ABOUT OPERATION RANCH HAND VIETNAM
SOUTHEAST ASIA 1961-1971

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Herbicides

creasing ground fire with a variety of new tactics, including approaching the target at an altitude of 20 feet and popping up for the spray run. They took maximum advantage of terrain to mask the approach and chose alternative targets so that in-tense gun fire in one area would simply divert the C-123s to another target. The C-123's limited single engine capability forced them to plan all flights in mountainous areas so that the runs were made downhill. Even so, missions in areas such as the A Shau Valley were so danger-ous that losing an engine usually meant losing the aircraft.
    As the war heated up, spray missions always flew with a FAC and with a fighter escort. Targets were analyzed, and meetings were held with the fighter unit to assess the expected level of danger. Some "hot" targets had to be softened up with napalm, cannons, and cluster bombs. On other occasions, the fighters waited until they saw anti-aircraft fire before beginning their suppres-sion runs. Guns were usually visible first to the crews of the spray air-planes. They would drop smoke grenades to mark the place of origin on dangerous ground fire.

In Demand
      The demand for missions grew swiftly by 1965 as the complement of Providers (now designated UC-123) grew to seven. The Ranch Hand ground crews had learned to reduce turnaround times between sorties to about 10 minutes, allowing aircrews to fly as many as six sorties in three hours with two aircraft.
      As Ranch Hand operations expanded, Hanoi, Beijing, Moscow, and anti-war groups in 

Agents of Controversy

   Critics of the use of herbicides were vocal during the Vietnam War and again when questions were raised in this country about the effects of the ominously named Agent Orange. The debate still rages.
   US forces used 10 different herbicides in Southeast Asia, most of them variants of 2,4-D (D for dichlorophenoyxyacetic acid) or 2,4,5-T (T for trichlorophenoxyacetic acid). Others included sodium salt of cacodylic acid and triisopropanolamine salt of picloram.
   The names "Pink," "Green," "Purple," "Blue," "Orange," and so on came from the 4-inch-wide band painted on the 55-gallon drums containing the herbicide. The herbicide contained in orange-striped drums came to be called "Agent Orange." A 50 - 50 solution of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, it was the most widely used of the herbicides and gained the most notoriety.
   All of the herbicides used in Southeast Asia had been used in commercial agriculture for many years. As an example, in the United States in 1961, about 40 million acres were treated with 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T herbicides.
   Among the many myths about herbicide spraying was that forest areas were "drenched" with spray that "soaked" clothing of those on the ground. In actual practice, the dispensation of three gallons of herbicide per acre is the equivalent of about .009 of an ounce per square foot. In most instances, only about 6 percent of the sprayed material reached the ground, the rest being absorbed by the jungle foliage. Drenching and soaking did not occur.
    Dioxin was present in Agent Orange, but only as a trace amount -.0002 of 1 percent, and this amount was degradable by sunlight within 72 hours.
   Over the past 18 years, Ranch Hand veterans have participated in a $120 million epidemiological study - the Air Force Health Study, commonly called the Ranch Hand Study. The participants received physical exams in 1982, 1985, 1987, 1992, and 1997. The final physical exams are scheduled for 2002. Although Ranch Hand personnel naturally had the greatest degree and frequency of contact with the herbicides, physical examinations at the Kelsey - Seybold clinic in Houston and the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in La Jolla, Calif., reveal that the mortality rate of the group is the same as a matched comparison group (Air Force veterans who flew in C-130s in Southeast Asia during the Ranch Hand time frame) and significantly lower than the rate for the male population of the United States. The number of birth defects among children of Ranch Hand veterans is the same as the children of the comparison group.
    The testing of Ranch Hand veterans will conclude in 2006, at which time a report will be prepared.

the United States all launched propaganda barrages
  They claimed the US was engaged in wholesale elimination of forests and blamed the US for an assortment of human ills, which

were demonstrably false, but the charges had a curious reverse effect. The Viet Cong evidently believed the propaganda and often fled, and even surrendered, during the early period of herbicide application.
Though protests continued, Ranch Hand missions increased swiftly, and more aircraft were added to the unit. In May 1964, Ranch Hand flew only 20 sorties. In May 1966 it flew 244. Other missions were laid on. These included spraying the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, conducting insect control in Thailand, and carrying cargo.
USAF made primitive attempts to improve crew safety. The efforts included installation of additional cock-pit armor and new helmets with visors to guard against glass and

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