Advanced Individual Training
I always thought that AIT stood for Advanced Infantry Training but I now know it is Advanced Individual Training where you learn the skills to do your Army job. Either way it was infantry training at Tigerland.
Background and History
Fort Polk is a United States Army installation located in Vernon Parish, approximately 10 miles east of Leesville, Louisiana, and 30 miles north of DeRidder, Louisiana. It was named in honor of the Right Reverend Leonidas Polk, the first Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana, and a distinguished Confederate general in the American Civil War. The post encompasses approximately 198,000 acres. Of this, 100,000 acres are owned by the Department of the Army and 98,125 acres by the U.S. Forest Service, mostly in the Kisatchie National Forest. Fort Polk is the only Combat Training Center that also trains and deploys combat units.
Fort Polk began as a base for the Louisiana Maneuvers in the 1940s. It served the 1st Armored Division in the 1950s, and became a basic training post during Vietnam War years of the 1960s and ’70s.
In 1962, Fort Polk began converting to an infantry training center. A small portion of Fort Polk is filled with dense, jungle-like vegetation, and this helped commanders prepare their units for battle in Southeast Asia. This training area became known as Tigerland. For the next 12 years, more soldiers were shipped to Vietnam from Fort Polk than from any other American training base. On Jan. 23, 1973, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s negotiated settlement to the hostilities took effect. In October 1974, Fort Polk became the new home of the 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized), and basic training and AIT started being phased out. Fort Polk changed from a Continental Army Command (CONARC) post in July 1975 and became a Forces Command (FORSCOM) member. In the spring of 1976, the Infantry Training Center at Fort Polk closed its doors and ceased operations. The final chapter of the Vietnam War ended for Fort Polk.
The land that is now Fort Polk is part in a region of cultural resources, including archaeological sites, historic houses and structures, and other sites of historical value. The U.S. Army has spent considerable time, effort, and money on locating, identifying, and inventorying thousands of archaeological sites on Fort Polk and the property owned by the U.S. Forest Service where the army trains.
We reported to Fort Polk April 9, 1967. We arrived in busses and were assigned to barracks. The barracks were not new but the same style we had at Fort Ord at the reception station. I guess you could call them the barracks of the 1940’s. It no longer made a difference to me that there were no partitions between the toilets.
Several things were quite different from basic training. One, we ran in the morning before breakfast. Two, we ran and had PT after breakfast. Three, we ran to almost every training area. We kept running and running just like Forrest Gump. Four, we had maybe only 3-4 hours of sleep. Five, it was hot and humid and it rained. Six, after the first couple of weeks we could get a weekend pass. Hoorah!
Did you know that there are four varieties of poisonous snakes in the US? Did you know that Fort Polk has all four varieties? Did you know that I am afraid of snakes?
Training was intense. We all knew that we were going to Vietnam after training and we were also reminded by the training instructors every day.
After a few weeks I thought that being a helicopter pilot might be a better idea. I contacted a warrant officer on post and was told I would have to take the test again as there were no results in my file. I took the test again and scored exceptionally well. Well, what did you think? I had taken it before.
Next I had to take a flight physical. The physical was the toughest one I had ever taken and with a lot of emphasis on your eyes and motor skills. The warrant officer told me that there was a school opening at Fort Wolters three weeks after graduation from AIT and that I would have to speak to the CO and request that he hold me over.
I met with the CO. The CO previously was a NCO infantry soldier in Vietnam and had received a field commission. So, I guess that he was a badass infantry grunt and did not care too much for other positions. The CO told me that he would only hold me over if I went to OCS and that after OCS I could apply to flight school. I understood that after you graduate from OCS you are assigned to one of the combat arms groups; Infantry, Artillery, or Combat Engineers. In addition, your length of service was now six years. I did the math and I decided to stay as an infantry soldier. There are more rocks and trees to give you cover on the ground than there are in the sky. And, the bonus is that you will not be in the Army on active duty for more than two years and won’t get a second tour of Vietnam that you might as either a Warrant Officer or Officer.
With that decision out of the way I really paid attention to all my training. I remember we were trained how to assault a hill with fire teams. The first team would lay down fire while the second team would advance and then drop and lay down fire for the first team to advance. We practiced that many times. However, we never really put that into practice in Vietnam. Probably because most of our NCO’s were Korea vets and did not receive that type of training and just told us to walk up the hill. I am certain we took some unnecessary casualties because of that.
We were now using the M-16 and not the M-14 we were trained on in Basic Training. I was fortunate to qualify number one in the Battalion on the M-16 and was called to the stage at the graduation awards ceremony to receive a prize from the CO. The prize turned out to be an engraved Zippo Lighter. I still have that lighter today.
I was in the best shape of my life even better than when I played high school and college baseball. I was a lean, mean fighting machine. LOL
At graduation on June 6, 1967, I received my new orders. Many of us hopped on busses to Dallas Love Field to catch airplanes home. I took a 4 week leave and then was to report to Oakland on July 4, 1967 no later than 1200 hours to be sent to Vietnam.
NEXT – Go To Vietnam