Laotian Civil War
Deployment date: 28th August, 1961.
The Laotian Civil War was an internal conflict between the Royal Lao Government and the Communist Pathet Lao. Each side received external support from the then Cold War global superpowers – the United States and the Soviet Union respectively. Initially, all involvement was clandestine, so this confrontation is often called the Secret War.
The US became involved in the late 1950’s when United States Army Special Forces began a military advisory role within Laos. American soldiers rotated through the country as mobile training teams in support of the Royal Laotian government’s operations against the Pathet Lao communist insurgency. This campaign, known as Operation Hotfoot, was later renamed Operation White Star.
According to military records, Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Speirs was en route to Vientiane in Laos on 28th August, 1961. By 19th September, 1961 his Military Occupational Specialty, MOS Number: 82162 denotes a designation as an Operations and Training Staff Officer, acting as Deputy Senior Adviser. At this time he was performing duties as a G-2 – responsible for intelligence and security, and as a G-3 – responsible for operations, including staff duties, exercise planning, training, operational requirements, combat development and tactical doctrine.
On the 12th October, 1961 Speirs was promoted to Senior Military Advisor, Military Region III (counterinsurgency) headquartered in Savannakhet were he served as an advisor to the Royal Lao Army Commander of Military Region III. Located at the top of the Lao panhandle, Savannakhet was relatively tranquil during Speirs’ deployment, but in later years the entire eastern half of this region would be overtaken by the Ho Chi Minh Trail.1
During this period Speirs “succeeded in establishing an unusually warm and productive relationship with his Lao counterpart,”2 so much so that the “MAAG programme for improvement of Lao Army capabilities met with special success in the region”3 and Speirs’ “exceptional performance in this capacity”4 resulted in his selection to head the MAAG training programme for the entire Royal Lao Army. This change is reflected in a new MOS Number: 72162 – but is still under designation of Operations and Training Staff Officer.
Speirs now turned his attention to improving the calibre of non-commissioned and junior commissioned officers and was also personally responsible for organising two Officer Candidate Schools which subsequently graduated several hundred new Lieutenants and “revitalized the junior leadership in the Royal Lao Army.”5 It was further noted that “his discernment, objectivity, and technical knowledge were also reflected in his successful effort in organising the two Officer Candidate Schools as well as in his able direction of the training program.”6
“One Officer Candidate School, Dong Hene was adjacent to Savannakhet and was almost certainly one of the centres opened by Lieutenant Colonel Speirs. Also adjacent to Savannakhet was a French military training team at a base called Seno and most certainly, Lieutenant Colonel Speirs would have had frequent contact with them. Seno was also the location of the equivalent of a Lao airborne regiment (known as Groupement Mobile 15) and an airborne training centre. Given the background of Lieutenant Colonel Speirs, it is probable he had some interaction with the Lao paratroopers.”7
All other Officer Candidate Schools were concentrated around the capital, Vientiane.8
During the development of this programme Speirs “administered a complex programme under the extremely adverse military and political conditions existing in Laos at that time.”9
On the 17th August, 1962 Speirs returned to the USA but his work in Laos would contribute to his achieving The Legion of Merit and The Army Commendation Medal awards for his work during this brief, year-long, secondment. The citation reads “he established rare rapport with his Lao counterpart and insured the success of the training program for the entire Royal Lao Army.1 Ronald appears to have really impressed, “demonstrating unusual energy, imagination, ingenuity and flexibility…achievements drew high praise from numerous staff visitors and Washington level headquarters.”10
1. US Military Historian, Kenneth Conboy
2. Army Commendation Medal – The full text of the citation can be read in the Citations, Awards and Medals section
3. Army Commendation Medal
4. Army Commendation Medal
5. Army Commendation Medal
6. Legion of Merit – The full text of the citation can be read in the Citations, Awards and Medals section
7. US Military Historian, Kenneth Conboy
8. US Military Historian, Kenneth Conboy
9. Legion of Merit