The United States Army has met an unusually complex challenge in Southeast
Asia. In conjunction with the other services, the Army has fought in support
of a national policy of assisting an emerging nation to develop governmental
processes of its own choosing, free of outside coercion. In addition to the
usual problems of waging armed conflict, the assignment in Southeast Asia has
required superimposing the immensely sophisticated tasks of a modern army upon
an underdeveloped environment and adapting them to demands covering a wide spectrum.
These involved helping to fulfill the basic needs of an agrarian population,
dealing with the frustrations of. antiguerrilla operations, and conducting conventional
campaigns against well-trained and determined regular units.
As this assignment nears an end, the U.S. Army must prepare for other challenges
that may lie ahead. While cognizant that history never repeats itself exactly
and that no army ever profited from trying to meet a new challenge in terms
of the old one, the Army nevertheless stands to benefit immensely from a study
of its experience, its shortcomings no less than its achievements.
Aware that some years must elapse before the official histories will provide
a detailed and objective analysis of the experience in Southeast Asia, we have
sought a forum whereby some of the more salient aspects of that experience can
be made available now. At the request of the Chief of Staff, a representative
group of senior officers who served in important posts in Vietnam and who still
carry a heavy burden of day-to-day responsibilities has prepared a series of
monographs. These studies should be of great value in helping the Army develop
future operational concepts while at the same time contributing to the historical
record and providing the American public with an interim report on the performance
of men and officers who have responded, as others have through our history,
to exacting and trying demands.
The reader should be reminded that most of the writing was accomplished while the war in Vietnam was at its peak, and the monographs frequently refer to events of the past as if they were taking place in the present.
All monographs in the series are based primarily on official records, with additional material from published and unpublished secondary works, from debriefing reports and interviews with key participants, and from the personal experience of the author. To facilitate security clearance, annotation and detailed bibliography have been omitted from the published version; a fully documented account with bibliography is filed with the U.S. Army Center of Military History.
The author of this monograph brings to his subject a wide background of experience in combat engineering operations, construction, and staff planning. Major General Robert R. Ploger first held a position of major engineering significance in 1943-1945 as the staff engineer and commander of the engineer troop contingent, a combat battalion, for the 29th Infantry Division which was one of two U.S. assault divisions on OMAHA Beach in Normandy. Some twenty years later, upon being selected in 1966 as the command engineer in South Vietnam, he had successfully held command of every level of engineer troop formation from platoon through brigade. Aside from the construction aspects of combat engineering, he first developed competence in performance of formal large-scale construction as a key manager, 1950-1953, within the Okinawa Engineer District, which managed a $400 million base development program in the Ryukyu Islands. Later, immediately before proceeding to South Vietnam, he directed the New England Division of the Corps of Engineers where he had responsibility for flood and hurricane protection, water resource development, and military construction throughout the six New England states for the Chief of Engineers. General Ploger gained competence in staff planning through assignments to the War Department General Staff toward the end of World War II; to Japan Logistical Command for U.S. participation in the Korean War; and to Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), 1958-1961, where he engaged in planning for physical facilities for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In August of 1967, Major General Ploger left his position as the head of one of the largest engineer commands in U.S. history to become the principal assistant to the Chief of Engineers in matters of topography and military engineering. In July 1970 he assumed the position of commander of the U.S. Army Engineer Center and Fort Belvoir. There he has directed the educational program for engineer officers and enlisted men of the Army and coordinated the development of engineer doctrine and its supporting training literature while commanding a major military installation of the United States Army. Significant
to his appreciation of the inherent difficulties of operating in a country
less advanced economically than the United States is that from 1961 to 1963
General Ploger studied international economics, contributing a thesis entitled
Planning for Long Range Economic Development of Underdeveloped Nations.
10 April 1973
VERNE L. BOWERS
Major General, USA
The Adjutant General
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