As a combat infantry platoon leader with A Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), I was in country at the height of the Vietnam War from 1968-69. The Air Cav was famous for implementing the airmobile concept, bringing fresh fighting forces to the battlefield by helicopter rather than humping through the boonies. It was a formidable strategy, and we were fortunate to be able to carry lighter packs, more ammo, and water than many other line divisions. Our AO (area of operation) was I Corps, with the Gulf of Tonkin in the East, parallel to the DMZ and the Laotian border on the West. Near the beach, the terrain was rolling hills and sandy soil with no overhead cover. Near the Laotian border, the terrain became mountainous, three-canopy jungle.
My company made lots of Charlie Alphas (helicopter combat assaults), sometimes twice a day. By my calculation, I made more than 50 CAs during my seven months in the field, including assaults while assigned as the QRF platoon (quick reaction force), where we spent the entire day at the landing strip preparing to attack any enemy unit that might be spotted.
Prepping the LZ
Every assault followed what was to become a familiar pattern. While I appreciated the only opportunity I ever got to cool off, flying in the first bird when it was my platoon’s turn to lead the assault always raised my pucker factor. At about 5 minutes out from the LZ, each man checked his weapon and fired a short burst out the door to make sure it was ready to go. Kneeling between the pilots, I could see the 105-artillery barrage hitting the LZ and raising my comfort level just a little bit. A Willie Peter round (white phosphorous) signaled the end of the barrage, and two Cobra helicopters supporting our assault dipped their noses and darted in, spraying the perimeter with rockets and miniguns. I loved those Cobras. They were always a lifesaver as long as they could see my front-line smoke and knew the direction I wanted them to strafe. Finally, as my first bird pulled pitch and started to land, the door gunners opened up on both sides, spraying the surrounding brush, hopefully keeping any enemy heads that survived the barrage from bobbing up.