By CWO4 (ret) Greg Coker Task Force 160, Special Operations Aviation Regiment, “The Night Stalkers,” and
Master Sergeant (ret) George Edward Hand IV, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, “The Delta Force.” You can read part I here.
I have been considering writing some of my stories down for quite some time. I prayed about doing this and feel that God approves. I also had a few buddies, outside influence, that told me to write. My argument was always the same, I am no one special, I just did my job, I was just at the right place at the right time… or the wrong time. These are my thoughts, experiences, emotions that I don’t care to share with anyone. I did start a journal on 9-11, it is in my safe. Thanks to Geo and Kyle Lamb for your inspiration. Kyle would say: “Gravy, if it ain’t written, it never happened.” My wife, Edie, has been my biggest support and inspiration. God sure did bless me, I love you.
My right shoulder had been dislocated and every time I tried to stand I would fall down, my right leg was not working. I sat down thinking my leg was broken and did another check, all was good. (In fact, Greg’s C3, L4, and L5 vertebrae had been damaged causing the leg to fail, he had both shoulders dislocated.) I did a quick sweep to check the enemy situation and did not see my copilot.
I attempted to get my ruck out of the cargo area, it had my NVG’s, ammo, water, and grenades but the fire was too intense. The helo was engulfed in fire up to the cockpit and I was worried about my copilot. I crawled back into the cockpit and my copilot was still hanging there upside down in the seat belts.
The fire was at his left arm so I pulled the seat belt latch, he hit the ground and I dragged him out of the aircraft. Later he told me that right after we touched down I had thrown my left arm across his chest to stabilize him, an instinct all parents demonstrate when they fear an impact while driving in a car with a loved-one! Later, my wingman told me it was the purtiest auto(rotation) he had ever seen! Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing!
He was dazed, confused, and had blood all over his face. We were both knocked unconscious and my helmet was cracked where my head impacted the door frame. We sat down so I could check Peter, my co-pilot, his back was hurting and his face was bloodied. I removed his helmet to examine his head and face.
My first thought was he had been wounded then it was the famous cyclic kiss during a little bird crash sequence. The little birds were famous for the seat harness not locking when you crash and smack the cyclic with your grinners. I told Peter to show me his grinners, all there. I told him to stick his tongue out, he thought WTF! Ooooooooooo, he had nearly bit his tongue in half.
The battle was raging 300 meters to our east. I could hear intense gunfire to the southwest and could see my wingman conducting gun runs on the enemy. We set up in a small depression, checked our weapons and ammo and prepared to fight. My wingman flew over and I gave him a thumbs up and he returned the gesture with a middle finger.
We heard a truck. I told Peter that I had potential enemy contact at my 12:00. I saw a fella running towards us and recognized him: beard, cap, dressed like us… my Delta brother Chaz! He ran up to me and threw his arms around me and said they all thought we were dead. I asked him if he had a fire extinguisher, he looked at me, turned me around to see our Little Bird fully engulfed in flames.
Damn, but it made me angry that I had lost my gunship! Chaz asked me what I wanted to do and my reply was to go find that back-shooting’ SOB who shot me down and kill him! He brought the gun truck up with Doc who started to work on our wounds. I told him I was OK but he kept checking us.
Several months later I saw Chaz in the chow hall so we sat and visited. We talked about the day of the shoot-down, him confiding in me that as he came running up to me crash site and us armed and in a defensive posture, he wondered to himself: “Well, how did those two Rangers get here so quick?” Then he realized it was us!
(During my own interview with my friend Chaz about the event, he referred to Greg’s crash site as “the flaming yard sale” a spice of humor I can truly appreciate.)
We loaded up in the truck and prepared for an attack on the building where the missile was fired from. I wanted to see if there was any evidence on the two-story building to confirm or deny. The enemy was everywhere now and Delta’s five gun trucks raced across the desert as we engaged enemy forces. I had one of those “moments” when I looked left and then right, we were on line hauling ass across the desert. All I could think about was the old show Rat Patrol — crazy, right?
