Honoring the Blighters in the Trenches

Instead of genealogy, I have been working on the 2nd edition of my book about the Air Force unit with which I served in Vietnam. That detachment of forward air controllers – call sign Red Marker – supported an elite group of American and Vietnamese soldiers. I am publishing this first chapter of the book in honor of those people on the ground. That seems appropriate  because tomorrow is the 246th birthday of the United States Army. So here is a snappy salute from Red Marker 18 to those whom Snoopy called the “poor blighters in the trenches.”

_______________

THE CAMBODIAN INCURSION

Before dawn on the 1st of May 1970, two C-130B Hercules aircraft from the 463rd Tactical Airlift Wing rumbled down the runway at Cam Ranh Bay Air Base and roared into the night sky. They turned out of traffic and headed west toward the Fishhook region of Cambodia.

Two hours earlier, crews from the 14th Aerial Port Squadron, using cranes and muscle power, loaded a 15,000-pound bomb into a cradle on a rolling pallet. They shoved the four-and-a-half-foot diameter, eleven-foot long behemoth nose first up the tailgate ramp and into the belly of each C-130. On board the aircraft, personnel from the 2nd Detachment, 834th Air Division rigged the Commando Vault bomb for deployment, attaching a drogue parachute pack and static lines to the tail of the bomb. Ordinance specialists installed the complex fusing … an extended fuse on a three-foot pipe attached to the nose of the bomb and a tail fuse that would trigger simultaneously, or serve as a backup if the nose fuse failed.[1] With this massive piece of ordinance locked in place, the pilots took off and climbed toward 20,000 feet at 180 knots.

Approaching Dalat, the navigator on each plane contacted a precision radar site known as MSQ-77.[2] The controller at the site gave each a heading direct to a target coordinate in the Fishhook, which the navigators repeated to the pilots over the aircraft intercom. Controllers at Dalat fed into their computers the desired aircraft airspeed and altitude, the ordinance ballistics, and target location with its reported wind direction, wind speed, and atmospheric temperature. From this data, the computer calculated when and where to release the bomb to hit within a ten-meter square target. The controllers directed the navigators to the required airspeed, altitude, and heading, and monitored their progress, issuing corrections as needed. As the aircraft cleared the 6,500 foot mountainous terrain of II Corps and approached Song Be, the controllers directed them to slow to 150 knots and descend gradually to 8,000 feet above the rice paddies of III Corps.

Instant Landing Zones

Six minutes prior to the scheduled 0630 drop, the controller advised the navigator to prepare to drop. In response, the loadmaster in each plane lowered the rear loading ramp and released one of two cargo locks holding the pallet in place. On the controller’s signal 30 seconds prior to the drop, the co-pilot remotely deployed the slotted 24-foot drogue parachute attached to the tail of the bomb. The chute fluttered out the open ramp and inflated in the slip stream of the aircraft. The navigator repeated over the intercom the controller’s count down, “Five, four, three, two, one, Mark!” at which point the loadmaster released the second cargo lock. The trailing parachute pulled the skid from the plane. The pilots advanced full throttle as the enormous explosive fell in a silent arc through the sky, stabilized by the drogue parachute. The bomb took 26 seconds  to reach the ground from 8,000 feet. A brush deflector on the extended fuse penetrated the jungle canopy without triggering the bomb. The C-130 was about a mile away when the bomb disintegrated just above the ground in a blinding flash of light and heat. The force of the blast vaporized surrounding vegetation and created a mushroom cloud that blossomed six thousand feet in the air. The crew in each plane heard the explosion and felt the concussive shock wave. The pilots then made a climbing turn toward home.

The first bomb landed very near the Vietnam/Cambodian border at XU552012.[3] The second exploded on its target several klicks to the west.[4] Each created an instant Landing Zone (LZ) soon to be assaulted by Vietnamese Airborne troopers.

