For many, the war in Afghanistan will hold a unique memory. Some of good times shared among respectable friends, others of abject dread amid heavy enemy attacks. And for the men of the Reconnaissance “Scout” Platoon, HHC, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry (1/503rd) Regiment, theirs is a brotherhood forged in the 2012 snow-capped mountains of Ghazni Province where their unit participated in some of the more intensive and hard-fought battles recognized during the US involvement in Afghanistan. However, theirs is a chronicle that only adds to its unit’s long and established history.
Initially formed on March 14th, 1941 with the 1/503rd Infantry Regiment during World War II, reconnaissance elements (many of which would go on to form today’s modern-day unit) participated in every major battle from the Mark Ham Valley to the Island of Corregidor. The highlight of the platoon during this time-period was Private Lloyd G. McCarter whom earned his Medal of Honor during the assault at the Island of Corregidor, which began with an amphibious landing on February 17th, 1945. Crossing immense open terrain, and under continual enemy fire; PVT McCarter systematically located and dispatched over 30 enemy soldiers and although heavily wounded himself, paved the way for the follow-on assault that would liberate the island. However, despite the achievements of reconnaissance units in WWII, the concept of an established Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) unit would not be formalized until some time later.
Between December 24th, 1945 and February 1st, 1951 as part of the post-WWII reorganization efforts the 1/503rd Infantry Regiment transitioned into Company A, 503rd Airborne Infantry as an element of the 11th Airborne Division. Beginning in March 1957, Company A underwent a number of reorganizations between the 11th and 82nd Airborne Divisions, and 24th Infantry Division before finally formalized as the Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) 1/503rd Infantry Regiment on March 23rd, 1963 and assigned under the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
By the 1960’s, the elements of the 503rd Infantry Regiment LRRP were assigned as part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate) and deployed to Vietnam on May 5th, 1965 as part of the US Army’s first “combat” elements to arrive in the growing conflict. Commanding General (GEN) Ellis W. Williamson recognized the vital role the 503rd Infantry Regiment LRRP could provide his 17th Cavalry elements who themselves were ill equipped for dismounted reconnaissance missions. Taking volunteers from within the 503rd Infantry Regiment, GEN Williamson placed these volunteers on a Special Duty status with a makeup of one Lieutenant, one Staff Sergeant, and two lower enlisted soldiers for each of four teams. The modern foundations of the 503rd Infantry Regiment LRRP had arrived. The first elements of the 503rd Infantry Regiment LRRP received their initial training by the 1st Royal Australian Regiment, who themselves had become familiar with long-range surveillance during the unit’s involvement in combat operations in Malaysia.
On November 21st, 1965 the 503rd Infantry Regiment LRRP Detachment (Det.) deployed on its first long range patrol for Operation NEW LIFE at La Nga River Valley north of the Vietnamese village of Vo Dat. Conducting two separate river crossings to enter the Operations Area, the four teams put much of their skills acquired to good use and provided critical intelligence and operations support to the 17th Cavalry. Because of this success and many others, the 503rd Infantry Regiment LRRP Det. became a permanent part of Troop E, 17th Cavalry in June 1966. Notable during this time period, during operations on March 9th, 1966 the 173rd Airborne Brigade participated in Operation SILVER CITY near the Song Be River. Combat during this operation was intense, with reported periods of hand-to-hand combat resulting in the Vietcong all but being annihilated and SPC Alfred V. Rascon, a medic with the 1/503rd Infantry Regiment being awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day.
However, due to the continual pace of the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s operations, the 503rd Infantry Regiment LRRP volunteers had to receive informal training in Vietnam at the RECONDO School at Nha Trang, or were sent TDY to the 101st airborne schoolhouse at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. This continual refinement of the LRRP mission enabled the “Scouts” of the 503rd Infantry Regiment to establish their skillet beyond mere “reconnaissance” missions to include more combat-
oriented roles to include long-range reconnaissance, ambush, capture, and infiltration/extraction techniques – recognized now as a Long-range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRP).