Read Next: Eight Seconds: The exclusive account of when a Night Stalker was shot down in Iraq
We stopped just outside the village where two of our trucks got soundly stuck in the sand. We deployed around our vehicles to provide cover while a Delta Pandur vehicle broke contact to maneuver under fire in order to pull us out. Delta Operators jumped out of the Pandur and attached tow straps to yank the stuck vehicles out, all the while under fire. It was surreal.
I was watching a building in front of me when a dude in a black man-dress ran out on the roof with a cell phone and I engaged him with my machine-gun; I am sure he was calling his dirtbag buddies. A few seconds later two more of the enemy were running with an RPG and an AK-47 assault rifle so I engaged them, neutralizing that threat with bitter prejudice.
Ranger Smith manning the dual M-240 machine-guns opened up on targets of opportunity. Once the trucks were ready, we assaulted the building and cleared it looking for any evidence of the missile. We then moved into the town and talked to a few of the males that were lurking in the area. Delta SGM Bob S. was persistent in his interrogation to try and locate the shooter of the Gimlet.
I told the Delta Troop Commander that we needed to go back to the crash site so we could take pictures and make a sketch for the accident investigation team and secure sensitive items. When we arrived at the crash site it had been secured by American forces and there was nothing left of the helo, it had simply burned away.
Once we were satisfied with the condition of the crash site, we loaded up and started our journey back to Ramadi where our base was located. They tried to get theatre dedicated Air Force Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) helo to pick us up but they said it was too risky, I was furious and so was the Ground Force Commander. AFSOC SAR Motto – “So Others May Live” — just not today for the Six-Guns! [Six-Guns refers to the M-134 Miniguns of which the AH-6J carries two; they are rotating-barreled machine-guns with six barrels each.] We loaded on the gun truck and drove out with the ground force.
We engaged in several gun battles fighting our way through Fallujah and Ramadi finally arriving at our base in Ramadi at 2200 hours. The Delta docs were waiting for us and started working on us immediately. One of our 160th Blackhawks picked us up and took us to the hospital and then we were taken by a Medical Evacuation airlift back to the US.
We lived by the motto: ‘Never will I leave a fallen comrade’. Just another day at the office and a pretty exciting one. Live to Fight, Fight to Win, Would Rather die than Quit.”
Surgeons recovered Chief Greg Coker as best as they could through a series of seven surgeries. In the total of Greg’s career, he endured some 36 surgeries implanting 45 pieces of titanium support structure to his skeletal system. Greg made five more combat tours to the Middle Eastern theater of Operations. NEVER in my life have I EVER heard of a pilot shot down who immediately hunted down and terminated his attackers — “L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace!”
The first time Greg told me this story was at my house. I got the longest version there was. Immediately after this story, he went onto another one of how he, being the team barber in his unit, was asked for a light trim by a teammate who was particularly pedantic about his immaculate Elvis-sort of hairdo. Despite the man’s obvious worship of his prized do, Greg gave the man a Ranger high-and-tight buzzcut and handed him a mirror.
When the man saw his scalp he launched up and after the fleeing CWO4 Coker, and at that moment Greg looked at me with a serious look in his eyes and a solemn expression on his face and remarked: “and I tell you, George… I’ve never been so terrified in all my life.”
And I don’t think he ever has been either. Never mind being shot down in a helicopter by a surface-to-air rocket. Both Greg and his copilot were knocked unconscious by the crash but neither reported it, as that would have meant two years grounded from flying by their flight surgeon — no more risking their lives for two whole years.
Greg’s helmet had been cracked by the extreme force of the impact. Greg had his men take the helmet and dispose of it, for the investigating team would have reported that no man could remain conscious from an impact violent enough to split that headgear. Their reward for having survived the crash was an opportunity for the next several hours to gun-fight their way back to the safety of their base at Ramadi.
“And during the mission planning the men heard that The Night Stalkers would be flying them onto the target that night, and there was a great sigh of relief heard in the room, for they knew that they would be shuttled by the very best that the world had to offer, and the airborne fire support would be fast, accurate, and without quarter.”
By Almighty God and with honor,
P.S., Dedication for this work goes to Mrs. Edie Coker.
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