There were no casualties from the two explosions. Two hours earlier, B-52 Arc Light missions began pounding the southern Fishhook, dropping 81 tons of bombs from each three-ship cell.[5] One hour behind the B-52s, 8-inch and 175 millimeter artillery from the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery Regiment took over the pre-invasion bombardment, firing from bases along the northern border of Tay Ninh Province. The 105 and 155 millimeter howitzers of an artillery battalion of the Vietnamese Airborne Division poured in shells from Katum.  By the time the Commando Vault “instant Landing Zone” bombs had dropped, the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong had long since taken shelter.[6]

Shortly thereafter, three battalions of Vietnamese airborne infantry air assaulted into the new landing zones. At the same time, the American 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment stormed across the southern border of the Fishhook with the mechanized forces of the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Air Cavalry Division on their left flank. Later, the Vietnamese 1st Armored Cavalry Regiment rolled across the eastern Fishhook boundary. All were part of Task Force Shoemaker in an operation known as the Cambodian Incursion. Brigadier General Robert M. Shoemaker, Assistant Division Commander of the 1st Air Cav, created the plan to attack the NVA/VC sanctuary in the Fishhook to destroy their basecamps, supplies, and the enemy. Under his plan, the Vietnamese Airborne landed in the new LZs about six klicks north of  the American forces and began ground sweeps. The Americans passed through the Vietnamese positions on Day Two and continued driving to the north. It all began with creating and securing the LZs.

Red Marker Crew Chiefs

As the C-130s dropped their payloads, two Red Marker Forward Air Controllers (FACs) supporting the Vietnamese Airborne Division took off in their O-1E Bird Dogs from Quan Loi, east of the Fishhook. Red Marker crew chiefs Sergeant Jim Stokes and Airman 1st Class Jim Hoppe rolled out of their bunks at 0500, grabbed a cup of coffee at the mess hall, and drove a Jeep to the flight line. The night before, they tied down six Bird Dogs in three steel revetments. If a mortar round landed in one revetment, hopefully the planes in adjacent enclosures would escape damage. They found their planes safe and by the headlights of the Jeep moved two aircraft out of one revetment. The lightweight Bird Dog was easy to move. Each man pulled a retractable hand-hold, a steel tube, from the side of the rear fuselage in front of the horizontal stabilizer. They picked the tailwheel off the asphalt and rolled the O-1 forward on its main gear, maneuvered it into position for startup, and placed wooden chocks in front and behind the main wheels.

Before they bedded down the planes the previous night, Hoppe and Stokes topped off the fuel tanks. With one boot on a wing strut and the other on a footstep below the engine cowling, the crew chiefs opened the fuel filler caps on the top of each wing and pumped in high octane Avgas.[7] This morning, the chiefs rechecked the fuel level in each plane and used the push-valve under the wings to drain the fuel sump on each tank. Overnight, water vapor in the tanks condensed into a small amount of water. The lighter gasoline floated on top, and water collected in the tanks’ sump. Draining the sump ensured no water found its way to the engine. As a double check, pilots also drained the sump on their preflight check.

The crew chiefs checked the oil level in the planes, refilling as necessary, and left the engine cowling unlatched so the pilots could take a quick look at the engine before buttoning up. The Bird Dog was pretty easy to maintain. About the biggest pain in the butt for the crew chiefs was changing oil. And that was only a pain because they had to catch the first oil out of the crankcase in a small test tube. Invariably, the oil went everywhere besides the tube. However, this messy step was vital. A lab at Bien Hoa Air Base tested the captured oil for minute metal filings that warned of abnormal engine wear and potential failure.

Stokes and Hoppe then loaded white phosphorous rockets into the four tubes under each wing, installing red-ribboned safety pins in each tube. The pins held spring-loaded electrical contacts away from the ignitor on the tail of each rocket, preventing inadvertent firing. As the crew chiefs finished their tasks, First Lieutenants Dave Blair, Red Marker 16, and Lanny Mayberry, Red Marker 19, arrived to preflight the plane each would fly.

