159th ASHB, 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam - Part 1

Page title - 159th ASHB, Assault Support Helicopter Battalion
101st Airborne Division
Grunt Logo - Grunt in cover
Submitted by Charles Lee


INTRODUCTION

CH-47 Chinook
CH-47 Chinook

I started out as a grunt, army aviation was extra duty. I graduated OCS, "Benning School for Boys", Jan 1967, 7th Battalion / 73rd Company, 'The Student Brigade'. A 6 month tour at Benning as a Tactical officer at 51 Officer Candidate Company for 6 months.

During the last month of flight school, I just asked and my orders were changed from 25th Field Force, VN to Ft. Sill to form a Chinook unit. Lucky I guess.

We began in April 1968 as the 293rd Medium Lift Helicopter Company (Chinooks), assigned to Fort Sill, forming for RVN. 

The first Commander was Merril T. Adamcik. Our XO was Samuel Kiaser, and the two platoon leaders were Maj. Leroy Jones and Captain Jeffery Fillion. Two of the four Section leaders were Captain Charles Lee, Captain Paul Cuda. The other two section leaders were senior Warrant Officers.

Captain Larry Cooper, was the unit supply officer, and CW3 Paul Clements was the Personnel / Administrative Officer for the company. Also attached to the company was a Maintenance Detachment commanded by Major Frank Shafer. Major Shafer transferred to another unit once we arrived in Vietnam.

Major Larry Karjala was initially the Company Operations Officer, then moved to Maintenance Officer when Frank Shafer left the company. Also in Maintenance Detachment were two W4 Warrants who were maintenance test pilots. These two warrants, CW4 Harold Wright and CW4 Bed Sherrell, had been UH -1 drivers during their first tour.

All of the Warrant Officers assigned as new unit pilots were fresh out of flight school. All maintenance personnel were also fresh from MOSQ schools. Chinook Helicopter experience did not exist at any level within the unit. However, experience from other units, i.e., Huey, Fix wing, etc., did. That and a belief that we could accomplish anything made the system work.

All the older officers, i.e., Commander, XO, and Platoon Leaders, were ex-Army fixed wing jockeys with a quick course (8) weeks, then assigned to fill helicopter unit slots. Medium and Heavy helicopter pilots, at the time - 1968, were required by army to have 1 tour as an aviator, 500 hours of flight time and then transition into Chinooks and/or cranes.(CH-54's). The army was short of pilots with all the new units forming, and rotation of pilots already in Viet Nam so the only thing available for the new units like ours were pilots fresh out of flight school.

Unit financial and equipment support for any unit about to deploy was an open door, open check book approach - "here are the men, here are the aircraft, here is a check, go get, write and deploy..." - of course the Chinook only cost $1,000,000 each then instead of the $15 - $20 million now, and, the economy was different also.

Imagine, it took 6 months to move an existing unit from Ft. Campbell to the Middle East in 1991. We drew pilots, crewmen, aircraft, parts, vehicles from the manufacturer, shipped them to Ft. Sill, trained the individuals, then completed unit level training, passed maintenance and operational readiness tests and inspections, packed and shipped all equipment, personnel and aircraft to Vietnam. All completed from start to finish in 6 months. This was done using 99% draftees and almost all of them fresh out of Warrant Officer (Flight) school or Officer Candidate School and then flight school.

We wanted, and requested "Mother's Truckers" as a call sign. We were told that it was to "gross" and therefore the Department of the Army wouldn't allow it. We were however called "Playtex", because we "supported" the division. The "Bra" was support, and there was an ex-Miss America, advertising Playtex, so we put two and two together... no pun. Everything we owned was painted pink. Our entire building complex in Vietnam was Pink. We painted a bra on the underside of one Chinook for demonstration work and exhibitions we were flying in the US before we went to RVN.

ORGANIZATION:

From memory so  + / - a couple here or there.

