Operation SAFESTEP I

Initiated and Designed by LTC Foster H. Taft

From the air, the Delta looks like an enormous cracked mirror-with its numberless canals and monsoon soaked rice paddies. Dominating it all, the great Mekong River meanders to the sea, 2,600 miles from its source high in the Himalayan peaks of Tibet.

In this challenging terrain, with its primitive road network, intensive agriculture and Mekong muck, most of the usual warfare rules are either rewritten, revised or abandoned. For Yankee ingenuity is as flexible as it is ingenious.

So, to do combat in the watery twilight zone, teams of imagineers have dreamed up inflatable bridges, a jungle crusher and floating artillery gun barges.

The most recent innovation to find its way into the 9th Division is a new jungle boot nicknamed the "paddy" boot. The boot was initiated and designed by Lieutenant Colonel Foster H. Taft, Atherton, Calif., former 9th Division surgeon.

The "paddy," being tested under the medical banner of Operation SAFESTEP I, resembles the Army issued boot, except it has an open weave synthetic material replacing the canvas of the toe and heel portion of the present jungle boot. The "paddy" boot is also spike resistant.

The boot received its initial design from Taft and subsequent research from the United States Army Laboratory; Natick, Prior to its shipment to Vietnam, the "paddy" was tested in the Everglades of Florida with a high degree of success.

The new boot was designed to reduce the temperature of the foot and allows for quick drying and free circulation of air and water about the foot and ankle. A new low quarter, net-designed acrylic stocking also has been designed by Taft to be worn with the boot.

"The boots were further designed for comfort," said Captain Thomas A. Schott, Independence, Mo., 9th Division medical administrative assistant, "but their primary purpose is hygiene."

The new experimental boot is now being tested in the Mekong Delta following Taft's report that jungle boots presently being used by the Army are not suited for the monsoon drenched jungles of the Delta. If the new "paddy" boots prove successful, they may become the prototype of standard issue for all troops in the Delta. The cost of manufacturing the new lightweight boot compares favorably with manufacturing cost of the present jungle boot.

The report went on to say that 95 percent of the soldiers in the Delta area have some type of foot disease and claimed that last September and October, 4,665 man combat days were lost due to some degree of foot disease.

Due to be tested in subsequent medical operations are jungle fatigue trousers that resemble Bermuda shorts. The shorts are made of the same material currently used in jungle fatigues. The pants allow for more sunshine and air to get to the legs, discouraging various tropical diseases from developing. A special tanning cream has been designed to be used with the shorts. The cream allows gradual tanning over a five to seven day period and eliminates the possibility of sunburn.

Also being introduced is a carbo-wax leech repellent; the new ointment has a staying power of up to 72 hours. The repellent has been tested in the swamplands of Florida and with Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol teams here in Vietnam with successful results.

With this new equipment, it is anticipated that troops will be able to remain in the field for extended periods of time without any increase in skin disease outbreaks.

The results of the testing will not be made public for at least two or three months, according to Schott, but whatever the outcome of the testing, the path-finding spirit of the 9th Division surgeon's office is indisputably in the spirit of the Old Reliables.

From Octofoil Magazine