This is a short introduction
that will hopefully give you a better understanding of who these Air soilders
how they thought. I can not speak for all the pilots of the 281st
or 192nd for each has his own story and feelings but if you boil things
down this introduction would probably speak for most of us and put you in
the right frame of mind with which to enjoy this site.
When the U.S. entered the Vietnam war the many uses for instant air transportation became very apparent. The use of the helicopter became a very real part of almost every phase of the war but it was at the beginning of the learning curve and lessons were being learned at a very high price. Helicopters could be manufactured in a few weeks but due to tradition, pilots took years to produce. The need for chopper pilots for these machines was beginning to get critical so a new approach to this problem had to be found.
The powers that be decided that the need for the traditional four-year college education had to be waived because it took too long. They didn't care if you knew who painted what painting when and what wine went with what meal. They needed pilots right now, pilots that could be trained quickly, and pilots that could be easily released when they were no longer needed. In short, they needed “Christmas Help”. They gave them a rank (Warrant Officer) which would give them a little credit for what they were and the responsibility they would have but which would separate them from the real career people.
Who they needed to fly these machines was a person that had to have three primary attributes. They needed someone that was at the peak of their reflex ability which usually meant someone between the age of 18 and 26 or thereabouts. They needed someone that was street wise, a rather sneaky person, someone that could figure their way out of a jam in an instant and somehow complete the mission and get that bird back home. Thirdly, they needed someone that wanted to learn how to fly but didn't really realize what they were getting into. So the call was made, the college degree requirement dropped, special testing implemented, and pilots-to-be came out of the woodwork from every state in the union.
Flight training began in Fort Wolters, TX where these highschoolers, college dropouts, pre enlisted and regular Army officers converged. Flight school for these pilots to be would last 9 months with the first month designed to weed out the undesirables and those of minimal desire. After that, the harassment died down quite a bit and everyone got down to learning how to fly. The training at Fort Wolter lasted five months and was pretty much basic helicopter training. The next four months of training was conducted at Fort Rucker, AL. That training gave you some instrument instruction so you could get back if you went into the clouds and then transition you into the Huey, the workhorse chopper of Vietnam. We were told that a flight school graduate cost the Army $90,000. That training did produce a fine pilot but as the saying goes “There is nothing smarter than a high school senior and nothing dumber than a college freshman,” and so it was for the flight school graduate. Viet Nam was to be the “wake-up call.”
Once in Nam these chopper pilots learned to pretty much take care of themselves. The air war was new and new ways of doing things were being passed down pilot to pilot. Flying by the book could get you killed and that was a no-no because the “Book” was being rewritten on a daily basis. Ones rank didn't seem to matter as much as ones experience and that is where the relationship between aircraft commanders (AC) and the green Peter pilots (PP) developed to produce what now are the finest helicopter pilots in the world. For the most part warrant officers (WO) and regular officers (RLO) mixed well in the field because bullets and choppers knew no rank.
Most pilots got out of Vietnam with about 1,000 hours of combat. It took about 6 months of flying every day for a PP to gain enough experience to become an AC. To make AC was an honor above all else for it put pride in your step and gave you credibility. You only made AC when the other ACs thought you were ready for it. There were exceptions to this unwritten rule due to rank and more often than not it cost the Army plenty in the long run.
There was a tremendous difference between the AC and PP in the first month that would be continually chipped away at in the months that followed through experience. A PP only knew something was wrong with the ship if he heard a loud noise, an AC felt it in his seat or the collective days before it was to break. A PP only heard one radio, an AC knew what was being said on all 3 and sometimes 4 radios. A PP thought of the enlisted crew just as door gunners, an AC knew his life depended on their skill to keep his tail rotor clear and expedite the troops in or out of the ship when seconds counted. A PP thought in terms of the shortest distance between points A & B, an AC thought in terms of the safest distance between points A & B. A PP thought the guns never saw real action because they never actually had to set down in a hot LZ, an AC knew “Charlie” got bonus points for downing a gunshot and that the cover fire from those guns gave him the precious seconds he needed to get out of there. A PP needed a clear field to set down it, an AC made his own spot. A PP flinched when bullets hit the ship, an AC didn't twitch a muscle. An AC took the first flight in, a PP took the rest most of the time. A PP pondered his near death experience, an AC joked about it that night with the guys while downing a beer or two or three. Need I say one usually learned the ropes pretty quickly over there. I could go on and on but I believe you have the idea.
We all went to Vietnam knowing we could get killed or wounded but deep down we figured our skills and ability to survive would give us the edge. We were shot down, blown up, sniped at, crashed, rained on, always had sand in our food, and even froze at nights sometimes and it does get cold at night in the highlands. Many more made it out than didn't and only the Lord knows why some were chosen and others not. Maybe that is part of the reason these stories are coming out of some of us now. In my eyes virtually every enlisted man and every pilot that got out of the 281st is a war hero whether or not a medal was actually given. You could not have gone through a year of all that without getting into something deep. Our unit's stories alone would fill this site if every story was told. We walk with pride for our peers know what we all went through in order to survive and that's all that really counts.
Steve Matthews, the web master for the original 281st AHC web site has set up a "Jargon" page so those not familiar with military words, abbreviations, and out right slang can find out just what we mean when we use those words. Please feel free to use it whenever you wish.
Enjoy this web site for the people talked about here are real heroes.
John Galkiewicz (The Kid)