Motor Pool personnel:

  • 1 Officer - Additional duty
  • 1 Enlisted (E4) Acting Motor Sergeant
  • 1 Enlisted grade 2 or 3 as Mechanic

(Just a little short on people authorized for the motor pool with 100 vehicles and trailers to be maintained)

Vehicles;

  • 18 jeeps
  • 4 - 7ea 3/4 ton
  • 3 - 5ea 2.5 ton trucks with trailers
  • 3 - 4 5 ton with trailers
  • 2 ea. fuel trucks - 2 1/2ton with 2 each 300 gallon pods
  • 1 each 5 ton wrecker
  • 1 ea. 5 ton forklift
  • 1 ea. 40 ft flat bed with 5 ton tractor
  • 2 ea. water trailers (buffaloes )
  • 1 ea. moped motor scooter (the flight line technical inspectors)
  • 2 ea. mules (flat bed cart with 5.HP Briggs and Stratton engine)
  • 1 ea. D8 Cat, bulldozer. We were authorized one, Shipped it to RVN as Unit TOE property. The Seabees building our billeting area used it to clear the land for living quarters, then took it as an equipment transfer.
  • 1 ea. Air Force Flight Line Tug. One of our flight crews "confiscated it" from an AF base. It was repainted, issued a log book and shipped. We were young and had no fear. You were basically authorized anything you could acquire and we had some masters at the game. With Chinooks, nothing was too large - sling it, if it was.

A typical Chinook company of an Airmobile Division consisted of;

  • Command Commander and Executive Officer
  • Operations (extra duties at company level, did the same job as Bn operations)
  • Supply
  • 2 Flight platoons 30 Officers, 2 Majors for Platoon leaders, 4 Captains for Section leaders @ 2 per Platoon, and the rest Warrants Officers 1 - 4
  • Each unit appointed a Safety officer - extra duty to flying, motor officer, supply officer, and any number of other jobs
  • We had 18 Chinooks, supposedly 16 were flyable and 2 in reserve maintenance for back up
  • Each Platoon had 8, therefore 4 to a section
  • Unit consisted of a major as platoon leaders, if available, most of the time Captains were the platoon leaders with a Major for CO of the unit
  • Possibly a Major or senior Captain for XO
  • A Warrant Officer's extra duty was assigned as Administrative Officer for the orderly room. This was in addition to the 1st Sergeant
  • There was an enlisted platoon (s) with the Flight Engineers (1 per AC) and 2 - 3 Door Gunners. Usually one of the door gunners would be the Crew Chief for the aircraft
  • The aircraft had 2 pilots (aircraft Commander and Pilot), Flight Engineer, Crew Chief and 1 - 2 door gunners, depending if the tail ramp was lowered and a M60 was mounted as a "stinger" on the ramp shooting to the rear...neat idea
  • Total EM and Officers for the aviation company with 18 aircraft was approx. 300. This allowed minor maintenance, although would keep the crew busy. Mess hall, Petroleum crews, orderly room, weapons, motor pool, etc., in the normal company requirements made the large number of men necessary

At company level (3 Company's per Battalion) only Chinooks are authorized. At Battalion level we added 2 loaches (OH-6's) for admin flying, command and control, and in dire emergency, flying nurses to the PX, etc.,

MAINTENANCE

Attached to the company was a Maintenance Detachment with a Major as commander and 2+ Warrant officers for maintenance test pilots. These were addition to the company pilots. The Enlisted assigned to the detachment numbered about 300, same as the company. The maintenance detachment had separate shops for radios, rotor blades, engines, etc. Each shop was specialty, sheet metal work was big... the detachment, although commanded by the major, was directly responsible to the unit commander. It was a very efficient operation. Maintenance was a separate operation, yet answered directly to the aircraft company commander because it affected his mission.

