[Editor’s Note: In the eight-year secret war fought by Green Berets during the Vietnam War across the fence in Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam from 1964-1972 under the aegis of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (SOG), no mission was more dangerous than a Bright Light Mission. Heavily-armed SOG recon teams were sent in to find downed pilots, relieve recon teams surrounded by enemy troops or to recover the dead and wounded. The Green Berets carried no food and only one canteen of water. The rest of their load consisted of weapons, ammunition, hand grenades, and sometimes body bags. This is the first in a series of SOFREP stories of what led to the Bright Light mission that haunts SOG Green Beret SSG James H. Shorten (Jones) to this day and drives him to return to Cambodia for an Air Force pilot left behind, who is among the 1,602 MIAs in Southeast Asia (SEA).]


As April 1970 wound down, RT Delaware was on stand down at the top-secret SOG compound in Kontum, Command and Control Central (CCC) when the recon company first sergeant asked its team leader (One-Zero) Green Beret SSG James H. Shorten (Jones) if he would fill in as the team leader on RT Illinois for Bright Light stand by duty at Dak To, the launch site for CCC teams for missions across the fence into Laos or Cambodia. RT Illinois One Zero SSG Steve Keever was on leave and experienced One-Zeros were scarce at that time due to casualties, disease, annual rotations and the extremely deadly nature of SOG missions. Shorten said yes and took RT Illinois up to Dak To, where CCC Bright Light teams were regularly based in order to have a quicker response time in either Laos or Cambodia.


Early the next morning, launch site staff advised Shorten that a recon team was in deep trouble, in heavy contact with communist North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops and had requested a helicopter exfiltration from the target. The choppers got to the team, and lifted it out on 150-long ropes from the jungle floor – a treacherous mission in and of itself.


By 1970, most SOG recon team members wore STABO rigs, a harness that was built into their web gear for the express purpose of having a more secure and stable outfit for when they hooked into a rope thrown down by a hovering helicopter. It had to hover because there was not enough open land available for the chopper to land and pick up the team. When the helicopter pulled the team out, the team members were secured in the STABO rigs which enabled them to fire their weapons at enemy troops and to throw hand grenades down at enemy soldiers, either dropping them directly or waiting two seconds in order to have the deadly hand-thrown ordnance explode over their heads instead of landing on terra firma.