US Infantry in Vietnam; Air Assaults Part Two. The recollections of a Veteran of the 1st Infantry Division, RVN.


Air Assaults Part 2


In my last letter that should have read, "no extra clothes or boots or body armor" - too much weight involved. Hope that you can slice and dice in a correction or there are gonna be some confused folks OUT THERE! Also I should point out that with the tug of a singe breakaway strap, a grunt could drop his rucksack and most of his load in an emergency, just going to weapons ammo, water etc., for his load. Down to about a mere 35 pounds for a rifleman or grenadier from 70+ pounds.

The radios crackle out the message to saddle up, slicks are on their way in. So with much groaning and grunting and cussing, the grunts struggle to their feet and lean forward under the weight of their burdens, using weapons and tools to share the load. Soldiers who took off their rucksacks and etc to be more comfortable during the wait are struggling back into same, turning the air blue with a mixture of English, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, German, French, Vietnamese curses and GI slang that a linguistics expert would get a migraine trying to translate. Colorful, crude, effective, and very , very imaginative too! Makes one feel a little better about the situation. Magazines and belts are loaded into weapons, but no rounds are chambered under the eyes of noncoms and officers.

The slicks as I recall, would come into the chopper strip 5 to 7 at a time, in lifts, flying balls to the wall, flaring up and settling down onto the strip in a blizzard of fine red dirt and dust (finer than facial powder), then just squat there, rotors blasting the stuff everywhere, and 7 grunts would stagger, waddle, try to run out to each one. Four guys would load into the side closest to the soldiers, and 3 would stagger, waddle, try to run around the nose and load from the far side. To the accompaniment of the door gunners yelling "GO!GO!GO!" The last soldier is sometimes only partially inside the door-less body, when the slicks, one at a time, starting with the lead slick, lift off, hover, drop the nose, jerk up the tail, and head balls to the wall for the sky, blasting everyone on the ground with even more crud. Then they are gone. And the second lift is on its way to the ground to repeat the procedure This goes on till the recon platoon and the first assault company are gone, then there is a lull while you wait a few minutes for the next group of slicks to arrive.

There is a great deal of nervous silence as the troops on the ground , waiting to be flown out to the LZ, listen to the radio traffic for the "Hot LZ" (enemy resistance encountered) or "Cold LZ" (no enemy resistance encountered) calls from the first wave of troopers to land. A lifetime could pass while you wait for the minute hand to move on your watch and wait for THE WORD: HOT or COLD.

SLICK is GI slang for the lightly armed Huey transport choppers. Each had both side doors removed for the speedy loading/offloading of soldiers. Crew was 4: pilot, copilot, and two door gunners with M-60s on an aircraft door mount that allowed 180 degree field of fire to each side or close to that, and an ability to fire almost straight down. Combat load was 7 grunts, all sitting on the floor, 4 closest to the gunners and 3 closest to the pilots. This was normal. Squad leader always went with the majority of his squad in one chopper, fire team leader with the remainder. Math tells you that a single 7 slick lift can carry almost a full strength platoon, so a company requires a minimum around 30+ slicks at TOE, but seldom was any unit at TOE strength in the field. Usually 5 slicks could lift a combat platoon in one lift, so a combat company was carried by about 20 odd choppers in Hueys. IN HUEYS!!!! Not larger choppers. In the choppers, weapons were pointed up (unlike nowadays) and outwards by the grunts.

Once in the air, it was a fast, noisy, bumpy ride, full of rapid climbs, quick descents, turns at high speed and steep angles (the ground would be parallel with the troop compartment!) with centrifugal force as your seat belt. Guys closest to the doors on both sides, always jacked rounds into the chambers of their rifles and if available, the M-60 was always on the side that would be closet to the LZ treeline. No one else chambered a round in the chopper except for the ones I just listed. This was for safety. A clue things may not be going good was if you were on the third or fourth wave and HAWGs joined your lift. HAWGs were Huey gunships (not Huey Cobras yet) bristling with guns and rockets, they were your airborne artillery and personal escort into and out of hell if needs be. Love them HAWGs. As I remember they went by the call sign of RAZORBACK and had a large red, Arkansas razorback boar, running full tilt and snorting smoke from the nostrils painted on them. Hence the name HAWGs. There were usually 2 to 4 assigned to cover a lift making an insertion or an extraction under fire.

The LZ during the approach of the first wave is pounded by artillery for a while, not a long time as it would say here we come! The guns were any and all available and within range I am told. Some time two or more potential LZs would be hit by artillery to keep the NVA/VC guessing as to the location of the real LZ until the choppers arrive over same. With the approach of the lift, the artillery ceases to fire, and the first gunships arrive, along with scouts. These scouts circle the LZ and the area around it at very low altitude looking for a fight., while the HAWGs loiter in orbit. MAC the FAC shows up about now too, just in case the USAF needs to get involved in the fight and circles high over head, talking with the scouts, the HAWGs, the incoming lift and the artillery fire bases if needs be. MAC had to be busier than a one legged man in a butt-kicking contest when things were slow. Also the Brigade CO or XO in their CAC choppers may appear to see and or take part in the show. The Battalion CO or XO is already on the ground and the other is airborne by now and heading in.

The HAWGs may shoot the place up just as a precaution or if the guys on the ground see something that makes them nervous. They will be blowing the place apart if the LZ is hot or some idiot NVA/VC took a shot at a scout!!! From the air, as you approach the LZ, it is possible to see if there is a fight going on long before you can hear it (unless your escorting HAWGs start shooting off rocket salvoes as the slicks make their landing run) The density of the smoke, the green and red tracers, shell bursts and the chopper really start to jerk about the sky as the pilot's make random moves to avoid being an easy target. They tend to do this even in a cold LZ -just in case.

DM2


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1st Infantry Division TAOR (1969)

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