The Seattle A Team

By Jim Tolbert

There was a close knit group of women in the Seattle area which became known throughout Special Forces as the A Team, an honorary title given them by the men they so lovingly admired. Some were married, some were single, and some were divorced; but all provided a measure of support to Special Forces personnel not found in the civilian population since World War II. When transitioning through the Seattle area, we counted on these girls for transportation, food, lodging, and other services not found in anybody’s supply system.

They were a motley crew, these girls from Sea-Tac (Seattle-Tacoma). And not unlike Special Forces, were as varied as the autumn leaves. What bonded them was a distaste for the mundane, and a desire to push the envelope, to somehow be more than what they were; And like Special Forces, most went on to succeed in this endeavor.

I remember returning from Vietnam once, and needing a tie. I asked one of the girls for a ride to the Post Exchange. She just opened the doors to a big walk in closet, and there hung enough class A uniforms to dress a platoon. Guys going to Vietnam would leave their Class A uniforms, and few if any, were ever picked up. Certainly, not by the individuals who left them.

It would stager the imagination, and I couldn’t begin to estimate the number of SF personnel who were assisted in their processing through Sea-Tac by the A Team. If any of the girls kept a roster, and I hope they didn’t, it would certainly read like a who’s who in Special Forces.

I was first introduced to the A Team in 1967, they had not been given an honorary title at that time, and were just referred to as “the girls“. In 1970, when I made my last trip through the area, the girls were still doing their patriotic chore. Even now, and this is 2003, when my mind goes rambling back to Southeast Asia, it always stops in Seattle.

When the Vietnam War ended, and Special Forces returned to the States, the A Team just sort of faded away. Most of the girls left Seattle and relocated around SF installations. Some came to Fort Bragg, Some, which had established personal relationships, followed the individual.

The US has several medals, which are awarded to civilian personnel for outstanding service. Most, if not all these awards, must be approved by Congress. If approval authority were ever given to the Special Forces personnel who processed through SEA-TAC, all the girls of the A Team would be wearing at least one medal, and some with oak leaf clusters.

It was February 1969, I was going back in country, and had stopped in Seattle to spend time with the A Team. Those years were drinking years, and I was trying hard not to get behind. I don’t remember where the drinking started, I’m not sure where it ended, but I have vague memories of a hillside apartment overlooking a small lake.

I can’t remember why we were in the apartment, maybe the girls were fixing dinner, or maybe we were just boozing. But, someone suggested we go down to the lake and take a dip. “Anything to impress the girls“, I thought, and in short order, I found myself standing on the pier staring at the frozen lake.

There were just the two fools standing there, a Hispanic sergeant and myself. He said something about the girls watching from the window, and it was too late to back out. I looked at the frozen lake, the ice looked thicker in some places, and I thought, “Damn, am I stupid”. The cold night air had sobered me up somewhat, and I was having second thoughts.

Nevertheless, we stripped down to our skivvies, and stood there shaking. We both waited for the other to jump in first. After a minute or two, we both jumped right through the ice into the water. We sloshed around long enough to make sure everyone saw us; Then got out, put on our clothes, and made it back to the apartment. “We’ll show these girls how tough we are”, he said. I was freezing my ass off but didn’t say a word.

It wasn’t too long before I started to shake, and I couldn’t stop. I had a couple of cups of hot coffee laced with vodka, but that didn’t help. Then one of the girls wrapped me in a blanket, and that didn’t improve matters either. Finally, they suggested I get in bed, and someone turned up the heat. After lying there and shaking like someone possessed, the bed shook as much as I did, two of the girls stripped, and got in there with me.

With their warm bodies pressing against me, I finally shook myself to sleep. But not before thinking what a dam fool I was. I wondered if I could ever live down being in bed with two beautiful women; and I couldn’t stand at parade rest, let alone attention.

It was late afternoon before I woke up in bed, alone. Everyone had UN assed the area, and taken all the whiskey with them. I guess I screwed this party up. One of the girls, who probably saved my life by warming me up the night before, had stayed behind. She fixed breakfast for me, and then took me out to the airport. We hardly spoke. She seemed pissed, and I was too embarrassed to say anything. I have always regretted never thanking her.

It wasn’t the longest flight, we took the northern route, but I remember very little of it. Since leaving the apartment, I had become sicker each minute. Once on the aircraft, I fell asleep before takeoff. Someone, during the first leg of the flight, woke me up with some aspirin and another blanket. We stopped in Japan, and they left me on board while everyone got off for refueling. Someone gave me more aspirin.

The next time I woke up, we were on the tarmac at Cam Ranh Bay, and being told to disembark. Except for a few minutes, I had slept the whole trip. After checking in at the terminal, I asked where the nearest Dispensary was, and was directed to the 6th Convalescent Center.

It was a long walk through the air base, and across the sand dunes but the hot Vietnamese sun felt good on my back. It was a long way from winter in Seattle. Somewhere along the way an old yellow dog came onto the road, and walked along with me. He was eat up with the mange, and over half his hair had fallen out, but I didn’t mind the company.

By the time I checked in at the hospital, my arms felt like they weighed a hundred pounds each; but I was glad the shaking had finally stopped. With a temperature of 104.5, and blood pressure that had bottomed out, the nurses really made a fuss over me. After taking what little blood I had, they put me to bed; And just before I dozed off, I thought about my Momma telling us kids, “don’t get wet and stand in the draft, you‘ll catch a cold”.

On the third day, I was back to my old self, and asked the Doc to release me. After some haggling, and a promise to check in with the unit medics, he let me go. I caught a ride out to Highway One, and started walking north. Just south of the rubber plantation, I caught a ride with a Vietnamese taking a load of ducks to market, and got into Nha Trang just before dark.

With fuzzy memories of that last night in Seattle, I couldn’t remember a soul who was there with me, I made my way to the club; And hoped I wouldn’t run into anyone who could tell what a complete ass I had made of myself.