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Nakhon Phanom During The Secret War 1962-1975

SOG MACV MLT 3

Mobile Launch Team 3 HEAVY HOOK

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1st Row: Al Fontes, Bill Shelton, Dawg, Leo Pasco, Leno Trejo
 
2nd Row:  Larry Doughty, Jim Sweeney, Dick (Fat Mac) McKinney and Jim Mitchell
 
3rd Row:  Bob Gulley, Dale A. Caveness, Jim Duffy, Ted Hanson and Larry Doyle
 
Thanks to Dale Caveness for the full listing of names
 

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Text and pictures by LTC Bill Shelton, (USA, Ret.)

Callsigns: BLASTER. FATCAPPER 6

ASSIGNMENTS: CO FOB1, 68-69; Ops Off CCN and OP35, early 69; CO MLT 3 Heavy Hook (NKP), 69-70

NOTE: My info is based on the launches from the CCN/MLT 3 areas, and from actual knowledge from 1968 - 1970. (It must be pointed out that CCS used their FACs in a different way, i.e, the FAC usually flew by himself, controlling all air assets, and dealing with the team on the ground.) Up north, we had a "rider", an Army type, usually an experienced recon man, who assisted the FAC, and dealt with the ground team.



20th and 23d TASS SOG Operations

SOG reconnaissance teams performed various missions "across the fence" from various locations in SVN, and Thailand. SOG stood for Studies and Observations Group, part of MACV. The HQ was located in Saigon, with Command and Control detachments at: Danang, C&C North or CCN; Kontum, C&C Central or CCC; and Ban Me Thuot, C&C South or CCS. Each of these had Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) and launch sites, or launch teams. Mobile Launch Team 3 was the SOG "backdoor" launch team, ostensibly for periods when weather made launch/recovery from SVN sites impracticable. During this time, few Army helicopter pilots possessed the IFR tickets. However, USMC gunship pilots from HML 367 (SCARFACE or EAGLE CLAW, out of Phu Bai did have the qualifications, and were frequently used by FOB 1 to fly as FACs and to lead the KINGBEE H34s from VNAFs 219th Squadron on those occasions where the emergency dictated an immediate launch for a Prairie Fire Emergency. (Prairie Fire was the code name for the SOG ops in the northern half of the AO, while Daniel Boone was the code name for the southern AO.)

Missions included road/trail/river watches, prisoner snatches, wire taps, sensor emplacement, and Bright Light missions. Other missions were assigned based on the needs of commanders of other units. There were other elements to SOG, such as Market Time, which involved Navy and Air Force elements, and other SOG OP detachments such as OP 34 and OP 32. The Naval elements did cross-beach missions, and other maritime operations. They were located at Monkey Mountain FOB in Danang. The FOBs and MLTs of the C&Cs frequently inserted or extracted the OP 34 teams. There was enough compartmentalization of these various Ops so that one hand did not usually know what the other was doing, for obvious security reasons.

Missions were developed at SOG HQ and transmitted to the appropriate C&C for implementation. At the C&C, these missions were developed into plans, and team(s) assigned for conduct of the operation. (A team usually consisted of 3 US Special Forces, and up to 10 indigenous personnel. The US team leader was known as the 10, his assistant the 11, and the radio operator the 12. Team Leaders had the leeway to alter the team composition. Sometime, the 12 would not be part of the team, with the 10 opting to carry the radio himself.) The US team members did their planning, and conducted training and equipping of the team for the specified mission, drawing on the many resources of the FOB, launch site, and SOG. SOG made available through their channels, whatever assets that would be needed for a mission. For example, FOB 1 at Phu Bai had a daily package assigned which included 2 COVEY FACs from the 20th TASS at Danang, 2 UH1 gunships from HML 367 (USMC, Phu Bai) and 3 KINGBEE H34s from the VNAF 219th. Frequently, UH1 slicks from the Firebirds, the 101st Airborne Division, and other Army units were fragged to fly support. And, from time to time, H47 Chinooks from Army Aviation, and H46 Sea Knights from the 1st Marine Air Wing would be assigned for larger troop lift requirements. The site at NKP was primarily given air asset support on a daily frag from 7th AF to the 56th SOW. This package included 2 NAIL FACs, 3 helos (H3 or H53 from the 21st SOS KNIVEs) and 4 A1s from the squadrons of the 56th on a rotational basis.

Once a team had completed training, it was desirable for the 10 to fly an initial VR with the FAC. Hand-held photos were taken of the ingress route to the target, egress route, check points, the selected HLZ, and any other objects that would be of use to brief the team and air assets that would be in a supporting role. A 6km X 6km "no strike" box was put on the center of the target, before the team was inserted, and activated shortly before insert of the team. This was a safety measure designed to prevent an inadvertent strike on the team by friendly aircraft. (To the best of my knowledge, this worked very well. The boxes always showed up on the situation maps at 56th SOW TUOC, and none of the teams was ever attacked by friendlies.) The mission FAC and team were briefed as soon as possible on the plans and date for insert. On the day of the insert, all assets were briefed and shown slides from the RT leader or FAC VR. After making final preparations, the FAC and rider for the insert would take off for the area of the intended insert, flying a route that would not be so direct as to give a hint of where they were going to insert. After determining the WX was good enough, and a scan of the intended HLZ, the FAC would radio back for the other assets to launch. (At NKP, we had even developed a "silent" insert technique, where no radio xmsn took place from take off until the team was on the ground and broke squelch to let the insert A/C know they were OK. CPT Jay Merz of the 21st SOS flew lead helo on the first of this type insert. I think I was in the FAC, and we were orbiting several miles away from the HLZ. The 21st birds were in and out of the HLZ before I could get back to the actual insert site.)