Red Marker FACs

First Lieutenant Terry Weaver, Red Marker 17, was the most experienced O-1 Forward Air Controller in the unit. Logically, he could have flown one of the first cross-border sorties. However, Terry was “short,” with less than a month to complete his tour in Vietnam. Major Bob Drawbaugh, the detachment’s commander and the Air Liaison Officer for the Vietnamese Airborne put Weaver in the second group of sorties. His decision may have been influenced by the unknown amount of air defenses they might encounter. The previous night, Drawbaugh gave his FACs a multi-page list of reported enemy antiaircraft sites. The FACs dutifully marked the locations on their maps with a “donut” … a pencil dot with a circle around it. The enemy often built an emplacement for their .51 caliber and larger weapons that from the air looked like a donut. They dug a circular trench a few feet deep, leaving the middle of the circle untouched at ground level. The gunners set the tripod of their weapon on the center section and stood in the circular trench. By moving around the circle, they could aim the gun up and in a 360 degree arc. When the FACs finished marking their maps, the Cambodian border was solid gray with penciled circles.

Instead of Weaver, Drawbaugh scheduled Blair and Mayberry, the next most experienced, to fly the first sorties of the invasion. The two wore camouflage fatigues with their name, rank, and pilot wings embroidered in black. A cloth tape above their left pocket read US AIR FORCE in black block letters. The uniforms bore the insignia of the Vietnamese Airborne, the division patch on the left shoulder … a red square with an eagle and a parachute canopy in the middle, and the sword of St. Michael patch on the left breast pocket … a white sword clenched in a yellow-gold winged fist. The FACs also wore the unit’s distinctive red beret. Local tailors had modified their uniforms slightly. They added two zippered pockets to the trousers on the outside of the lower legs. An O-1 checklist fit comfortably in one. The other held a pair of flight gloves when the FAC was not flying, and his red beret when he was in the air. The tailors added three small slotted pockets on the left shoulder that held grease pencils and a ball point pen, and a pocket on the right shoulder for a pack of cigarettes and a Zippo lighter.

FAC Gear

Each FAC slung a CAR-15 rifle over his shoulder and wore a web belt carrying a holstered .38 caliber revolver, leather pouches of extra ammo, a sheathed hunting knife, and a canteen of water. They stashed the rifle in their assigned aircraft, securing the barrel to a clasp on the right side of the cockpit. They draped a bandolier of loaded 5.56 mm magazines over the muzzle of the gun and retrieved their helmets, parachutes, and survival vests from the secure Conex in the revetment.[8] Each put the helmet and parachute on the seat of his plane, donning the vest. It contained a UHF radio, extra batteries, a flashlight, a first aid kit, a map printed on silk, and an emergency ration of high protein bars. The vest also held the airman’s emergency bailout knife. This orange-handled knife had a U-shaped blade with the cutting edge on the inside of the curve. The FACs carried the knife in the vest with the curved blade open. They could use it to cut parachute shroud lines if the lines tangled on bailout or hung up in a tree. At least, that was the theory. An emergency bailout from 1,500 feet above the ground with a manually opened parachute did not give a lot of time to deal with fouled shroud lines before hitting the ground. The knife also had a three-inch blade that opened with a push-button … yes, FACs carried a switch-blade. Several feet of para-cord secured the knife to the vest. The cord was long enough that the FAC could reach above his head to cut the parachute shroud lines. If the FAC dropped the knife while trying to use it, it would not fall to the ground.

Each FAC also had a bulky flak jacket that could be worn under the survival vest. Blair and Mayberry chose like most to sit on the flak vest, hoping it provided extra protection from ground fire. The last thing they loaded into the front cabin was a cloth map case containing a series of 1:24,000 topographic maps of the area of operations. These maps were overprinted with the 10,000 meter squares of the UTM Coordinate grid system as well as regular latitude and longitude. Fast moving fighter-bombers, B-52s, and cargo planes had fancy electronic systems and radar for navigation. However, the UTM grid system was the common denominator for locating and communicating positions among all other elements on the battlefield — ground troops, artillery units, helicopters and FACs.

