Written 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 Operation Operational Detachment-Delta, “The Delta Force.”
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.
Chief Warrant Officer-4 Greg “Gravy” Coker is a Texan, a fiercely patriotic, devoutly Christian, and venerable brother of man. He’s upbeat, loud, and laughs at his own jokes louder than anyone else in a room. It seemed so fitting and only a matter of time that he entered the military as a younger man to lend his hand in the preservation efforts of a great nation.
Like a few others during his career, he felt compelled to push himself to the pinnacle of his craft. Greg Coker’s area of acceleration was in flight. After a brief tenure with the infantry, he became a rotor-wing pilot then excelled his way into the vaunted 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) The Night Stalkers — say no more!
For Tier-One special operators to hear mention of the Night Stalkers in mission planning is to breathe out a sigh of relief knowing that the ride to and from the objective was going to be the very best it could be. It also meant that fire support from the air would rain down like jackhammers with all the accuracy that earned its kind the name “surgical precision”. That was Greg Coker’s role; Greg flew close air fire support from an AH-6J Little Bird Attack Helicopter (AH).
Where Greg grew up in Texas, rodeo bull riding was a staple sporting event in the community; its best riders were highly revered. Calf roping, an event that Greg himself took part in, held an eight-second standard for a good solid cycle of the event; that is, chasing a fleeing calf from horseback, throwing a rope noose around its back legs, and tying it up securely. All of that had to be accomplished in eight seconds or less to receive proper recognition.
Eight seconds seems like a rather short time for all of that to happen at a rodeo; doesn’t seem like enough time for much more than that feat to take place. Chief Greg Coker came to learn just how much more could fit into an eight-second window of time while flying combat support over the hotly contested Iraqi city of Amarah in March of 2014. In short, it took only eight seconds for an enemy combatant to launch a shoulder-fired Surface-to-Air-Missile (SAM) at Greg’s helo, striking it and forcing him to perform an autorotation maneuver to a hard and fiery impact with the ground.
In CWO4 Greg “Gravy” Coker’s own words:
I can remember the hair standing up on the back of my neck as we entered the area; it was a bad place with several hundred Al Qaeda (AQ) and Foreign Fighters. There had been seven helicopters shot down in this area, The Devils Triangle, over the past two weeks and no one had survived. The Devils Triangle was named when helicopters started to get shot down by an unknown MANPAD system. The “Triangle” was Fallujah, west to Ramadi, and south to Amarah, in this Triangle was some of the toughest fighting since WW2, it was the wild west.
We got the call from the Delta Troop Commander that the convoy would roll out in one minute and all of us were ready. It was daytime and everyone was exposed in the open and getting antsy to get the hell out of there. I was flying low and fast and had just swooped the lead vehicle giving them a thumbs up and started a climbing-right turn when I heard a loud explosion and the engine quit, I was about 165 feet above the ground.
An SA-16, shoulder-fired, surface-to-air heat-seeking missile, slammed into my engine. My copilot saw a white-hot rod about three meters long go by my right shoulder and fragments hitting me in the face, it was the rocket motor. You read stories or talk to people that have been in a traumatic event and they all say the same thing: time stops and everything is slow motion, every action or thought is frame by frame and I have a vivid memory of my event, I have lived it every day for 15 years. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
I immediately started an autorotation at 65 knots hoping to get the helo on the ground safely, at the moment, I felt like Neil Armstrong landing the lunar module on the moon — you only have one shot. I remember thinking… ‘I wish the engine-out alarm would stop!’ The weather was clear skies, 80 degrees, winds out of the north at 20 knots. I smoothly lowered the collective, pushed on the right pedal for trim, checked rotor, checked radar altimeter, repeated.
The MD-530 (AH-6) series helo falls like a rock during an autorotation. Some refer it to a greased crowbar. In this desert environment, there is nothing to judge your height above the earth so you rely on the radar altimeter and experience to get you feet above the ground. During my slow-motion scan the rotor was high, 105.6, I increased collective to bring the rotor within limits so the rotor head would not separate from the helo.
Rotor 101, altitude 75 feet, I started my decelerate just as Uncle Fred had taught me. I also told myself I wanted to limit my ground run after landing, I had no idea what the ground looked like. The radios were screaming and I continued to focus on the task at hand. I conducted an aggressive deceleration in order to bleed off some ground speed and not fall out of the sky vertically. The rotor is good, 20 feet, I leveled the helo, aggressively increased collective about halfway, waited a moment and pulled the rest of my collective to “cushion” our landing. Touchdown, it was smooth.
Two of the ground force operators had seen the missile shot and immediately started to suppress the building with machine-gun fire. The ground force saw the missile hit me and radioed that a Little Bird was going down. I touched down safely and slid about 30 meters when the skids stuck in soft dirt and the aircraft rolled end over end multiple times, the helo was on fire and came to rest inverted. Mr. Murphy always raises his ugly head. God bless Mr. Howard Hughes for designing a great helicopter.
I came to, hanging there, thinking: ‘where did the popcorn come from?’ I said a quick prayer and thanked God for sparing me, and checked myself for injuries and then checked my copilot. I told him to get his M4 rifle and meet me at the Three o’clock position of the helo about 50 meters. I could hear ammo cooking off in the fire and told him to hurry up; I was concerned about the 17-pound rockets that were on board.
My first thought was to get out and secure the area because I knew the enemy would try to rush the aircraft; a little black helicopter had been shot down and we were a minimum force. A thought of my little girls washed over me as I asked God to take care of them if things went bad. I grabbed my rifle and crawled out of the helo to set up a defensive posture.
Stay tuned for part 2.
By Almighty God and with honor,
P.S., Dedication for this work goes to Mrs. Edie Coker.