From Phu Bai, the troop carrying helos usually launched under the watchful guidance of the Marine gunships of HML 367 (Scarface or Eagle Claw) and headed for the LZ. If all went well, the helos arrived at the LZ, and it was normal for the gunships to prep the LZ with HE rockets. Sometime later, while working out of Camp Eagle, the 2nd Bn, 77th Arty ARA was providing gunship support for some of our inserts. They gave us the idea to use flechette rockets, which eliminated the explosive announcement on the HLZ. They were pretty effective, and it seemed for a long time, their use cut down on the number of quick detects by NVA trail watchers. Then, the troop carriers would land the RT if there was no opposition on the LZ. The team, well rehearsed and aware of the terrain and foliage on the LZ, would "un-ass" the helos, and quickly fade into the jungle. The gunships and other helos would depart the LZ, and head for an orbit area several miles away. The FAC would orbit some distance away, and wait for the RT to give an OK. This was usually a couple of breaks of squelch, and later with the secure FM radios, a whispered message. The procedures from NKP varied only slightly, in that we used the A1s of the 56th SOW for escort and LZ prep instead of helo gunships. IF all went well, all assets were released by the FAC to return to the launch site for strip/pad alert until somewhere around 3-5 p.m. The FAC would make a late afternoon commo check with the RT, and check with ABCCC (Hillsboro, Moonbeam, Alleycat, etc., to ensure they were aware the team was on the ground and the no-strike box was activated.

Sometime in late 69, early 70, LTC Bud Knapp, CO 23d, and COL Chapman, CO TAS Group visited me at the bar in Heavy Hook. They were running short of O2s for all the missions in Laos, and wanted to know if we would be willing to swap for OV10s. Arguing that my FAC rider (observer) had to be seated next to the pilot, I was hesitant. Over several beers, they finally convinced me to try the OV10s, and conceded to putting HE rockets back on our load. Later, the mission FACs had MGs put back in the sponsons, with the Admonition to NOT duel with the AAA. (Very important factor. Since the NAIL was usually first on the scene of a Prairie Fire emergency, the HE rockets could keep the NVA at bay until some A1s or other TAC air arrived with more ordnance.) That concession made the difference, and at about 0400, I agreed to give the OV10 guys their shot. CPT Wally Wallace was 'da man' assigned to show us what they could do for us. Sent my senior FAC rider, SFC Jim 'Twiggy' Sweeney (deceased) up for the first go. He came back with a thumbs up. The problem of not being next to the pilot had been solved. If he wanted to pinpoint something on the ground, rather than pointing to it on a map, the pilot would give him the stick, and he would point the nose of the AC at the desired target. He recommended that we go to the OV10 for our mission FAC AC due to survivability, better communications package, and the HE rocket capability. (With the HF radio, we could KAC a mission report and send it directly to SOG in Saigon, rather than relaying back to NKP for decoding, and putting it on the TTY. Big time saver.) I flew the next mission with Wally, and that settled it. We went to the OV10, and the O2 guys (Hank Haden, Jerry Stubblefield, Sam Batram) were disappointed. God bless them. I remember so many sories of all the things they did, I hated to lose them. They were always part of the team. The new guys were (forgive me if I don't get everybody included here, but gray hair must be part of the loss of brain cells.) Wally Wallace, Dick Hall, Fred Parrot, Larry Casey, Jim Latham, Bob (Panther) Pierce, Rusty Heft, Fred Pumroy, and Bill Sanders (MIA). These are the only names I can call up from the cobwebs right now. (Bill Sanders was shot down west of the DMZ on 30 June 70, along with my FAC rider, SFC Al Mosiello. Mosiello was recovered that same day. See the following website for a more detailed account: www.specialoperations.com/MACVSOG/memorial/Chronology/1970.htm



Once on the ground, teams did their jobs. Our NAIL FACs monitored daily, but at night, the teams usually only had contact with the ABCCC birds, or with the BAT CATS. Any of the 23d or 20th TASS FACs who were flying night missions could also monitor and assist the teams. It happened with some regularity. Our teams were almost always outside the range of friendly artillery, so USAF assets were essential in keeping our guys alive, and bringing them home. There were so many acts of bravery on the part of these aircrews, that it would take pages to relate the stories. Jim Henthorn has some of the info, Bob Noe of the Special Operations Association has some, and lots of us have them in our failing memories. (Bob Noe's site www.specialoperations.com/MACVSOG/memorial/Chronology/1970.htm contains chrono lists by year of casualties, all services, for SOG missions. As folks like me wander into the site, they send Bob updates.