After Blair and Mayberry completed the preflight inspection of their respective plane, they climbed into the cockpit, strapped on the parachute that was sitting in the seat, and buckled the seatbelt and shoulder harness. Meanwhile, the crew chiefs closed and latched the engine cowling. Each FAC removed his red beret, stuck it into the leg pocket of his fatigues, put on his flight gloves and OD Green ballistic helmet with a boom mike, and plugged the mike cord into the Bird Dog’s intercom/radio system. The FACs confirmed all switches were off and placed their hands in sight, gripping the support braces above the glare shield. Once the crew chiefs saw the pilots could not accidentally arm a rocket, Stokes and Hoppe pulled the safety pins from the rocket launchers and handed the red streamers and pins to each FAC through his open cockpit window. The windows in the front cabin were large rectangles, about 24” wide by 18” high, and were hinged at the top. Both could swing outward and snap to the underside of the wing on each side of the plane. That was the normal configuration when flying in the heat of southern Vietnam. When lowered, the windows were excellent writing surfaces for grease pencil notes.

The crew chiefs stood by with wheeled fire extinguishers as the FACs turned on the battery, adjusted the throttle and mixture levers, shouted “Switches On, Prop Clear,” and cranked the starter.  The propellor moved in fits and starts for a few seconds as the starter whined its typical grinding sound. The engine fired up in a belch of smoke and an unmuffled roar that settled into a muted puttering. The FACs checked oil pressure, engine rpm, and all instruments and radios.

With their engines running smoothly, Blair and Mayberry in turn contacted Quan Loi Tower for permission to taxi. Hoppe and Stokes pulled the chocks as the FACs signaled they were ready to go. Trading a salute with their crew chiefs, each taxied carefully toward the takeoff end of the runway in the predawn light. The chiefs headed back to the mess hall for a quick breakfast before returning to the flight line to roll two more O-1s out for the next sorties. On the taxiway, Blair and Mayberry paused to runup the engine to full power while holding the brakes. They checked that both the right and left magneto were functioning and all engine instruments were normal. With flaps set at 30 degrees, each rolled onto the runway individually, advanced the throttle, held it full open with their left hand, and took off. As they climbed above the ground fog and jungle mist clinging to the treetops, they retracted the flaps, turned west, and headed toward the site of one of the Commando Vault explosions.

The FACs were glad to be off the ground. Even before dawn, the temperature rarely got below 80 degrees in III Corps. With humidity at 80-90%, they were miserable and sweating profusely. Flying at 1,500 feet might have only been 5 degrees cooler, but with the windows snapped up and the wind whistling through the cockpit, they were much more comfortable. The breeze through the cabin, however, did only so much good. Sweat soaked the back of their camo blouse and seat of their pants within minutes. Likewise, the crew chiefs had been working in t-shirts but were dripping wet by the time the FACs got in the air.

Red Marker Control/Radio Operators

Once airborne, each FAC checked in with Red Marker Control on a designated VHF radio frequency. Red Marker radio operators, Sergeants Walter Stepaniak and Jim Yeonopolus, were on duty to take the call. Red Marker O-1s carried six radios, two each VHF, FM, and UHF sets. The FACs monitored three radios at a time and switched among the sets to transmit as necessary. They remained in contact with Marker Control on one VHF radio. They used an FM radio to communicate with the American advisors in the field with the Airborne troops. They talked to fighter aircraft and controlled airstrikes using the UHF radios. Red Marker Control had those same radios plus a long distance HF set to contact the Direct Air Support Center at Bien Hoa. Their radios were mounted on a pallet in an M-108 Jeep. Their radios ran off the Jeep’s electrical system or a portable generator trailered behind the Jeep.

