by Bill Shelton
Our unit was the "back door" launch/recovery site for SOG Ops. We used 56th SOW assets, fragged to us daily from 7/13th AF. The package consisted of 2 FACs from 23d TASS, 3 H3s (later H53s) from the 21st SOS, and 4 A1s from the 3 sqdns of the 56th). On some of the "troops in contact" emergencies, we used Army and USMC assets that would hear our plight and "wander" into the AO with their gunships.
Targets were assigned to a recon team (RT) by MACSOG, Saigon. A 6km X 6km "no strike" box was put on the center of the target, before the team was inserted. Several days before insert, one of my troops would fly out with the FAC, taking 35mm hand held photos of the route to the target, the target HLZ, and the "planned" route back. The film was developed immediately in our small photo lab, made into slides. The mission FAC and team were briefed as soon as possible. On the day of the insert, one of us would brief the aircrews at 56th, showing the slides, and make final preps. We had even developed a "silent" insert technique, where no radio xmsn took place from take off until the team was on the ground and broke squelch to let the insert A/C know they were OK. Bob, call me on this if my memory is failing... CPT Jay Merz of the 21st SOS flew lead helo on the first of this type insert. I think I was in the FAC, and we were orbiting several miles away from the HLZ. The 21st birds were in and out of the HLZ before I could get back to the actual site.
Once on the ground, teams did their jobs. Our FACs monitored daily, but at night, the teams only had contact via survival radio with the ABCCC birds, or with the BAT CATS. Any of the 23d or 20th TASS FACs who were flying night missions could also monitor and assist the teams. It happened with some regularity. Our teams were almost always outside the range of friendly artillery. so USAF assets were essential in keeping our guys alive, and bringing them home. There were so many acts of bravery on the part of these aircrews, that it would take pages to relate the stories. Jim Henthorn has some of the info, Bob Noe of the Special Operations Association has some, and lots of us have them in our failing memories. (Bob Noe's site contains chrono lists by year of casualties, all services, for SOG missions. As folks like me wander into the site, they send Bob updates. (Very interesting reading.)
On completion of the RT mission, or after they made contact, an exfiltration would be called for. Most were done under fire. Bob can attest to the "intensity" of these. There were no easy ones. After a successful exfil, the RTs were usually brought back to the Hook, for initial debrief. After that, a party ensued. In the Hook bar, the RT members (US only) could quaff a few, and swap stories with the air crews. (The indigenous team members were required by treaty, to remain in the back room. We sent food and drink so they could have their own small celebration of life in a more subdued and dignified manner.) The next a.m., the "Blackbird" C130 would arrive and take the RT back to their home base where they were further debriefed.