RED HORSE WHAT IT WAS LIKE FOR ME AND OTHERS

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RED HORSE WHAT IT WAS LIKE FOR ME AND OTHERS

Postby Wayland Davis on Sat Oct 24, 2009 9:40 pm

RED HORSE WHAT IT WAS LIKE FOR ME AND OTHERS

There is a point in time; whereas, a call to duty is the very thing that alters the status quoi when a new direction is willfully taken, but was not the only one required, and at that moment helps define the engineering largeness for the times. It guarantees sustainability and survivability well into the future and it also helped prove that change for the better was the correct model for meeting the challenges of the Vietnam War. It took that giant step forward necessary for an overdue alignment of a new mission statement supported by detail methods long desired to upgrade skills and training to bring forth a new era of a more professional military United States Air Force Civil Engineers used for combat support in the field with ground forces deployment concurrently that was also gained by a combat mission support plan.
This was both needed and necessary for the enlisted Airman there was no better opportunity than to become self-adjusted to exclusively operating in a climate of prevailing leadership and equally capable of making competent decisions, and the living with the consequences of those actions, which produced remarkable successes that have remained over the courses of decades but were preceded by the engagement of the current Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. This was the template that has endured and the magnitude of acquired tasking has increased to the genesis of monumental proportions for the modern day combat engineer professionals.

Materials, equipment, and in-house design have kept pace with the transition from the jungle warfare environment to one of the desert sand box delivery capabilities with an equally persistent enemy, and added hidden dangers from open-ended opportunity to take advantage of the battle space mobility unencumbered as with line of sight for travels of longer distances, which with the development of roadways has given the enemy additional opportunities for planting IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) causing much injury and death of the troops. It is never nor has there been a war that the troops escape personal danger on the battlefield so it goes without saying that war and death are the misery index that determines the cost to a Nation in lives and treasure. One is not exclusive of the other and it remains open ended.
For us It was the sounding of the base siren that alerts all that there were attacks made on the airbases in Vietnam as the first fired rocket to hit something or the ground causing a sound that was un-mistakenly Russian made but fired by the NVA regulars or the Viet Cong, and the blast from one of those puppies would put the fear of some major hurt on those who were not within the bunker when it hit the ground, either a base building or hooch. Never could get use to the early A. M. hours of 122 mm rockets during the entire tour-of-duty. Though after a while; one learned how to live with it, since being awaken late at night was not for roll call and personal protection was to grab your helmet, flak vest, and take off running for the well beaten path to the nearest sandbagged bunker.

Arriving there in time and hopefully before the next rocket roared in and it too exploded upon impact. For some the duty for emergency response had begun, and there were no longer safe places to shelter. Military responses are entirely necessary and the emergency response teams were the ones preselected to begin the process of base damage assessments and recovery. The intent was to recover as quickly as possible all the capabilities to launch the bases’ friendly forces air power to hit back at the enemy while they were still in the open area of combat operations.

Those that could reach the moderately safety of a bunker sometimes had weird along the way experiences, that was just as amazing to wittiness. One such incident was at Bien Hoa Air Base in 1969, at the RED HORSE barracks compound. A second floor resident in his quickness to protect himself ran out the second floor doorway through the guardrail and stylishly he drifted in open air downward to the ground level without skipping any imaginary steps. He was not injured and made it to the bunker along with the others doing it the normal way by descending the exterior stairs. The improvised bunkers were made of sandbagged 55 gal. Drums, wooden plywood designed heavy timber bunkers, or shipping containers called conex boxes. Few were the old standard the “fox hole.” Regardless, they all were an outer shell of protection between the troops and an exploding rocket or not. The drums filled with sand placed around the hooch’s exterior walls saved many occupants from possible injury or perhaps even death. Sometimes the drums were the missile that caused injury on the impact of a too close 122 rocket.

The security forces and the augmenters’ would be already posted or were quickly dispatched to the perimeter in cases of a breach in the fences usually reinforced and protected with concertina wire, trip flares, and claymores. The response level to an actual attack and a breach of the air bases were determined by the command post, and the appropriate response orders were given to the troops if there were any intruders. Predetermination’s made for the friendly forces that were responsible for the corrective action responses taken were critical for any and all abatement. In some case at bases like Phu Cat Air Base the South Koreans kept the surrounding area clear of the enemy. Of Course, it being a free fire zone and on the one occasion in 1967, that an intruder was killed, and his body was dumped on the courtyard of the village Mayor it helped to get the message across to the locals. The Koreans were worthy of every ounce of consideration as our protectors.

