TME Looks Back: Vietnam – “Vietnamese Engineers and Civic Action”

This week in TME Looks Back: Vietnam, we feature a short article from the Military Engineer Field Notes section of the January-February 1966 issue of TME. “Vietnamese Engineers and Civic Action” was written by by Capt. Michael Mulkey, USA, of the Corps of Engineers.

The article appears below in mobile-friendly format.

In the summer of 2016, SAME will publish a special issue of The Military Engineer commemorating the service and contributions of military engineers in the Vietnam War. As part of the run-up to the publication, over the next several months we will be featuring on Bricks & Clicks a special series entitled TME Looks Back: Vietnam featuring past articles, photos, advertisements, covers, and other material that first appeared in the magazine during the 1960s and early 1970s. [The TME editorial staff welcomes input as we develop the Vietnam Commemorative Issue. Contact TME Editor Stephen Karl at for more information or click here to contribute editorial content. Contact Stephanie Satterfield, SAME Marketing Sales Manager at for sponsorship/advertising inquiries.]



Vietnamese Engineers and Civic Action

By Capt. Michael H. Mulkey, USA



In many underdeveloped provinces of the Republic of Vietnam, an engineer battalion has been assigned to support the province pacification plan, which includes Civic Action and building and maintaining roads and airfields.

One of the participating engineer units is the Vietnamese 53d Engineer Construction Battalion.* In February 1964, the battalion moved to Hau Nghia Province, a newly organized and underdeveloped area adjacent to the Cambodian border. The people were living in a very primitive manner. There were practically no schools, medical and sanitary facilities, or adequate water sources. Access roads into villages were impassable during the monsoon season, and drainage was a continuous problem.

The 53d Engineer Battalion was quick to co-ordinate its activities with province officials and representatives of the United States Operations Mission (USOM), an agency vitally interested in civil affairs.

With the aid of USOM, the engineers were able to make their own building materials, using an earth block-making machine** which can produce construction building blocks at very low cost. The blocks are composed of a mixture of ordinary soil, approximately 7 percent cement by volume, and a small amount of water. This is compressed in the machine, manually, to form the building block. When properly cured, the blocks are excellent building material (Figures 7 and 8).



During the first six months, three two-room schools and three dispensaries were completed and placed in operation, and public information houses were built. Playgrounds were constructed that include swings, seesaws, and merry-go-rounds. Sanitation facilities were installed at each of the public buildings, and the soldiers instructed the people in sanitation improvement.

The officers of the 53d Engineer Battalion also interviewed the local people to determine their needs and desires, and thus be able to give them the best possible assistance. Access roads to buildings were constructed and drainage systems were improved. Existing wells were enlarged and others were dug.

If the Vietnamese Engineer Units are to succeed in the Civic Action programs, they must gain the respect and support of the local people. This is achieved by showing sincerity, imagination, and hard work. Through such actions as those of the 53d Engineer Battalion, the living conditions of the people will be improved (Figure 9). This will show them that their government is interested in their welfare, and, in turn, the government should expect to gain the loyalty and respect of the people.


[reprinted from TME / January-February 1966]

*This, the oldest construction engineer battalion in Vietnam, was organized November 1, 1955, as the 1st Engineer Battalion (Construction), and on January 1, 1964, was redesignated the 53d Engineer Battalion under operational control of the 5th Engineer Group.

**Cinva-Ram machine.