Ratpack Patch
Scout Platoon "Ratpack" Patch -- 1969-1970
Courtesy of Walter Adams, Scout C.E.



"I Have Flown Among the Trees and Seen the Face of the Enemy"

Story and Photos by CWO Jay Goldsberry - HAWK Magazine

Article contributed by Silver Spur Bill McCalister


The 1st Aviation Brigade. is made up of specialists in many and varied field Among the most hazardous of the specialties in all combat aviation is the Army's Air Cavalry Scout. Scouts face the enemy daily, right in his own strongholds. They depend upon each other, their ships and their skill as no other team must. A 3/17 Scout Platoon has chosen a motto which says all of this compactly. "I have flown among the trees and seen the face of the enemy." The following excerpts are drawn from an interview with 1 LT John Briggs (pilot) and SFC John Conner (observer) both with the Scout Platoon A Troop 3/17 Air Cavalry Squadron (Silver Spur). These two men show great pride in their unit and their duties as aerial scouts. This same esprit pervades all of the Air Cavalry troopers I've met.

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"What is a Scout? I'll tell you what I demand from my scouts and get. I demand that my scouts have the eyes of Kit Carson. They can tell the difference between a 30-minute-old foot print and a day-old foot print. They can track a man, via his foot prints, through the nippa palm until they find him and kill him. My scouts find caches, hidden, that the ground troops have missed even though they walked over the same ground. My scouts can draw out a VC. A VC standing there shooting at them, the ship spins around and plasters him with the minigun. These scout ships are fighting vehicles. . . This entire troop is organized around its scouts. The scouts are the troop. The guns are here only to kill what the scouts find, and to cover the scouts. The lift is here to put infantry on the ground in those cases where it's needed to develop the situation and to protect the scout should he go down. . .

The entire troop is here as a scout vehicle to find, one, to fix, two, and to destroy, if possible, and to recommend the insertion of higher elements. My scouts are my reason for existence."

                                                                                                            Major John D. Jenks

                                                                                                            CO A 3/17


Q. What ty'pe of people fly as Scouts?

A. P "A different breed of person. Not just the scouts, but everyone who works in the Air Cav. They're in an experience that 99 per cent of the other aviators don't ever get into. Some people are the type to begin with and others just seem to grow into the job. . . There are people who are terrified of being in a Cav unit and yet there are others who would give their right arm to get in one. I was very apprehensive about coming here. At Group they kidded me that all of the assignments were pretty good except the Air Cav. They told me that I would go to the 3/17. I was just a little upset about it. Frankly, now I'm glad I came. This is a fantastic unit."

0 "Scouts have always had the spirit, the audaciousness to get out there and do something and be the first to do it. That spirit carries right on up to the Air Cavalry now. A good scout's still got that spirit."

P "You're not just one of the mass of helicopter pilots. When something's going on, they're asking you what's there, where're they going and what are they doing. What should we do about it. It's a lot better when you can see that you're doing a job. It's helping somebody else to do their job better. It never gets dull.. You're always doing something that's worthwhile. You've got people who arc depending upon you and using what you find to good advantage. I never get complacent."

Q. I gather you have long since discarded any notion of the immediate fatality of flying scout ships.

A. P "You don't really think about it. You don't have time. Most of us pretty well realize that if it does happen it will happen so fast that worrying about it is not going to do any good. We've had very few incidents of scout pilots being killed. Leg wounds represent 90 per cent of our injuries. They're no big problem. I'd much rather be flying my LOH than be up there in a Huey. I think it's safer down here hovering in the trees. 1 feel safer. I'm glad I'm in the scouts."

Q. What sort of training have you had for your scout work?

A. P "The training in the states, aside from learning how to fly was not that useful. You get it all here. Before a scout pilot goes out flying he flies five, six or seven missions as an observer with an experienced pilot. You have to pick it up as you go. Other people talking, platoon leader, CO telling experiences they've had - this is how 1 learned. They know what is out there, and how the people act from past experience. It's pretty well all picked up here."

O "It's been a good program in this scout platoon. They've worked it with every new pilot…First, once he's LOH qualified, he goes out with an old experienced scout-pilot as his observer for several days until the platoon leader is satisfied that the man is fully capable of handling the mission. You'd be surprised how fast he will pick up experience."

Q. How much does the observer contribute to the mission?

A. O "We help navigate and plot the coordinates for the pilot of suspected enemy positions. The pilot is blind on the left side of the ship. I've got to protect the ship on my side with my CAR-15 while I observe. I am looking for targets and signs of the enemy. I bring my findings to the pilot's attention, then we'll both check them out. Bunkers, signs of recent activity, equipment, trails, tracks, people, flags are all objects we're looking for."

Q. How do you feel about being a scout?

A. P "It's not that easy to be a scout. We've had lots of pilots assigned to the platoon who don't make it. A lot of them get sick with the type of flying you do so much, some of them just weren't cut out for it. .. You don't really use the good flying techniques when you're flying scouts.. About the sloppier you are sometimes the safer it is. Flying out of trim often makes it hard for "Charlie" to figure out which direction you're flying, then he can't lead you. Flying sideways, flying backwards, out of trim, lots of turns. They don't know where you're going next. If they do they'll probably shoot you down. . .About the only time they're going to get you is when you're hovering, flying straight, or passing directly over them."