By November 1967 the 173rd Airborne Brigade had moved to Dak To and there earned several Presidential Unit Citations due to the continual battles in the region. Ironically, efforts were already underway to establish and recognize the 503rd Infantry Regiment LRP elements as a separate unit, and their Presidential Unit Citations were mistakenly cut prematurely as the newly activated unit. On December 20th the Department of the Army formally recognized the formation of the 74th Infantry LRP Det. and all the 503rd Infantry Regiment LRP teams were absorbed into it.
The 74th Infantry LRP continued to operate under the command of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, eventually establishing a forward base camp at An Khz. The base allowed members of the 74th Infantry LRP to continue rotating for training with Special Forces while still functioning as the “Eyes and Ears” of the Commander. During this time, on November 12th 1968
SSG Laszlo Rabel became the only member of the 74th Infantry LRP to earn the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War. By February 1st, 1969 the 74th Infantry LRP again became absorbed into Company N (Ranger) at Landing Zone English in Bong Son.
Over the next year, the 173rd Airborne Brigade would continue its “pacification” operations while Company N (Ranger) would utilize the LRP elements to serve as a screen. The Ranger Company’s missions would last typically three to five days followed by a two day lull to debrief and prepare for the next mission. For the remained of the Vietnam War, Company N (Ranger) would remain north of the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s Area of Operations (AO) and include the mountainous terrain of the An Lao, An Do, Sufi Ca, and Crow’s Foot Valleys as well as the Northern Binh Dinh mountain ranges. During this time periood, Company N (Ranger) conducted over 100 LRP missions with 134 sightings of the enemy, 63 enemy killed, and five prisoners while the LRP unit itself only sustained one Ranger killed in action and 20 wounded.
At the close of the Vietnam War, the permanent size of the 75th Infantry Company N (Ranger) was increased in November 1969 to a full compliment of 128 Rangers. The members of this unit were selected using the rigorous criteria for entry into the 75th Ranger Regiment and began incorporating experimental weapon systems to enhance their mission capabilities, to include silencers and unique trigger devices to anti-personnel mines. During a unit ceremony in April 1971, members of November Company formally donned the black Ranger beret recognizing their formal transition. However, it proved short-lived as Company N (Ranger), 75th Infantry was deactivated on August 25th, 1971 after performing with exceptional courage throughout their two and a half year deployment into Vietnam.
Not to be forgotten, the 1/503rd Infantry Regiment Infantry was reactivated on December 19th, 1986 and assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea. There the battalion would patrol the demilitarized zone until 1991. In 2002 the 173rd Airborne Brigade, 1/503rd Infantry Regimental Reconnaissance Company was deactivated, only to be reconstituted in July 2003 as the 74th Long-Range Surveillance – Detachment (LRS-D) (Call sign PHANTOM). In anticipation of involvement in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), the 74th LRS-D secured Drop Zone Bashur with Special Forces elements from 10th Group
ahead of the greater 173rd Airborne Brigade’s air assault into Iraq. The maneuver was the brigade’s largest airborne operation since Market Garden in WWII.
By 2005, the 173rd Airborne Brigade was redesigned as an Airborne Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) under the new Army’s concept plan. It then deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Operating in conjunction with elements of the 7th Special Forces Group, the 74th LRS-D operated heavily in both Afghanistan’s Helmand and Kandahar Province. During the unit’s one-year deployment against local Afghan drug lords and Taliban fighters, it sustained one casualty, SFC John “Gunny” Morton who was mortally wounded by enemy sniper fire. Upon the unit’s redeployment, the 74th LRS-D was deactivated in May 2006.
Returning for its second tour into Afghanistan, in 2007 the 1/503rd Infantry Regiment (Call sign MAD HATTER) deployed its LRS-D Reconnaissance Platoon for OEF. This 18 month-long tour proved extremely violent for members of the 1/503rd Infantry Regiment as they experienced two seasons of the Afghan fighting period.
The 1/503rd Infantry Regiment deployed for its third deployment to OEF in July 2009. The LRS-D Reconnaissance Platoon (Call sign: RASCON) came under periods of intense fire in Logar and Wardak Provinces, including a notable engagement where the platoon came under immediate indirect fire while dismounting from a UH-60.
