Kit Carson Scouts

Conflict: Vietnam

A Kit Carson scout who was awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry for his bravery

Kit Carson Scouts were former Viet Cong who, after their defection, volunteered to aid U.S. troops. The scouts left the Viet Cong for a myriad of reasons, including disillusionment with the North Vietnamese cause, conflict with other members of the Viet Cong, personal or familial reasons, and the superior living conditions, medical treatment, and pay provided by the U.S. military.

A group of Kit Carson Scouts, 1967

After volunteering to work with American troops, the potential scouts had to go through multiple training and reeducation programs. The men first went through medical examinations and investigations into their motivations for joining. Those who were given the all-clear were then sent to something similar to basic training, except the focus was more on learning to work within the group dynamic since these former soldiers already knew how to respond under fire. The scouts also learned basic English—especially military terms—so they could communicate with their future platoons and battalions.

A Kit Carson Scout learns how to disassemble a M-16 rifle

The scouts-in-training were also “reeducated” about the United States’ and North Vietnam’s roles in the war; it was only after it was determined that the scouts had changed their political views that they were finally placed with U.S. troops. Once they were with their new unit, the Kit Carson Scouts underwent even more training—albeit on a more informal level—about how their specific unit worked and how to interact with their fellow soldiers. The scouts were fully integrated into their unit, sharing the same schedule and terms of enlistment.

The scouts’ main role was to use their past knowledge to help their unit avoid Viet Cong booby traps and ambushes. They also sometimes led offensive missions into Viet Cong hiding places. Another of their roles was to gather intelligence and to act as interpreters between captured fighters and the U.S. military.

A 17-year-old Kit Carson Scout helps question a Viet Cong suspect

The Kit Carson Scouts proved to be an invaluable resource to the United States in Vietnam. They served bravely, and many were killed in action. Overall, between 1966 and 1971, more than 350 scouts were killed and over a thousand were wounded.

View more photos of Kit Carson Scouts in the Reformed Viet Cong section of Fold3’s Photos – Vietnam Marine Corps (B/W). Or read more personal accounts such as this poem or blog post.