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

Air Assaults Part 3

I cannot tell you the formation the slicks are flying in on the way to the LZ. As a passenger, my vision was always limited to the immediate front, right and left. I could see slicks flying on either side of us, and at some point, the lift would shift into a single file of choppers (usually shortly before arrival at the LZ) with HAWGs on the flanks , to the front and rear. There are other times when I was able to see multiple single file lifts flying around us.

The lift goes into the LZ in a single file, and lands as close to the trees as it is safe to do. If the LZ is a big one, there will be multiple lifts landing in it at the same time. The slick never really touches ground, hovering a few feet above same, and the grunts jump out. Four get out on the side closest to the trees - always! The other three get out on the other side and run around the nose toward the trees - always! This way, some grunt does not run into a tail rotor, getting killed/mangled, wrecking the tail rotor and causing the chopper to swerve out of control and crash. If you are the first lift in or if there is fire from the treeline, the door gunners will recon by fire.

The grunts run/stagger toward the treeline, shaking out into a rough skirmish line as they go. The rest of the squad is in the chopper in front or behind yours, and the whole platoon is forming into a skirmish line around you, with the M-60s on each flank as the rush for the trees continues. Rounds are chambered on the run, and if there is fire from the trees, it is returned on the run also.

At the treeline, the whole unit goes right on in in a rush then flops to set up security. If there are NVA/VC and they are slow withdrawing there is a short ranged firefight, grenade tossing and hand to hand. If there are too many, the perimeter is established just inside the trees and the fight is on! If things are really bad, the grunts are chased out of the trees back into the LZ clearing or over-run, and the survivors are in for a fight they will never forget. The object is now to hang onto the perimeter as it is established and with each incoming lift, to expand it, secure it, and then move on into the surrounding jungle after reorganizing from the assault landing as soon as possible. As soon as the whole battalion is on the ground, including the mortars, this is done. If there is a fight, mortars set up wherever they can and shoot into the jungle. The slicks are then limited to an approach from one direction only, determined by the Battalion CO. Gunships orbit and waste any targets of opportunity, and if there is a fight, the USAF may also get involved with fighter bombers and napalm.

But remember, while the aircraft are making attacks at low level, their is no mortar or artillery fire support!!!! This includes gunships and scouts too. No pilot wants to fly into airspace full of incoming friendly rounds!

The battalion aide station is flown in fairly soon, and sets up where ever they are told too just inside the trees. The medics are responsible for their own security at the aide station, as well as that of any wounded. Unless they are Conscientious Objectors, all doctors and medics are armed. They soon learn there is no Geneva Convention special status for them or their patients, and that they are fair game for the NVA/VC.

The senior officer on the ground declared the LZ secure, or unsecured. As if you need some one to tell you! No bullets or mortar rounds means secure. Otherwise means it is not!!

The enemy fire is suppressed by closing with and killing him, with fire and manuever by grunts, or by driving him away with artillery/mortar fire support, and/or air support by fighter bombers and aeroscouts and gunships (HAWGs).

The lifts were organized by company and platoon. Each Company had a clock position (look at your wrist watch) to secure on the LZ perimeter and each platoon had a position within the company area, with mortars as a reserve platoon, unless fire-support was needed.

All HQ elements, whether platoon company or battalion are split into two chopper loads, so if one goes down, all the officers, senior noncoms and RTOs do not get whacked at the same time.

Mortars flew in as part of the company lift and were on the ground almost as soon as the rifle grunts.

It should be made clear here, that the slicks were going into the LZ even if there was a high volume of fire. Slicks were called off only when losses became too high.

If there is no fight at the LZ, as soon as the battalion reorganizes, it moves out as I discussed earlier to the area where the NDP is to be established and from which operations are to be conducted. It was rare to set up an NDP in the LZ, and it usually meant there was big trouble OUT THERE waiting to be found!

Air and artillery fires into an LZ as preperation for an air assault was never a long drawn out operation. Like I said earlier, no sense in telling them you are coming! And more than one LZ site maybe hit to confuse the issue for the NVA/VC.

Any fire into an LZ or at the choppers or troops means a "hot landing zone" and maybe a real fight after hitting the ground. Cold means no enemy activity.

The battalion CO or XO if he was down, or the senior surviving officer, NCO, or private could call the landing off, or put it on hold if the LZ was a lost cause! If the later two cases were the seniors left, an over run was more than likely imminent and the lucky SOB in charge was already screaming for fires on top of his position and hoping for survival or sweet revenge. BROKEN ARROW was the call and the unit about to be overrun got first priority for everything- air support, artillery support, mortars, and naval gunfire.

If the LZ was lost, or never secured or if the grunts were fighting and running for their lives on the ground, the extraction was called a 'shotgun extraction' - meaning under hostile fire (like shotgun wedding - ie, necessary and no way to avoid it with a hostile father in law and his shotgun supervising the ceremony). A hasty and desperate perimeter defense would be put in place. Soldiers would hastily set up claymores in front of trees or in the open, under fire, and covered by their buddies. The object is too hold the ever shrinking perimeter. Steel pots and anything else is used to scratch a hasty fighting position out of the ground if there is time or hasty barricades are thrown up.

Eventually the perimeter is large enough for a single slick or two, and the last lines of claymores are blown on command, everyone shoots on full auto, and then they run for the slicks while the gooks are recovering from the mass of high velocity metal that was sent their way and hope are still hunkered down. If not, it is a fight all the way to the choppers, who are firing suppressive fires, and the HAWGs are plastering them too. Slicks are often over loaded if the situation is desperate enough and can barely lift off the ground. The wounded first, then the fighters and the bodies (if possible). Often, the dead are knowingly loaded as wounded to get them away.

I have done a shotgun extraction, and never ever want to do another. Ever. It was really bad and it was touch and go right up to the time we got back to base camp.

Delta Mike 2


1st Infantry Division TAOR (1969)

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