However, while stationed at Bien Hoa Air Base in 1969, the selected 25 members of the 823d RED HORSE Sq were sequestered in a squadron dormitory near the armory for a possible posting on the “Hawk Hill” perimeter fence line of the compound to defend the air base against any potential penetration in our sector. It was a grueling event for the long wait not knowing “if or when” we would be called to help defend Bien Hoa against any eventual enemy attack known perhaps to occur during the late hours of darkness. The enemy was massing to the south-east of the air base and a lone church steeple that had played a role in the 1968 TET Offensive would once again become useful to the enemy as a lookout tower for spotters. But during this attack it would serve the enemy for one last time.

The enemy used hardened bunkers located within the village of Bien Hoa, but a short distance from the air base they were no match for the air power directed at them in the early morning hours. The enemy’s decision not to attack the large American military air Base, Bien Hoa, on which operated the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing was a fatal flaw mistake. The enemy decided to instead attack the Long Bhin Army Logistical Support Post, which they thought was a softer target, and also had just recently deployed the combat troops from there just days before. The ground and air battle had soon begun and since they no longer had any designs on the Bien Hoa Air Base the 25 member fire team of the 823d troops was allowed to stand down.

It was a sigh of relief since we would have only had 100 rounds for each person for the M-16, and being individually posted on the far side west of the perimeter spaced 50 feet apart not knowing “when or if” we would be resupplied. It makes one wonder if triggered on automatic fire power that would take a very few seconds then having no ammo. Was this some plan…we were good but not that good with only single fire mode to make our ammo last. Another sigh of relief came from me as I got to witness the air battle while it was happening in real time, and the planes from as far away as Cam Rhan Bay were called in to target the NVA and Viet Cong determined to take the huge Army Post. They fought on most of the early morning and until past noon when all the bombing destruction had rained down on the unequipped and desperate enemy troops.

Out of supplies, food, and water they had been promised all that when they took the Army Post but the support troops remaining on the Army Post had other ideas about that, and they fought a better fight in the defense of the Post and for themselves. The enemy was pummeled into surrendering and of course, I was stationed upon the dormitory roof albeit a witness to it all. It was much better than being posted on the trash dump side of “Hawk Hill” guarding a fence line early on being out of ammo and luck. I looked forward to getting back to placing concrete on the “Wonder Arch” shelter project after that SNAFU was over. I had a much better handle on that task. After lunch we were right back at it, but the war continued also so did the rocket attacks, but they were less frequent and fewer in numbers.
We were fortunate not to have had anyone killed or injured that 1968-69 year of duty with the 823d RED HORSE so the duties of construction normally continued at a steady pace and it turned out to be a most successful tour-of-duty while serving in Vietnam.

Earlier in 1967, the most interesting of duty for me was at Phu Cat Air Base; whereas, it required being the team leader of the runway BAK-12 barrier maintenance crew. I had previous experience on the runway barrier system in 1964, while at Tainan and CCK Air Bases, in Taiwan. The 819th at Phu Cat was installing the BAK-12 for the opening of the new base runway for the use of the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing to be stationed at the new air base built by the 819th RED HORSE, and the contractor RMK-BRJ. Usually, a mason specialist wouldn’t do such duties as catching aircraft, damaged or with mechanical problems, but you used the best people and the most knowledgeable persons to accomplish the mission. I came in at the time I was needed most to train, maintain, and operate the runway barrier. Power Production was the appropriate shop, but had no one trained or had capable training back then so it was the team selection that I chose men that I knew or could learn quickly that system. Of Course, my choice was from the structural section, a combination of power pro, and one sergeant from the flight line pneumatic shop. All total five sergeants and me.

We set up shop on the flight line next to the fire department, and broke down the team into two three men teams for twenty four hour coverage. We were responsible for the recovery of combat jet aircraft of the F-100 and the F-4’s flying the missions over the North and South Vietnam. We became a capable and reliable safety net for the fighting 37th TFW and drop-ins on occasions when they were battle damaged or having problems that required a safe landing, and they had chosen the best team and the place to “getta-err-done.” Heavy rainy-pitch black-nights, and a damaged aircraft and pilot drops from the sky onto the runway and expects someone to be there, and a cable stretched tightly across the runway that a deployed tail hook could pick-up, and the next thing happens, the B-52 breaking system guides both the aircraft and pilot to a gentle control stop. Rain soaked or not the team was there armed with the expertise to allow another warrior to reach the safety of home-base. A quick disconnect and the barrier was re-set to snag another potential accident without functional equipment and the competent team on guard to maintain and operate it.

This was surely a controlled recovery of combat pilots and their aircraft back at home station if they made it back at all and the pilots were generous enough to let us know that they were glad for us being there for them when the alternatives are not as pleasant. We felt that this duty was directly contributing to the war mission and the responsibilities greatest since life and property hung in the balance. The aircraft sometimes were fuel heavy and came in hot The initial team as of November 1967 had a perfect record of no minor incidents or failure to catch any aircraft pilot that engaged the cable, either on an approach end landing or rollout engagement.

