(You can read part I here).
“If God is for us then who can be against us?”
Their course finally brought them into favorable tailwinds. Though they were able to throttle back a little Chief had them still press strongly above cruising speed to bank a little extra time on the objective if needed — a simple but brilliant call on Greg’s part.
The gunships flew the same route ahead of the assault force to recon it for safety. It was peaceful for the most part until watchers through the port and starboard sides of Greg’s aircraft started reporting taking fire from the ground — the port was calling it rather often. Chief made his way back to the watcher to see just what it was he was seeing. Greg explained to the zealous watcher that he was seeing only campfires on the sides of the mountains but was conducting a decent vigil nonetheless.
Chief Coker thought of the Delta assault force flying in somewhere back there at his six-o’clock position, and especially of his good friend Leon Hansen, who was there with them to assist with calling support fire on objective Gecko.
Greg broke two of his five gunships loose from formation to pull fire support for the Ranger assault force parachuting onto the airfield at Objective Rhino; Greg’s remaining three ships continued on to Gecko.
Chief put one gunship north and his own ship south of Gecko to cover all ingress and egress. His third gunship was to provide direct fire support to Leon Hansen and the rest of the Delta boys as they assaulted the objective proper. Seconds were ticking down until the entire task force was about to thump the living dogshit out of the targets below — Mullah Muhammad Omar was about to get his whole tent-making business rattled like a Pakistani taxi.
Chief’s finely-tuned combat crew aboard his AC-130 Spectre gunship was high up in altitude and breathing pure oxygen. His ship engaged several targets in the high grounds south of Objective Gecko before he moved up forward to the cockpit to be with his pilot and watch the impending firestorm; one of such magnitude that would make Dresden flinch and say: “Woah!!”
All the Chief’s horses and all the Chief’s men checked it on time and waited to begin. Chief unleashed the scunion of his fighter and bomber fleets. The B-1 Lancers screeched over low and slow and unloaded bulging bomb bays of hate onto the targets below — on time! The B-2 Spirits swept in next tallying and shacking their targets sets.
It was then that two flights of four each B-52 Stratofortress “BUFFs” slipped through the whispy ice crystal layer of high-altitude environs loaded with 103 x MK88 500-pound bombs — probably enough to re-raise the top off of Mount Saint Helen. The air and patience up there in the BUFFs were thin. Finally, the BUFFs belched bodacious bombs from their bellies and the whole world for a few square miles came to a boisterous halt.
The Delta assault force in Chinooks was ten minutes out from Time on Target Gecko. Rangers were lined up and hooked up ready to dump whoop-ass from MC-130 Hercules Combat Talon aircraft. Bombs pounded mercilessly to the east — a feint to draw attention away from Rhino and Gecko — as Chief and the boys continued to hammer targets of opportunity along the assault force’s approach route.
Inside Chalk Four, the Falcon was white-knuckling whatever he could hold onto. His troop was to a man doing the very same. The Chinook was flying a maddening trajectory that none of them had ever experienced. It pitched, yawed, rolled, bumped-up, and dove like a machine possessed. At one point it literally seemed to spin 360 degrees like a frisbee, all trying to avoid anti-aircraft ordnance coming from the ground — horrific!
There were bulging eyes in the helo all looking at the Falcon. Falcon kept his composure, clicked on his radio PTT, and to said something to the effect: “Hey guys… ok, this seems pretty bad but as bad as it might seem we are going all the way in. Just keep your heads together and gut it out. When we get to the ground I’ll be there to help you get out and show you which way to go — ON ME!”
The palpable pressure was relieved from the men a little allowing them to take a full breath again. After the assault, more than one man on Chalk-4 assured the Falcon that if he had not offered out those words of encouragement they might have snapped. Those were the more junior men of Falcon’s troop, but even the junior men in Delta are seasoned beyond the norm for Special Operations pipe-hitters.
And the Falcon tended silently to the matter of holding his own sanity.
On the periphery Chief’s Strike Eagles, Fighting Falcons, Hornets, Tornados, and Harriers all ruthlessly Tom-thumped their designated target sets, all on time and on target. I could do no greater justice to the moment than CWO Greg “Gravy” Coker’s own words:
“It was a sight to behold — my goodness! We dropped three-quarters of a million tons of bombs in 15 minutes.”
The Chinook assault force reported their position at the designated five minutes out from touch down. The supporting fighter/bomber air armada cleared out while Gravy and the crews kept pounding targets of opportunity along with the helo approach. Gravy said a quick prayer for the assault force — Take up the Full Armor of God, EPH 6:10-17; they were scarcely one minute out from touch down.
Greg’s AC-130 orbiting south of Gecko began to take fire from an S-60 anti-aircraft battery. He assessed that in fact the rounds coming up at his plane did indeed “look like flaming basketballs — MAN!” It was futile for the battery as the gunship was over 6,000 meters away — out of the range of the S-60. The overall excitement level in the aircraft was ratcheted up a good bit as the port and starboard watchers called in-ground fire directions and the pilot pulled some aggressive maneuvers to avoid fire.
It was, in Greg’s own words, just so surreal. They identified another wicked anti-aircraft battery, a ZSU-23/4, and immediately pounded it into a flaming yard sale. Other armored vehicles and ground personnel were making a bee-line toward Objective Gecko to get into the fight. Chief’s Spectres lit up BMP Armored Personnel Carriers (APC), T-55 Main Battle Tanks (MBT), and dismounted infantry. The scape looked like a junkyard that Godzilla had just barged through and kicked the shit out of.
A hyper Chief Coke worked his control station, intermittently jumping up to dart into the cockpit to check on his pilot buddy Swede. He ran back to his station to control, plot, and bark out strings of instructions through his radio. Noting a five-second lull in action he bolted up and skipped back to the men at the gunner stations to pat them on the back and insist they were doing just a bang-up (no pun) job, then back on station controlling, plotting and barking again.
As planned, supporting preparatory fire was shifted to avoid the assault force’s short and final approach.
“Here they come! Keep your eyeballs peeled boys — this is it!” Chief Greg called over the radio to all concerned.
The final approach was lit up like a New Year’s Eve ball on Time Square. Small arms fire shot up from every direction as the skilled Night Stalkers drove right through it to their objective, flight crews squirting 3,000 rounds per minute from their miniguns at their adversary below.
At the 30-second mark to touchdown Chief cleared the DAP gunships in hot to cover the landing of the assault force. DAPs punched enemy gunners out of towers and buildings with Hellfire missiles, 30-mm chain guns, and 17-lb Hydra-70 rockets. The DAPs laid down original smoke and fire to any pitiful fool on the ground showing up with an AK-47 or an RPG to a DAP fight. The ground was so well-tilled from minigun fire that you could have planed a decent crop of potatoes down there.
The six Chinooks of the assault force had flown 1,000 miles to touch down on a tiny piece of ground within a less than a 30-second window of time accuracy. With that, Call For Fire (CFF) priority was handed off from the airborne force to Delta’s Leon Hansen with the ground assault force. The Night Stalkers had brought their usual nerves of steel with them on the assault as they do with every mission they fly. The two flying spare Chinooks peeled away from the formation to loiter in orbits to the south of Gecko.
But a desert landing (or takeoff) is perilous, even in daylight. There is always the threat of losing all visual reference in a brown-out, where dirt and dust are introduced at 100 MPH to the landing solution, and create what Greg describes as:
“trying to fly with a black Glad trash bag over my head while people are shooting at me.”
(Concluded in part III)
By Almighty God and with honor,