This formation allowed us to fly some long hours each day. Because maintenance was assigned and not dependant on a separate unit or, separate level of command, as it is now. The yearly flight hour allocation, which we flew, was limited only by availability of spare parts and the number of pilots assigned. Now it is limited by unit maintenance, which is assigned and performed by another unit, without a command and control linkage. Where our flight hour program allowed 30,000 hours in a year for 18 birds, now a unit programs 2000 hours, and units probably can't fly all of it. It was supposed to be an improvement, Go figure.

ARTILLERY INSERTIONS

CH-47 delivery of artillery and ammunition to a FSBThey were not called "Artillery Raids" until 1970. The "Artillery Raid" was a 1970 concept, based on the proven ability to insert and withdraw artillery units in a fast efficient manner. It involved nothing more than the missions we had perfected in Viet Nam. Chinooks taking artillery into a firebase area, a quick set up, fire rounds for 24 - 48 hours and then move the artillery to another site. Hit and run so to speak. We were doing the first two parts of this operation as a standard procedure in Viet Nam, the added phase of withdrawing after a short time was the "new" concept. A Chinook can carry a towed 105, (Howitzer pulled behind a truck or tank) with a sling load of ammo and the gun crew inside the AC. So 6 Chinooks, with one load each, can move a battery of artillery to a site with enough ammo for 2 - 3 days of shooting. Then one or more aircraft can be assigned to re-supply as needed. Although the concept was initially designed for guerrilla operations, there is no reason it would not work in a conventional war. A moving army would need the artillery moved at a fast pace to support the infantry troops.

The old Chinooks (A / B / C's) could carry up to 10,000 lbs. load on a good day, so a battery of 6 Artillery tubes (105's) needed 7 loads to move. 6 tubes, 1 command and control, and all with an ammo load attached. Even with the cyclic (Constant) rate of fire for a 105 being sustained, we could piggyback enough ammo for a couple days of firing. Then re-supplying as needed at 10,000 lbs. per load was no big deal. (Additional loads would be needed for food, water, generators, etc. For the larger 155mm howitzer we took two loads per gun; one 10,000 LB load of bullets, or "projo"s as they were called, and one load of powder. You didn't carry both items together! Mind, you'd be just as dead with 10,000 lbs. powder going off as you would be with 5,000 lbs. Guess it was the way it was packaged at the factory on pallets. 

We flew insertions of artillery bases, or Fire Bases on a moments notice, radio call from aviation unit operations to 6 birds already flying to meet for an insertion, and within 10 minutes you had birds, call signs, pickup zone, and drop or insertion zones - all done while you were in the air.

The aircraft would be at 30 seconds spacing between each, thus a tube insertion every 30. The first tube would be firing before the last one was on the ground. Less than 3 min from drop to first round out of the tube. Fast. We would put an artillery battery of 6 tubes in and have ammo for 2 days with 6 - 7 loads, or 3 - 5 minutes...

When I returned to the states and attended the Infantry Advance course (9 month school for higher command and staff assignments) the "Official Army Doctrine" called for inserting an artillery battery with: 6 tubes, personnel, 8 hours of ammo, would need 37 Chinook loads... that's right, book called for 37 loads, not 6... Official Doctrine, and we couldn't get it changed. I'll bet today you'll find the same doctrine in place, and the aircraft (AC) will haul more ammo with the tubes. The "RAIDS" of today were the same operation we did then; just they plan on 24 - 48 hours today.

OTHER LOADS

CH-47 recovering a downed aircraftOnce the Fire Base was in, the re-supply continued with loads as needed; ammo, water, supplies, PSP (Perforated Steel Planking, for building), wood, sand bags (empty), C rations, jeeps with trailers loaded with ice and beer - no joke, great moral builder. We used Connex's rigged with shower nozzles - mounted a 55-gal drum of water on the top and you had a shower. We'd sling those to the firebases so the grunts could have showers. Those were the fun loads, knowing they would help moral. We also flew the USO shows, donut dollies (Female entertainers) from USO shows or Red Cross units out to bases for brief daytime visits. Jump seat between the pilots was always reserved for a mini-skirted female.