Major Drawbaugh was stationed in the Tactical Operations Center at Quan Loi beside the command staff of the 3rd Vietnamese Airborne Brigade and its American advisors in Team 162, known as Red Hats. General Shoemaker had designated Quan Loi as the headquarters of his Task Force, the units under his command, and the supporting FAC detachments. Therefore, Red Markers, Rash FACs supporting the 1st Air Cav, and Nile FACs supporting the 11th ACR all established radio control operations there. Normally, the operators dismounted the radios from their Jeep and installed the pallet in the ops center. Due to space limitations in this instance, they parked the Jeeps outside.  After hooking the radios to the portable generator and erecting antennae, they were in operation.

Red Marker Control monitored the FACs’ communications, including those with the Red Hat advisors on the ground. By knowing what was happening, experienced operators anticipated the need for additional airstrikes and even the ordinance  required. They sometimes initiated a request to the Air Support Center for another flight of strike aircraft before the FAC or the Red Hats asked for one.

Enroute to the Commando Vault sites, Blair and Mayberry took time to square away their cockpits for action. They climbed to 1500 feet, set the power at 100 knots cruise speed (115 mph), and trimmed the O-1 for level flight. They leaned the fuel mixture to conserve gas and prevent fouling the sparkplugs. They would reset the mixture to full rich before maneuvering to control an airstrike. They pulled a grease pencil from the pocket on their left shoulder and drew a line on the windscreen at the horizon. That line became the horizontal crosshair of their “personal” rocket sight. The vertical crosshair was a metal rod about 18 inches long welded to the engine cowling right behind the propellor. This rudimentary arrangement was remarkably accurate.

Each pulled out the map for his area and identified several land-marks that ensured he was headed in the right direction. They both breathed a sigh of relief as they crossed into Cambodia with no shots fired from the gray-marked border. Each FAC had marked on the map the Com-mando Vault location plus the coordinates of several preplanned airstrikes he would direct around the perimeter of the LZ. He clipped the map in place to his checklist strapped to one knee. He closed one of the cabin windows and wrote in grease pencil the basic data about each preplanned flight – the scheduled time of arrival, mission number, fighter call sign, number and type of aircraft, number and type of ordinance, and target coordinates. A typical grease pencil entry might look like this:

0700/5323/Dog 75/2 A-37

8 Mk-82/XU522044[9]

After completing the notes on the window, each FAC had time to locate his LZ and survey the surrounding terrain. Mayberry had time for a cigarette. Blair did not smoke.

The Air Plan

A few minutes before 0700 when they expected their first preplanned set of fighters, each FAC got a call on UHF from “Head Beagle,” an airborne traffic controller.

Red Marker One Six, this is Head Beagle. Over.”

“Head Beagle, this is Marker One Six. Go ahead.”

 “One Six are you ready for your Zero Seven Hundred fighters?”

 “Affirmative, Head Beagle. Send them on.”

 The Air Liaison Officer for the 1st Air Cavalry Division, Lt. Colonel  “Doc” Daugherty, call sign Rash 01, created the Air Plan for the invasion. Because of the high volume of anticipated fighter traffic and a separate area of operation for each ground unit and its FACs, he established the airborne controller and three rendezvous points for fighter aircraft outside the immediate battle area. On the way to their designated rendezvous, each set of fighters contacted Head Beagle who gave them an orbit altitude. Head Beagle then checked with the assigned FAC to confirm he was ready for the fighters. If so, Head Beagle released the fighters giving them general directions to find their FAC circling low over the jungle. If the FAC could not use the fighters, for example, because of weather in the area, Head Beagle diverted them to another FAC at another target.[10]

Airstrikes

Head Beagle released the 0700 sets of fighters for both Blair and Mayberry on time, and they soon spotted the FACs’ white-winged Bird Dogs above the green jungle background. For the next hour the FACs directed bombing runs from several sets of fighters into the tree lines surrounding the landing zones. Radio communication began with fighter lead contacting the FAC on a pre-assigned UHF frequency.

“Red Marker One Six, this is Dog Seven Five checking in.”

 “Roger, Dog Seven Five. I am at fifteen hundred feet, south of our target area. Do you have me in sight?”

 “Roger, Red Marker, have you in sight. Are you ready for my line up?”

 “Ready to copy, Dog Lead. Go ahead.”