During the activation of the new air base and the basing of the 37th TFW, our mix-matched crew never failed in our personal duties nor were our saves nothing but extraordinary we even had the opportunity to hook onto a future Medal of Honor Recipient flying a F-100 Saber Jet for the 37th TFW during the era. He later was shot down and captured put in prison for seven and one-half years. Only to be returned in 1975 with other released POWs. It was in my opinion a rare opportunity to have been capable of participating in a task reaching well beyond the norm. What were the odds for an E-5 structural career Airman? It did add another layer of experience to my lengthy résumé but without any other end-of-tour recognition. I knew I had earned more than that. The personal rewards were much greater with the knowing that we were directly engaged in flight operations, and did a continuous and superb job after all. The story line continues.

Service in Vietnam was the gift that kept on giving…a natural lifetime of duty to country it had always seemed like that while chewing on the fatback of military exploitation with an unlikely expectation that it would end well since millions had served and 58,000 died to make it so, but it didn’t turnout as well as we whom served had desired. Doing your personal best at keeping busy and not at all that sure of the hand being played in the theater-of-operations so I had to give it just one more chance to right itself. I had to leave Vietnam in 1969. I chose to return to Taiwan for an eighteen month tour awaiting the opportunity to get back in the fray but that didn’t happen until mid-1970. Tapped for a mission for the 314th Tactical Airlift Wing stationed at CCK Air Base, I was sent in-country to secure materials for the Vice-Wing Commander’s project. It was for only a week’s time but being on the ground felt like a homecoming with the familiar feel and rush of excitement it too had remained. From Saigon, I caught a flight to Tuy Hoa Air Base and preceded on to complete the mission assignment. It was as if the promise of a return was fresh still on my mind. I knew that most American troops were being pulled out of Vietnam and the 820th RED HORSE had left the Tuy Hoa base and being reassigned to CONUS. I took advantage of that situation locating the items I’d been sent to procure, and then I called for a C-130 airlift from ALCC in Saigon to come and pick me up and I would fly back to Taiwan. A short time being on the ground but for sure I knew that in the future “someway or somehow” I’d get to return to Vietnam as I had been very successful the other times. I looked forward to a return to Vietnam but it would be harder this time.

Rounding out the Vietnam experience led me in 1971 having to spend a six month stent with SAC, stationed at Whiteman AFB, Missouri, but already underway was a coordinated effort for my return to Vietnam. I was just about the most settled Airman ever, for I had adjusted well to the climate, pressures of being in the combat zone, and had completed some sizable and diverse tasking. It was a rich target environment for a career E-6 NCO to broaden his background and perform duties found nowhere else but in Vietnam. I would get that last chance by July 1971. While other RED HORSE and Civil Engineers’ personnel were leaving Vietnam, I prepared for my return back to there.

I left Whiteman AFB on a high note leaving behind a better situation than I’d found. I received highest of praises and recognition than at any other time in my career. SAC command hadn’t experienced the likes of a RED HORSE trained supervisor, and PACAF mission orientated NCO having the diverse experience necessary to succeed in any position. I had gotten a visit by the Wing Commander and Base level dignitaries’ with a surprise visit to the Carpenter Shop where I was the Shop Foreman. Call it a Commanders’ Call just for me. The commander was impressed by the quick turn-around of a shop that previously had a sub-standard ORI inspection rating and the repeat as now being rated excellent. I couldn’t disagree but all that was required was persistent leadership and attention to detail, but also a boot now and then for those who saw things differently. Soon the morale was high and employees more productive. The military troops came around quicker, but it took a little longer for the “old-timer” civilians.

I had made my mark while in SAC, and the image I’d left behind was worthy of a squadron party held for me, and the support finally of the civilians and troops alike. I was surprised at receiving a Commendation Medal for my short-term effort. That made two medals I’d received upon my arrival at Da Nang AB, Vietnam in 1971. It set the tone for my continued service in Vietnam, and as Superintendent, Structures an opportunity to excel and make good on the extra effort to get me back in-country. The pace had quickened and the drawdown of the troops keeps a steady job for structures. The 554th RED HORSE was stationed in Camp Swampy, but I had no inkling that I’d join them in 1972. Presently, I had all the duty and responsibilities of the Superintendent’s position.

