Air Force Special Operations Helicopters in Vietnam

Most of us, when we think of Air Force Special Operations helicopters immediately picture the mighty MH-53J/M, the giant Pave Low III/IV used through the 80s and 90s to insert special operation forces at long range and in limited visibility into denied territory. The Pave Low is retired now, replaced in Air Force service by the CV-22B.

Here’s the thing- the Air Force didn’t get the MH-53 until well after the Desert One disaster during the Iran hostage crisis. It had operated H-53s for many years prior to that, all the way back to the Vietnam war, but used it in the Combat Search and Rescue role, picking up downed pilots in enemy territory. But the Desert One fiasco convinced both the Army and the Air Force they needed dedicated aircraft and crews to support special operations forces.

Of course, the H-53 wouldn’t be the first Air Force helicopter focused on support to special operations. During the Vietnam War, it quickly became apparent that the North Vietnamese were supplying their forces and the Vietcong in the south via what became known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a complex of roads and trails moving from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam. This web of trails was dispersed so that finding individual units and convoys on it was extremely challenging. A great deal of effort went into developing technologies that could find traffic on the trail. But for most of the war, the most effective means of finding traffic was to insert small reconnaissance teams of 3-6 men in the area. These small teams, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols, or LLRPs (pronounced “Lurps”) would be inserted into an operational area via helicopter, walk to an objective area, and quietly observe. Intelligence gathered would be used to generated targeting for airstrikes, as early warning for ground commanders, and generally help generate an order of battle of enemy forces. Similar patrols inside South Vietnam would detect, locate and target NVA forces operating against the US and our South Vietnamese allies.

Tasked with supporting this mission, the Air Force actually bought their own variant of the ubiquitous UH-1 Huey, the UH-1F. Given that they were primarily inserting very small teams, the Air Force chose the original short cabin configuration. And observing the trouble the Army had with gunship versions of the short cabin UH-1B due to lack of power, the Air Force Hueys were powered by the General Electric 1500hp T-58 turbine engine, unlike virtually every other Huey that used variants of the Lycoming T-53 turbine.*

The Air Force also developed a bolt on kit to convert a “slick” Huey into a gunship variant, with two 7-round 2.75” rocket launchers, and two M134 miniguns mounted in the cabin. Where the army external forward firing mounts for M60s and later M134s, the cabin mounted miniguns of the Air Force could be used either in a forward firing mode, or as flexible guns aimed by the crew chief and gunner.

On November 26, 1968, then 1st LT James P. Fleming, USAF of the 20th Special Operations Squadron was flying a UH-1F when a call for an emergency extraction of a six man MACV-SOG recon team came over the air.

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Capt. Fleming (then 1st Lt.) distinguished himself as the Aircraft Commander of a UH-1F transport Helicopter. Capt. Fleming went to the aid of a 6-man special forces long range reconnaissance patrol that was in danger of being overrun by a large, heavily armed hostile force. Despite the knowledge that 1 helicopter had been downed by intense hostile fire, Capt. Fleming descended, and balanced his helicopter on a river bank with the tail boom hanging over open water. The patrol could not penetrate to the landing site and he was forced to withdraw. Dangerously low on fuel, Capt. Fleming repeated his original landing maneuver. Disregarding his own safety, he remained in this exposed position. Hostile fire crashed through his windscreen as the patrol boarded his helicopter. Capt. Fleming made a successful takeoff through a barrage of hostile fire and recovered safely at a forward base. Capt. Fleming’s profound concern for his fellowmen, and at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

James_P_Fleming

Airforce_moh

As the Air Force learned lessons in Vietnam about the tactics, techniques and procedures best suited for this mission, they produced a film to share with new pilots and crews to keep this institutional knowledge alive.

Also, there’s some pretty good shooty/splodey in there.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNJ1-RUIVuQ]

 

*The T-53 also was adapted to become the 1500 hp turbine that powers todays M1 tank series.

Please quit losing your mind over Jade Helm 15.

Probably 95% of people who have heard about Exercise Jade Helm taking place in their communities understand and support it, or, if they do have issues, they relate to genuine, if misplaced concerns, such as noise and other possible disruptions to their daily lives. Fair enough. But you  cannot look for basic information on the exercise without dozens, hundreds of “experts” telling you that JH15 is simply a pretext for martial law, seizing guns, and rounding up “patriots” in reeducation and concentration camps.

Brad Taylor took the trouble of writing up this issue, so I don’t have to:

I grew up in East Texas, running around the woods, camping, hunting and generally getting into trouble. I haven’t been home in a while due to twenty-plus years in the military and now living in South Carolina, but I still have family there. From what they’re telling me, something has clearly changed from my childhood days. Jade Helm, a USASOC Realistic Military Training event, is coming to certain Texas locales, and the population is losing its mind over “sinister” implications. FEMA concentration camps, UN gun-grabbers, and anything else that can be extrapolated, has been. Why? I’ve racked my brain trying to figure out why this exercise has generated such controversy, as it’s truly confusing. How can a state that breaks its arm trying to congratulate veterans, that declared a Chris Kyle day, assume that those same service members they’ve been cheering in the Dallas Airport are now out to enslave the entire state? Truthfully, that’s what really burns me. The men who planned the exercise, and the men who will execute the exercise, are me. Texas, the land I grew up in, is basically saying I – and the men I served with – are willingly planning to round them up and put them into concentration camps. Why? How has the Internet been able to leverage such unfounded paranoia? When did we go from supporting the troops to denigrating them as oppressors?