 “This is Dog Seven Five, flight of two A-37s with eight Mk-82 slicks and 7.62 millimeter cannon. We have 20 minutes time on target before bingo fuel.”

 “Dog Seven Five, copy all. Our target is a tree line on the north side of the landing zone blasted out of the trees. Target elevation is about 100 feet. I want you to run in east to west and break to the south. I will orbit south of the target. Nearest friendlies are six klicks to the south, and that is your safest bailout area. Let’s drop in pairs, and I will see if there is anything that can use a strafing run. I have encountered no ground fire. Do you copy?”

 “Roger, Red Marker. Copy all. Run in to the west and break left. Ready for your mark.”

 “Roger, hold for my mark.”

Dog flight took up an orbit at about 3,500 feet. The fighters spaced themselves so they were on opposite sides of a large oval pattern. They were well outside the tight figure-eight pattern Blair flew below them.

Blair eyed the target out of his left window. He cut the power to idle and pulled back the stick bringing the O-1 into a 45 degree climb as he reached overhead with his left hand and armed one of the eight rockets.[11] As the airspeed bled off, he rolled to the left, kicked in some rudder, and with the wings 90 degrees to the horizon dropped the Bird Dog’s nose below the target. He leveled the wings and pulled the nose up, centering the target on the vertical rod/front sight.

Blair continued to raise the nose of the plane until the target reached the horizontal crosshair — that grease pencil mark on the windscreen. He eased off a little backpressure to hold the target in the crosshairs and squeezed the trigger on the control stick. An electric current fired the selected rocket motor with a muffled bang.

At that point, the O-1 was in a 35 degree dive, airspeed had climbed back to 100 knots, and the aircraft was in perfect trim. While the rocket swooshed toward the target, Blair pulled the nose up and added full throttle, turning into his figure-eight orbit at 1,500 feet. The white phosphorous warhead ignited on impact, and pure white smoke billowed from the trees.

 “Red Marker, this is Dog Lead. I have your mark.”

 “Dog Lead, roger. Drop in pairs. You are cleared in hot. Hit my smoke.”

“Roger that. Dog Lead is in hot”

As the Super Tweet made a diving left turn onto his bomb run, Blair turned with him. Dog Lead came screaming past Blair, with the A-37 screeching its distinctive high-pitched whine. Lead pickled two bombs at about 1,500 feet and pulled up sharply to the left. Blair kept Dog Lead in sight throughout its bomb run until it pulled up off the target.

The Bird Dog offered its pilot excellent visibility. With plexiglass windows fore and aft as well as overhead in the roof of the cabin, Blair could keep an eye on the fighter-bomber even when the FAC was in a high-banked turn. If anything went wrong with the fighter – ground fire, a mechanical problem, anything – the FAC would see it first.

“Lead is off left.”

This run was clean. The 500-pound bombs hit the middle of the roiling white smoke, exploding with two bright yellow-orange flashes followed instantly by two plumes of gray smoke. Blair whipped the O-1 around 180 degrees to see Dog Two approaching its turn coming down the chute. Blair kept him is sight, repeating the maneuvers he used to follow Dog Lead.

 “Dog Two is rolling in.”

 “I’ve got you, Dog Two, drop in pairs fifty meters short of Lead.”

 “Roger, fifty meters short.”

 “Dog Two you are cleared hot.”

 “Dog Two is in hot”

 “Two is off left.”

On a second bombing pass, Blair again adjusted the aim point to cover more of the target, and Dog flight dropped its last four bombs.

“Dog Lead, hold high and dry while I take a look.”

 “Roger, Red Marker. Holding high and dry.”

 “Dog Lead, it doesn’t look like we have any good targets for a strafing run today, You are released.”

 “Roger, Red Marker. Standing by for BDA.”

 “Dog Seven Five, negative on BDA right now. We are just kicking ass, not taking names. We’ll send BDA to your squadron in a couple of days.”  [12]

“Red Marker, understood. A pleasure doing business with you. Dog Seven Five Out. — Break. Two, go Channel Five.”