Then came the day when the Chief, Operations opened my office door, sits down, and began to explain a problem he’d hoped I could help him with. He needed a new team leader for the squadron’s mission for BDRT, Bomb Damage Repair Team at Da Nang Airfield. The airfield’s section (equipment/pavements) supervisor could no longer perform his duties in that area. A replacement was critically necessary and quickly required as the base was nightly being hit by 122 mm rockets and the airfield needed fast recovery action. I replied negative on the offer but before the chief left I’d had a change of mind and accepted. Never had I responded to emergency responses while in Vietnam so I too felt the urgency to do this thing but with a caveat, I’d pick my own team members and have total control when arriving at a crater site during a response action. The chief agreed.

I asked for volunteers from structures and got the pick of eleven other troops. No problems were encountered in the personnel selection. So we stood-up for duty for repairing craters caused by the 122mm rockets. We soon realized the need for a change. Da Nang AB was called “Rocket City” for a reason the other team we’d replaced had had enough of the pressures of the duties they performed. I tried to remain focused and keep the troops busy at the crater sites and their mind off the inherent danger, which the task implied. We kept on task and the work busy until the completion of all duties while at times rockets continued to explode onto the airbase. Discipline and professionalism were the traits we selected for the job and I’d chosen the correct troops for these dangerous conditions. The airplane pilot warriors needed a crater free airfield and it was our duty to allow that. From arrival, crater repairs, and clean-up times we had little time for thinking about the conditions we were working in. I usually held back and supervised keeping my eyes on the sky and the airfield pavement. It turned out that eyeballing paid off when a transit pilot in a C-141 decided to depart the airbase and reaching the takeoff point entered upon the closed airfield and without lights he rived up the engines and started his rollout down the runway. The same one we were on making a crater repair but the aircraft was at 7,000 feet downwind. I first heard the engine sound above the noise we were making ourselves. I then suspected that a plane was attempting a takeoff on a closed runway.

The crew was at risk of being run over. I had to react fast and get everything off the runway. Jumping in quickly the BDRT crew had no way of knowing what was happening, but I got their attention and ordered them to immediately clear the runway. Without discussion they followed orders and cleared the pavement as the hot air blast of a C-141 reached airlift speed and buzzed lowly over our position. The smell of raw fuel and hot air from the engines remained staged for a while but so did we, and I headed for Base Operations for a heated discussion. The aircraft pilot made the decision to leave Da Nang and he did. Escaping the rockets and luckily my crew and equipment, not to mention the crater we were busy making repairs. Hanging back and watching had given us a margin of time to abandon the airfield and time enough to be safely off. We continued with our repairs made and then returned to the compound. Never again would we talk about the event or the dangers of the duties.

There was a bomb threat made on the carpenter shop and searching of the building there was found no such explosives. Things were unsettled on Da Nang AB, and the attacks persisted with greater intensity but later the damage to our compound was the real proof for a hasty made decision a defining factor by taking the job of BDRT leader. It was a good choice for me, and it proved that you can try and avoid death but something could alter that circumstance if the choices, which were made, took you far away from the point of impending destruction and a resulting 122mm rocket direct hit and explosion did only damage to property. I happened to be on the airfield that night when the VC fired rockets just as they ended the last one hit in the compound. It landed on a shop attached room that was my personal living quarters. Returning to the compound the smoke was still raising high in the air no longer was there a room with a roof. I stood back and looked at what might have been, and would have kissed (well maybe not) perhaps given a case of beer to the supervisor that had his own reasons from stress by being unable to continue with the BDRT duty at Da Nang AB.

It still didn’t get to me but my time had run out and a contractor arrived to take over the squadron duties and in July 1972, I said goodbye to the remaining troops, packed up and dragged my duffel bag to base operations, and for the last time left the combat zone, I’d first served in 1966. The war was headed for Thailand and so was I, but this time after three months serving at Udorn, Thailand, I applied for the 554th RED HORSE in October 1972. That led to serving at Takhli, NKP, and finally in 1973 reassigned to Osan Air Base, South Korea where I remained the years to October 1980 then departed. I began this adventure as an E-5 and was promoted to E-9 while in South Korea on 01 January 1980.

A bigger chunk of my life had been isolated from the American experience like most careers have encountered but mine took a different path and it rounded out with a remarkable effort working alongside the most dedicated Officers, NCOs, and Airman of our Air Force. I had met most of them in the trenches of the combat zone, worked in and on buildings, stood guard duty, sweated alongside the Nationals, and it continued on in Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, and finally Germany. Every generation gets to live their life to the fullest… eventful or uneventful it just so happened I lived mine on the edge with no regrets or remorse. Fully enjoyed all the challenges and successes that were many but good times and events reset and there are many others now out there that can top any of this…so I say charge on, keep safe, and grow old with your own memories but share them with family as these were just a few shared of mine.
Ret. USAF CMSGT Wayland B, Davis October 24, 2009
Wayland Davis
 
Posts: 140
Joined: Wed Aug 31, 2005 7:17 pm
Location: Freeport, FL

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