Marking the 1/503rd Infantry Regiment’s fourth deployment, in July 2012 the LRS-D Reconnaissance Platoon was divided up into two elements. The unit’s sniper section leader, SSG Hall, led the platoon’s “Rascon” Team 2 and 3 soldiers (SGT Osborne, SPC Coley, SPC Dowd, SPC Smith, SPC Miller, and SPC Orcutt) to a Consolidated Operations Post (COP) in Charkh District to assist the 1/503rd Infantry Regiment’s “Legion” Company with Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and sniper attacks in their AO. The remainder of the LRS-D Reconnaissance Platoon remained at Forward Operations Base (FOB) Shank to continue missions from that location.
During Operation EAGLE LEGACY, the LRS-D Reconnaissance Platoon was tasked with establishing overwatch to RTE VIRGINIA during the EXFIL of COP Kherwar, when it sustained its deployment’s first casualty. SPC Miller, Rascon Team 2’s M-240 heavy machine gunner, was wounded by enemy sniper fire to his arm. Elsewhere during this time, Rascon Team 3 was tasked to Pathfinder elements of the 82nd Airborne and provide Close Air Support by driving multiple AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopters to their targets. For their service, the members of the Scout platoon were presented with honorary “Golden Spurs” from 1-91 CAV for performance of duties while in combat operations, and attached to the cavalry unit. In the same ceremony, SPC Mynear also was presented with the Army Commendation Medal w/Valor device.
Following EAGLE LEGACY, the LRS-D Reconnaissance Platoon, was sent to FOB Warrior in Ghazi Province along with elements for the 503rd Infantry Regiment HHC “Workhorse” Company and elements of 503rd Infantry Regiment “Easy” Company. Together, these elements of the 503rd Infantry Regiment were assigned as part of Operation EAGLE THUNDER I and supported by “Demon” Company, 4th Brigade, and 1st Infantry Division to provide security for a Joint Security Station (JSS) under construction along Route Janubi. Completing link-up with Demon Company on September 11th, 2012 at COP Maqor the LRS-D Reconnaissance Platoon came under intense separate engagements between September 12th and 13th. Following an intense battle on the 13th, SGT Kyle Osborne was killed by enemy fire while defending the JSS against a numerically superior enemy force. Between the 12th and 13th, nine other members of the LRS-D Reconnaissance Platoon would also be awarded the Army’s Purple Heart medal for wounds sustained during combat while under fire from a Taliban recoilless rifle. SFC Spratt and SSG Shreve were both awarded the Bronze Star, and SSG Grimes received the Army Commendation Medal with V-device for their actions leading solders during the 13th as well. Six other members of the unit would also receive valorous awards as well.
Following the engagements at the JSS, the LRS-D Reconnaissance Platoon would go on for the remainder of their nine month-long deployment partnered with 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment conducting multiple counter-IED/IDF, small kill team actions, and reconnaissance missions around FOB Warrior. The platoon also conducted multiple support and over watch missions for Attack and Demon Company. By January 2013, the LRS-D Reconnaissance Platoon not only completed a Pre Ranger Selection Course while deployed, but had then redeployed to its garrison in Vicenza, Italy. Today it continues to train in anticipation of the needs of the US Army and prepare to provide the long-range reconnaissance mission the unit has become so well known for.
Developed to commemorate the unit’s 2012 OEF deployment, and the soldier’s of the “Scout” Platoon, HHC, 1/503rd Regiment; the unit’s 3” cut-out challenge coin reflect its unique values and long-standing history in reconnaissance and long-range combat. The design was developed internally by a member of the sniper platoon, and is also featured prominently on the unit’s social media page for Facebook. When asked about their unit’s challenge coin, 1LT David B. Dean (then the 2012 “Scout” Platoon Leader) replied,
There is a unique camaraderie that comes with operating in small teams without external support for long periods of time – we have each other, but no one else. This was true both in a theoretical sense and also in many of the kinetic engagements we found ourselves in (without support).To me, deployment coins represent something very different from challenge coins associated with large(r) organizations or individuals. Receiving a coin from GEN Odierno (for example) typically represents appreciation for an act or contribution, but can also become a watered-down symbol (i.e. “thanks for being in this sensing session”). A deployment coin is a very personal reminder of the shared experiences we went through during deployment: the laughs, sweat, and blood we shared. Our coin is something we can look at, remember, and reflect; we gave it to other units we fought next to, as well as to our personal families, but outside of that we didn’t disseminate the coin much.