Let me add this- if the Special Forces community suddenly wanted to confiscate your guns, set up reeducation and concentration camps, and otherwise impose martial law, would they announce their plans in advance? Would they send a contact team to EVERY county and municipality briefing them on when the exercise will take place?

Here’s a video of one such briefing. Of course, the comments section is nuttier than a Snickers production line.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLM4-aImMkY]

Jade Helm is simply Robin Sage writ large. And North Carolina somehow hasn’t fallen under the sway of martial law, in spite of some 60 years of hosting off post exercises. Maybe SF is just really bad at martial law.

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I normally don’t like to send you, dear reader, to the nuttier corners of the internet. They don’t really deserve the traffic. But this is the kind of crap that is out there:

Katy Whelan serves as the medical advisor and reporter for The Common Sense Show. As such, she is privy to much of the information on topics which we have not yet published for one reason or another. With regard to Jade Helm 15, Katy has had access to some of the most sensitive information that is in our possession. Therefore, when Katy decides to assert herself in the field by confronting an official about Jade Helm, she can do so with an air of authority.

This past weekend, Katy had occasion to confront a Lt. Colonel Gallegos in a chance public meeting and the following represents the summary of her encounter.

“On Saturday April 11, I (Katy Whelan) was coming out of a Denver area Restaurant and saw a National Guard officer in the parking lot and decided to stop and chat with him about the Jade Helm training drill going on across the country”.

“I introduced myself to a Lt Colonel Gallegos from Buckley Air Force base in Aurora, Colorado. Below is a summary of the exchange”.

Katy:  “I am aware of the Jade Helm drill and I am concerned as to why this drill was being conducted”.

Gallegos:  (He was caught off guard and didn’t have a clear answer as he stumbled around for words and his body language was extremely nervous). “We have had drills like this before, like one we had before one 10 years ago”.

Katy: “There has never been a drill to this extent in size and scope”!

Gallegos: (His body language, again, was extremely nervous as he stumbled to find the right words as he chose to look down, smile and concede that I was correct on that point). “Yeah, that is true but it’s not a big deal”. (Editor’s Note: Not a big deal? Various factions of the military are preparing to impose martial law in the Jade Helms drills while extracting dissidents, and death squads will be planted in order to practice their “infiltration techniques” and this is “not a big deal”? This is an act of war against the American people and it is not a big deal?).

Katy: “I know the Jade Helm15 drill is in over 30 states”.

Gallegos: (He became increasingly nervous) and asked “How did I know this (as if I should not have this information)”?
Katy: “Isn’t this a joint a joint military and national guard operation and doesn’t this violate posse comitatus”.

Gallegos:  “No, that is not true because the National Guard will be the only ones running the drills”.  (Editor’s note: This is a bold faced lie uttered by Lt. Col. Gallegos! On the original Jade Helm 15 document, Special Operations Forces state that the 82nd Airborne and Special Operations Forces such as the Green Berets, Navy Seals will be a part of the drill. Therefore, Gallegos knows what he is participating in is illegal and is not limited to the National Guard. We further know that the Department of Defense is hiring people to play the role of detainees and incarcerated Americans under martial law).

Katy: “Then why, if it is a joint operation, why would the National Guard have the authority to be the organization to be running the drill”?

Gallegos: (Like a kid with his hand in the cookie jar, the nervousness of the body language was peaking as he stumbled around looked down and was rubbing his keys nervously). Katy took that to mean that her challenging statement was true.
“But nothing illegal will be done in the drill”, muttered Gallegos. (Editor’s Note: Despite the fact that the forces of Jade Helm will be extracting people without due process of law, and Gallegos thinks there is nothing wrong with this?). 

Katy: “Our current administration is violating the US constitution every day, so how can you guarantee that the orders coming down would be any different”?

Gallegos: (Again, displaying nervous body language as exemplified by looking down to avoid contact and nervously smiling, he stated, “I assure you it would all be legal. The Governor would be in command of the drill as only the National Guard would be conducting the drills and I cannot say much more than that”. (Editor’s Note: Since the passage of the John Warner Defense bill, the civilian authority exercised by the National Guard was transferred from the Governor of a state to the President and we are supposed to believe that a Lt. Colonel in the National Guard would be ignorant to that fact?).

Katy: “Isn’t Jade Helm about the extraction drills? In other words, what does the military know that we don’t know to train for this type of operation?”

Gallegos: (He further displayed more nervous body language to an incredible degree as he became increasingly and nervously evasive). “I assure you that it is all on the up and up and legal”.

Katy: “If there was an illegal order that came down from the chain of command, what would you do”?

Gallegos: “That would be up to the individual to decide”.
Katy: She pressed the point and again asked “Why would we need an extraction drill and what are they specifically training for?

Gallegos: He remained evasive and said “it is all legal”.

Yeah, random weird people coming up and ambush interrogating some Guard LTC at lunch.

He was caught off guard and didn’t have a clear answer as he stumbled around for words and his body language was extremely nervous).

No kidding. I’d be a little nervous too. Weird people tend to have that effect on me.

The chances this guy knows any more about JH 15 than he’s seen in a newspaper headline are virtually zip. Here’s a little secret. People in the Army, even Lieutenant Colonels, don’t know what every other element of the Army is doing at any given time. That’s because we’re paying them good money to focus on what their unit is doing.