 “click, click” [13]

 “Red Marker One Six, this is Head Beagle. Are you ready for your Seven Fifteen fighters?”

 “Head Beagle, roger that. Send them on.”

And so it went for Blair and Mayberry for the next hour. The smell of cordite  mixed with sweat filled the cabin as they directed multiple airstrikes around the landing zones.

The Cambodian Incursion marked the apex of the Red Markers’ involvement in Vietnam. The unit had a dozen aircraft, six radio Jeeps, and 34 personnel, almost its maximum strength. This campaign employed more of those assets concentrated in a single area of operation and with greater results than any other in its history. Through most of May and June 1970, the Red Markers kept two O-1Es and one O-2A in the air over the Fishhook. Three radio Jeeps supported the operation – one at Quan Loi and one at two Special Forces camps.

The Red Markers operated courageously for eleven years. Even when the unit was markedly smaller, it contributed significantly to the success of the men on the ground. Red Markers share a bond with all who have gone to war, a relationship indescribable to those who have not experienced it and indestructible to those who have.

This history is dedicated to the Vietnamese Airborne Division and its American advisors, the Red Hats of Advisory Team 162, and all Red Markers, especially those who lost their lives in this conflict:

Airman Second Class James C. Henneberry

Captain Paul R. Windle

First Lieutenant Robert M. Carn Jr.

Captain Donald R. Hawley

Major F. Dale Dickens

[1] “Project CHECO Report – Commando Vault,” 12 October 1970

[2] “Project CHECO Report, Combat Skyspot,” 9 Aug 1967. The Air Force developed MSQ-77, a narrow beam, X-band radar system by reverse engineering a highly accurate bomb scoring radar the Strategic Air Command employed to train its forces. Strategic Air Command personnel staffed several MSQ-77 sites in South Vietnam.

[3] Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) Coordinates from “Project CHECO Report – Commando Vault,” 12 October 1970

[4] Klick – A kilometer (1,000 meters), approximately 0.6 mile

[5] Arc Light missions were controlled by the same Combat Skyspot radar units that directed the Commando Vault bomb drops. Each B-52 carried 108 Mk-82 500 pound bombs.

[6] Referred to sometimes herein as NVA and VC.

[7] The refueling pit had a small gasoline pump that moved the fuel through a hose from a 3,000-gallon rubber bladder. Air Force C-123s regularly delivered bladders of Avgas and JP-4 jet fuel to the remote airstrip to keep the local helicopters and fixed wing aircraft flying. If the pump failed, the crew chiefs hauled jerry cans to the top of the wing to fill the tanks.

[8] Conex – an 8’ x 8’ x 8’ corrugated steel shipping container with hinged, lockable doors on one side.

[9] Mk-82 is a 500-pound bomb. A high-drag version with retarding fins on the tail was known as “Snake.” A “slick” version had no such fins.

[10] Gen Shoemaker dissolved the Task Force five days into the operation. After that, Red Marker Control handled the fighter aircraft tasked to the Red Markers. Marker Control gave each incoming flight a rendezvous location and orbit altitude before sending the flight to one of several Red Markers who were in the air. Given the heightened activity of the Cambodian operation, two radio operators manned Red Marker Control, double the normal staffing. One handled the radio transmissions, while the other monitored and took notes.

[11] Rocket arming switches on the ceiling of the cabin were simple toggles covered by a hinged plastic guard. Once a tube was fired, the FAC left the guard open. He could then easily tell by feel which tubes had been expended and which had live rockets.

[12] After a strike mission, the FAC usually inspected the target and gave the fighters a Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA). On this first day of the invasion, however, the FACs were too busy to provide that report because they had to get ready for the next set of fighters. The Airborne troops would soon sweep the strike area and report the results directly to Red Marker Control. Control would match the location of the BDA to the strike mission and pass it on to the fighter squadron.

[13] A wingman sometimes acknowledged Lead with a double click of his radio transmit button. This created two audible sounds. Not an approved radio procedure.

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