Centered on the Obverse is a large brushed-silver three-dimensional skull, denoting the lethal nature of LRS-D operations. Emerging to the skull’s left is an Airborne wing, denoting the platoons Airborne skill set within the US Army and historically appearing on the 503rd Infantry Regimental crest. Oppositely, emerging out of the skull’s right is a sniper employing the Barret .50 Caliber Sniper Rifle eluding to the long-range kinetic work of the platoon. Above the skull features the “double stack” of the platoon’s yellow/black Ranger scroll and association to the 75th Ranger Regiment, and the unit’s red/black “Recon” scroll upon which is written “Recon” in white, with its affiliation of “1st BN” to the right, and “503rd IN” to the left. Along the black outer edge of the Obverse, along the top half, is written the unit’s full designation “Scout Platoon, HHC, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment”. The platoon’s call sign during the deployment “Rascon” is written along the bottom black edge and draws upon the historic context of the 1-503rd medic, SPC Alfred V. Rascon, whom earned a Medal of Honor during Vietnam.
The Reverse of the 2012 Scout Platoon Challenge Coin utilizes the backside of the skull and double stack scroll to set a field of burnished silver. Centered upon the field is the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team Crest, to include a “Recon” scroll, denoting the LRS-D unit’s association to the brigade. Upon a similar field above, is the unit’s representative rank for its 2012 leadership during its OEF deployment, a silver bar representing the 1st Lieutenant and yellow chevrons for an E-7 Sergeant First Class. Between these ranks is written “noi stiamo insieme da soli” that in Italian is loosely translated as “We stand together alone” demonstrating the strong bonds of brotherhood experienced by those who know combat together. Along the black outer edge is written “Operation Enduring Freedom” along the top half, and along the bottom is “For Excellence in Combat” to identify to the recipient where and why they have received this challenge coin. When presenting these unique awards, 1LT Dean said,
I hope to capture the sacrifice, selflessness, and loyalty of our unit. Our guys were very good at what they did – very competent, quiet (for the most part), and lethal. But they were quiet professionals who did not brag about their accomplishments, put others down, or seek recognition. They were extremely loyal to one another and that cohesion was what got us through some tough times.
One of the challenge coins associated to the HHC, 1/503rd Regimental deployment/challenge coin includes one from 1/503rd Infantry Regiment “Legion” Company, a sister-unit that was assisted by the reconnaissance unit during its stay at COP Charkh. Framed in the shape of the fabled Spartan helmet the coin reflects the unit’s “Legion” adage. The coin also incorporates many of the same unit symbology that is found on the RECON Platoon’s challenge coin.
1. 75th Ranger Regiment Association. Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol Detachment 173rd Airborne Brigade (Seperate). http://www.75thrra.com/history/n75_hx.html (accessed October 20, 2013).
2. Nmrton. Scouts from 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne) 2. June 28, 2013. http://www.flickr.com/photos/8038057@N06/2182790182/ (accessed September 12, 2013).
3. Sua Sponte Histories. Ranger History: Vietnam, life in the jungle takes on a whole new meaning with these Lurps and Rangers. July 2009. http://www.suasponte.com/vietnam.htm (accessed September 12, 2013).
4. US Army 503rd Infantry Regiment Public Affairs. “1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment.” Facebook. June 2012. https://www.facebook.com/pages/1st-Battalion-Airborne-503rd-Infantry-Regiment/101687349882050 (accessed September 17, 2013).
5. US Army Public Affairs. Team 3 Recon. March 21, 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yh6lU8f03kU (accessed September 10, 2013).
6. —. The 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment History. June 6, 2013. http://www.eur.army.mil/173abct/1-503/about.html (accessed August 5, 2013).
7. SGT Sword, Michael. 1-503 holds pre-Ranger course while deployed in Ghazni. 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs. January 1, 2013. http://www.dvidshub.net/news/99827/1-503-holds-pre-ranger-course-while-deployed-ghazni-province#.Ua1KkpWsuaw (accessed October 15, 2013).
Contributions & Coordination provided by 1LT David B. Dean, Delta Company, 1/503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (AIRBORNE); and David M. Miller, Public Affairs Officer, BN S5, 1/503rd Infantry Regiment (AIRBORNE), 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (AIRBORNE).