Q. How long can you two take this concentrated effort?

A. P "When you make contact you'll pull out for the gunships to work. This will give us some rest. Lately we've been working an extra relief ship into our plan which will relieve us after an hour or two of this type flying."

O "Sometimes you'll fly four to six hours if you have a heavy contact going. They usually need every bird then. So you just refuel and return to the AO. The strain on the pilots is pretty great."

Q. What does "Charlie" think of you?

A. They're pretty well scared of the LOH, they'll do everything they can to avoid it. The experienced VC will try to hide from us to the very last second. The new guys will jump out and start shooting as soon as they see us. They don't last long that way."

Q. I understand from many scout people that much of your daring is really based on your faith in the LOH. Care to comment on this?

A. P "Yes, in my opinion the LOH is a fantastic helicopter. It has good crew protection, an outstanding engine and amazing crash survivability. With a ship like that I'll take the chances necessary to accomplish the mission."

O "It is highly maneuverable, sturdy, takes hits and keeps flying. It is easy to fly so that I can fly when the time comes. 'Charlie's' afraid of our LOH's flexibility. There's no 'comparison with it and the OH-13 I flew in on the Czech border."

Q. In looking over your ship I noticed a lot of grenades. How do you employ them?

A. O "We use incendiaries, fragmentation and, preferably, concussion grenades all day long. Of course we use a little smoke, but as we gain experience we use it less and less. We never throw the grenade. It's too dangerous to pull the pin inside the ship. So we just drop the grenade in a small-time bombing run. Then we scoot out of blast range. Sometimes we hover over a bunker and try to get it inside. Then we have to hover close and when I release it I tell the pilot to clear out. . . We have four to five seconds to get away. That's another thing I like about the LOH. It's got great pick-up (sic)."

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"Silver Spur is noted in the 9th Div and throughout Vietnam... The company commanders almost to a man with the 9th adore my scout pilots. They know them personally, if not by name, by call sign. Any time one of my scouts is shot down my radio network is immediately flooded with inquiries from throughout the Div area as to the status, who it was, and how serious. I've had sergeants who lined up their squads and presented arms as 1 walked by in appreciation for what my scouts have done. I've met wounded men in the hospital while checking on my own wounded, who just wanted to shake my hand and say 'thank you' to the scout pilot who brought them in from on top of the bunker when no one else could get 'em. The stories go on and, on. It's phenomenal . . .it's well deserved. My boys take risks and that's what it takes to do an outstanding job." -- Major Jenks

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 Indispensable Man:  CREW CHIEF

HAWK Magazine

Contributed by Silver Spur Bill McCalister



The typical combat helicopter pilot completes a day's mission over Vietnam by hitting the battery switch, scrawling his name in a flight record and seeking a remedy for the stomach pains and frayed nerves which accompany his haz­ardous occupation.


It's a behavior pattern that has developed from a confidence in the fact that his aircraft will be at­tended to in a knowledgeable and professional manner. This must be the case, because early the next day he will preflight this same air­craft in the half light of morning and fly it over country which is not known for the hospitality that it extends to pilots who 'drop in' unexpectedly. A confidence such as this is justified by the efforts of the 67N20, or more informally, the crew chief.


In an assault helicopter com­pany, the duties performed by heli­copter crew chiefs are enormously important. The complexity of the machinery which he maintains and the proficiency demanded of him by such a job place him among an elite group upon whose shoulders rest the safety of every crew­member who pulls pitch in a heli­copter.


His day begins early, usually two hours before dawn, making sure that the aircraft is mechanically ready by checking the head and the stabilizing bar as well as check­ing the oil guages, the hydraulic system, the electrical systems and the fuel intake. He also supervises loading to insure a safe center of gravity.


While in flight he watches for enemy, lays down suppresive fire when needed, listens for abnormal noises from the engine or trans­mission, clears the tail rotor in tight landing zones and inspects the air­craft whenever it is shut down.


When the mission has been com­pleted and the aircraft is shut down at the end of the day, the crew chief begins his daily inspection. He cleans and greases the head, cleans the air filters by running water through them, checks the engine for loose or worn fuel and oil lines and greases the tail rotor. In addition, he scrutinizes the en­tire engine for loose or worn parts and makes sure all components are functional for the next day. He checks the oil guages, the hydraulic and electrical systems and the sta­bilizing bar. Then the aircraft must be cleaned, washed and reinspected.


How does a man go about be­coming a crew chief? Most enlist for the job and attend a five-week basic maintenance course to emerge with the MOS of 67A10. Those who excel advance to 67N20 school to become crew chiefs. Another method used by many in becoming crew chiefs is the On-The-Job training method. After serving as a door gunner for several months, the opportunity is open to those with the initiative to add to their knowledge by working with ex­perienced helicopter mechanics in the hangar. He is then generally sent to the Army Aviation Refresher Training School at Vung Tau for several weeks to supplement his training. When the former door gunner has shown sufficient pro­gress he may return to the flight line as a crew chief.


On arrival in an assault heli­copter company, a new crew chief is usually assigned to the service platoon to work in the hangar for familiarization with the procedures and techniques used in Vietnam. After proving himself in the han­gar, he is assigned to his own air­craft as a crew engineer.


A crew chief's job is not an easy one. His position might be com­pared to that of a tackle on a foot­ball team. Diligently applying him­self to his responsibilities, he con­stantly strives to improve his tech­nical knowledge in order to insure the successful achievement of the team's objective. There isn't a lot of glory involved, but no team could function without him.


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