On completion of the RT mission, or after they made contact, an exfiltration would be called for. Most were done under fire. Bob Arnau (HH3 pilot, 21st SOS) can attest to the "intensity" of these. There were no easy ones. After a successful exfil, the RTs were usually brought back to the Hook, for initial debrief. After that, a party ensued. In the Heavy Hook bar, the RT members (US only) could quaff a few, and swap stories with the air crews. (The indigenous team members were required by treaty, to remain in the back room. We sent food and drink so they could have their own small celebration of life in a more subdued and dignified manner.) The next a.m., the "Blackbird" C130 would arrive and take the RT back to their home base where they were further debriefed.

Heavy Hook personnel wore camo fatigues, and a black baseball cap. No rank, no US Army, and no name tags. (plausible denial). We showed up at the parties at the Nail Hole, E4s thru MAJ. We were part of the NAILS, and they were part of the HOOK. And, NAILs were always welcome at the many knee-walking parties at the Hook. (Anyone remember the infamous Christmas Tree on the wall at the HOOK? And the party on Christmas Eve of '69?) When a NAIL departed, he was subjected to the indignity of having his outer garments cut off. After getting dressed again, he was presented with his honorary Green Beret, and a Heavy Hook plaque. When one of my guys departed, he was given a beautiful 23d TASS plaque, and the "Order of the Brass Balls" certificate. (Still have mine.)

The importance of the ALL FACs of the 20th TASS and 23d TASS to the SOG mission was HUGE. They did the job with professional skill, bravery, and dedication. Without them, many of the surviving SOG recon team members would have not made it back. The SOG mission team was made up of many units, and many VERY dedicated people. None of them can ever be fully recognized, nor can any amount of appreciation be expressed that would be enough for their efforts. But, in my conversations with the recon guys, the FACs are always remembered with honor and respect for what they did, and who they were. Personally, I consider it an honor to have flown with them, and to call them FRIENDS.

HEAVY HOOK, MLT 3 (MLT = Mobile Launch Team) was the "back door" launch/recovery site for SOG ground reconnaissance operations. We used 56th SOW assets, fragged to us daily from 7/13th AF. The package consisted of 2 FACs from 23d TASS, 3 H3s (later H53s) from the 21st SOS, and 4 A1s from the 3 sqdns of the 56th. On some of the "troops in contact" emergencies, we used Army and USMC assets that would hear our plight on the guard frequency, 243.00, and "wander" into the AO with their gunships. There were several MLTs in Vietnam, the closest to us was MLT 2 at Quang Tri. They used in-country assests, Army, Marines, the VNAF 219th SOS (H34 KINGBEEs), and COVEY FACs. The composition of the HEAVY HOOK team was: 1 MAJ, 2 CPTs, 1 1SG, 3 OP/INTEL NCOs, 1 SF Medic, and 5 Communications NCOs.

Targets were assigned to a recon team (RT) by MACSOG, Saigon. A 6km X 6km "no strike" box was put on the center of the target, before the team was inserted. Several days before insert, one of the MLT 3 troops would fly out with the FAC, taking 35mm hand held photos of the route to the target, the target HLZ, and the "planned" route back. The film was developed immediately in our small photo lab, then made into slides. The mission FAC and team were briefed as soon as possible. On the day of the insert, one of us would brief the aircrews at 56th, showing the slides, and make final preps. We had even developed a "silent" insert technique, where no radio transmissions took place from take off until the team was on the ground and broke squelch to let the insert A/C know they were OK. CPT Jay Merz of the 21st SOS flew lead helicopter on the first of this type insert. I think I was in the FAC, and we were orbiting several miles away from the HLZ. The 21st birds were in and out of the HLZ before I could get back to the actual site.

Once on the ground, teams did their jobs. Our FACs monitored daily, but at night, the teams only had contact with the ABCCC birds (HILLSBORO, MOON BEAM, ALLEY CAT, CRICKET), or with the BAT CATS. Any of the 23d or 20th TASS FACs who were flying night missions could also monitor and assist the teams. It happened with some regularity. Our teams were almost always outside the range of friendly artillery. so USAF assets were essential in keeping our guys alive, and bringing them home. There were so many acts of bravery on the part of these aircrews, that it would take pages to relate the stories. Several websites have some of the info and lots of us have the stories in our failing memories. On completion of the RT mission, or after they made contact, an exfiltration could be called for. When a PRAIRIE FIRE EMERGENCY was declared by the ground team, it meant they needed help NOW, they were in contact with a numerically superior force, and in imminent danger of being overrun. Most exfiltrations were done under fire. There were no easy ones. After a successful exfil, the RTs were usually brought back to the Hook, for initial debrief. After that, a party ensued. In the HEAVY HOOK bar, the RT members (US only) could quaff a few, and swap stories with the air crews. (The indigenous team members were required by treaty, to remain in the back room. We sent food and drink so they could have their own small celebration of life in a more subdued and dignified manner.) The next a.m., the "Blackbird" C130 from 1st Flight Detachment would arrive and take the RT back to their home base where they were further debriefed. Then in a few days, the whole process would start again
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Son Tay Raid