Triangle.

Detachment A's biggest claim to fame was the Operation Junction City combat jump.  We did the Intel for that jump.  We found a jump zone and told them that it was poor at the best, but General Westmoreland wanted a jump.  Rumor has it his helicopter made a wrong turn and he missed the jump."

Paul Guinta, "A" Detachment, Imagery Interpretation Section, 1966-1967

It was soon rumored that breaches in security occurred at all levels of the ARVN command structure, with reports reaching "B" Detachment that allied military information regularly made its way to enemy forces.   Arc Light was the code name for the B-52 strikes then being carried out to stop the infiltration of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC) troops and war materiel along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

For more on Imagery Interpretation mission operations, click on a link below

Tactical Imagery Interpretation Facility (TIIF)

The TIIF -- A Closer Look

Evaluating Aerial Reconnaissance Imagery I

Evaluating Aerial Reconnaissance Imagery II

Lessons Learned In Rocket City

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