Administration at the division level in Vietnam included a wide range of activities in the area of combat service support. Finance, personnel, casualty reporting, information, postal, legal, chaplain, special services, inspector general, and adjutant general administrative elements were customers of the communications system.
Few things can lower a soldier's morale faster than errors in his pay. Accurate pay in Vietnam depended on accurate data and rapid notification of adjustments. For soldiers assigned to lonely radio relay stations or to maneuver battalions and their supporting elements, getting to the finance office to check out a pay discrepancy or to make a change was not easy. Administrative personnel had to rely on the communications system to assist the soldier with his pay problems. The radio, teletypewriter, and telephone provided the means for them to initiate and monitor the field soldier's paper work.
Divisional finance organizations included a main office at the division headquarters and branch offices with major subordinate units at different locations. The -main office had to stay in close contact with these dispersed branches to safeguard funds, maintain efficient service, and keep accurate records. Finance offices provided forward service teams to maneuver units on paydays or at processing points. Their functions ranged from receiving pay inquiries to providing payrolls to authorized (class A) agents. The responsibilities involved in distributing millions of dollars in military payment certificates each month and in accurately maintaining from ten thousand to thirty thousand pay records made effective coordination a must. Communications, primarily by telephone and teletypewriter, were vital in the coordination and efficient operation of the divisional and separate brigade finance offices.
Some customers of the communications system had sporadic massive calls for coordination. One of these was the finance office on "C-day," or conversion day, when one color-coded military payment certificate series changed to another, a measure
to help control counterfeiting and black-marketing. Such conversions were well planned and were detailed in standing operating procedures, but the plans did not adequately provide for the large increase in communications support required to carry them out efficiently.
During 1971, the joint uniform military pay system (JUMPS) was implemented throughout Vietnam. This system for paying military personnel was centralized and completely automated. 'The heart of the operation was at the U.S. Army Finance and Accounting Center at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. Pay-related data from units all over the world, including Vietnam, were fed into the center over high quality circuits of the automatic digital network (AUTODIN). In Vietnam, however, network terminals were not located near all the finance offices. Where no such terminal was nearby, the finance office had to get its data to a terminal by messenger. The tactical communications system could not provide the high quality circuits needed to extend the network into the divisional areas.
A flood of questions from field units and clarifications from higher headquarters came inevitably as the new comprehensive pay system started. During the early stages of implementation in Vietnam, most of the finance offices there telephoned the Finance and Accounting Center in Indiana daily, asking questions about implementing and coordinating the new system and receiving answers to the preceding day's questions. Considering the ever present possibility of a telephone preemption, this approach worked remarkably well. The first payday under the system had produced a considerable number of disgruntled soldiers. The story went the rounds in Vietnam that General Abrams called in the Military Assistance Command finance officer for a report on the situation. Brushing aside some optimistic forecasts, General Abrams reportedly said, "I want every effort made to see that the troops get paid . . . . and then see if you can get me paid too." Hard work and busy phone lines got rid of the bugs.
By the time of the Vietnam war, the American public had become accustomed to rapid worldwide communications. The people back home expected to hear within a matter of hours if a relative or loved one had become a battle casualty. Procedures and communications support had to be established to meet that expectation. The situation was complicated by air evacuation of wounded and dead. A casualty could be evacuated by helicopter in minutes from the battlefield to a hospital and then, in some cases, by plane in hours back to the States. The additional distress and
shock to parents if the body of their son should arrive in the United States before they were notified had to be avoided. Some units established separate circuits reserved solely for casualty reporting. It was and will remain a top priority administrative requirement upon the communications system, especially during periods of heavy combat.
Another major customer of the communications system was the division G-1 or adjutant general, who carried out personnel and administrative functions. His calls to coordinate matters with higher and lower headquarters made up a major portion of the telephone traffic load, although he also used messengers, couriers, and the radio teletypewriter. The personnel work load in Vietnam was greater than the normal, both because of awards, decorations, casualty reporting, and rest and recuperation leaves attributable to combat and because of deliberate cross-transfers to avoid mass rotational losses that would cripple a specific unit. Such transfers were necessitated by the fixed tour and by the group arrivals of members of incoming units.
The phase-down created more personnel and communications work. Not only did men from units being closed out have to be shifted to other units, but most units tried to assign each individual to the major unit of his choice. The telephone service, the local lines and the long lines, received both praise and criticism during the buildup and phase-down in Vietnam. In spite of some shortcomings, it more than adequately responded to the needs of the divisions.
One development in management practices was beginning to have some influence on the communications system during the Vietnam war but did not reach the impact that it will have on a future conflict if the trend continues. That development was the increased use of business machines and computers to assist in the support of combat operations. In Vietnam, business machines such as the National Cash Register Model 500 were used for stock and inventory work in logistics, and the Univac Model 1005 was used in personnel and finance. The divisional communications system was not able to extend the high quality circuits needed for the joint uniform military pay system, but future use of speedy data processors or their replacements may mean that the division will have to provide the circuits.
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Last Updated 3 October 2003
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