ARMAMENT

Our normal armament was two M60, 30-cals., one on each side. The marines used two .50s on the baby Chinook (CH-46). We occasionally added a third on the ramp. With the ramp lowered to level position and a M60 on the lip. The gunner could sit with his harness on, and his legs hanging over the lip of the ramp and outside, and straddle the machinegun, and look to the rear. It was a neat seat and place to ride. However, you never saw a "stinger" gunner not sitting on a Chicken Plate. (Porcelain chest protector).

The main reason for limit on the armament was that the Chinook, with rare exceptions, was only a re-supply aircraft. In our Battalion of 3 companies, I only know of 1 Combat assault done with Chinooks. I did one, or so it was called - actually was an Infantry Company put in to secure a down aircraft site, not much of an assault, we took no fire, thank goodness. I believe the 1st Cav. tried using Chinooks for assault. They hold 33 men as opposed to the 7 - 9 for the Huey. Our problem was they were a huge target. You loose 33 men at a time or more if you crash. Also, if you have one disabled in a small LZ, you stop the assault. Size of the LZ could be the most important. In open areas like the delta you have water, which will let the Chinook wheels sink.

Lots of reasons for not using Chinooks for assault and then there just wasn't that many of them. The 101st only had 48 in the Division and that meant in I corps, Da Nang to the DMZ - 150 miles and with Marines, ARVN's, US Army, we supported 50 - 100,000 troops. Loosing one would hamper the re-supply effort. It meant you also began to have trouble getting replacement aircraft from the states. With all the units in Vietnam loosing aircraft, replacements were hard to come by for a complicated aircraft. 

FUEL & FLIGHT TIME

CH-47 troop transports lifting offRefueling was almost always done "hot" - with engines running. Rarely, almost never are they refueled that way today even though they are safer systems. Without the bladders (resealing bladders in tanks, standardized in mid-1960 and after) we could stay airborne for about 2.5 hrs. Now most will plan on 2 hours - 2.5. Today you have different models with larger tanks for extended operations, or even air-to-air refueling on some (Special Operations birds). 

We'd run two loads of fuel, 1 - 2 hours depending on the sling load weight, the more weight hauled, the more fuel you burn in a given hour, then stop for a maintenance break. A 30-minute break was usual, then up for another two loads. During the summer 12 - 15 hr days were not unusual, and 7 days a week.

You could fly 120 hours in any given 30-day period. Say as an example, 1 May 1969 was a 12 hr day, then 30 May1969 you dropped the 12 hours from the 1st (30 day periods) and you could fly 12 hours or however much of the 12 hours you needed to bring you up to 120 hours for the period 2 May - 30 May.

Company operations job was to post, track, and ensure missions didn't put pilots over the limit. At 120 hrs you could get the flight surgeon to examine you, give you an up slip for another 10 hrs, then another for 10 hrs for a max. of 140 hrs in any 30 day period. 100 - 120 hrs was not uncommon for a Chinook pilot. Therefore he would get 1000 - 1200 hrs on a 12-month tour. XX every pilot in the unit. What you got was 18 year olds going to Flight school. 19 years old at the finish of flight school, Chinook transition (40 hrs) and then Viet Nam. At 19 or 20 this "kid" is a CW2, Army Pilot, 1,000 hours of flying, handled emergency procedures from run away engines, to engine failure, shot up hydraulics, overworked, underpaid, yet doing a job everyday, drinking at night, thinking that it was "Normal" for a 20 year old. Hell of a bunch of Guys. And they were the ones with the "easy" flying jobs. Not the combat assaults, night medical evacuations with  bullets flying all the time, or the other jobs.

Grunt Logo - Grunt in cover
Next Page


Source :

Charles Lee, Section Leader/Platoon Leader/Motor Officer, C/159th ASHB, 101st Airborne Division, Bn S-2, 159th ASHB, RVN '68 '69.

See Also:

Chinook Crews - a web site listing hundreds of ex-Chinook crewmen


 

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