A Day In The Life Of:
A Helicopter Door Gunner of the 17Oth Assault Helicopter Company...
Dennis Kunkel


170th Door Gunner...

Dennis Kunkel

1970 - SP4 Dennis Kunkel
2003 - 170th Mini Reunion
Reno, NV

To start this out, the first time I started to pay any attention to aircraft was when I was about ten years old. My Dad took me to an airshow. The Blue Angels were there and I thought how great it would be to be in aviation. The first time I saw a huey was at this show, and it was a "C" model that was on the static line.

After going into the Army, I signed up to be a C/E (Crew Chief), and went to school at Fort Eustis, Virginia. In May of 1970 I got my orders to Vietnam. When I arrived at the 52nd Battalion in Pleiku they assigned me to the 170th, which at the time was in Kontum. It took two days to catch a flight to the 170th, this was quite interesting as the flight that finally got me to Kontum was a "C" model (Buccaneer gunship) Huey.

After arriving at the 170th and going to company headquarters they asked me what my MOS was, I told them I trained as a C/E. At that point I was told there was no slots opened for crew chief, but they were in need of a gunner, so at that point I became a gunner for the first lift platoon (Bikini Blues).

After a few days of getting nomex (fire retardant flight suit) and a flight helmet I was assigned to my first crew. We flew "ash and trash," which I could never figure out why they called it that as we where doing resupply to our troops that where on the ground. We never knew for sure if the LZ's were going to be hot or not until we arrived at the A/O.

After flying with the 170th for about a week, the reality set in real fast on what we were all about and how important the four people on the slick were to each other, we were a team.

The one day that has always stayed in my mind so clearly was a FOB mission.

We got up a little before sunrise and checked the mission board for that day to see who would go into the hole (the "hole" was a drop off point for the ground troops) that day. I recall our crew was to be number 2 that day. After meeting at the aircraft and getting everything squared away it was just about daybreak. We left the beach (Bikini Beach at Kontum) and flew over to the special forces camp, where they set us up with ropes and ladders. Due to the operation in triple canopy jungle, it was necessary to extract troops on slings/ropes/strings and/or ladders.

After rigging the aircraft with the ropes and ladders, we would leave for Dak To. We staged out of Dak To as this was in close proximity to the area which the Special Force people operated. Waiting to see if the mission was a "go". Within a hour the word came to saddle up. We where in the air again heading for a different country only this time we were accompanied by four (4) Pink Panthers. The Pink Panthers were Cobra equipped gunships.

After arriving in the A/O (Area of Operation), it was a real tight hole. But, went well and very quiet which made us all wonder why. After putting the SOG troops on the ground we went back to Dak To.

We landed and refueled. It was about 10:30 A.M. or so, then the call came that the SOG Force was in contact and on the run! Now, we where on hold, what next?

It wasn't long before we were in the air again as there was an extraction to be done, pulling the SOG troops out. The SOG Force was on the run and out numbered by NVA (hard-core North Vietnamese Army troops). Arriving at the A/O we waited for the Panthers as they had to rearm. After the Pink Panters got to the A/O they prepped the A/O, (laid down suppressive fire). Our first crew went in and couldn't get to the hole because the ground fire was so heavy. At this point the SOG Force was on the run again, and heading for another place so we could try for another extraction.

One thing we were very aware of was we where losing daylight fast! The next call we got was from the SOG Force that they had shaken the NVA but could not make it to the selected extraction site which meant they would have to be pulled out on 300 foot strings!

And this would be our last chance!

Our first crew went in and dropped their strings and were able to pull four people out under the influence of heavy small arms fire from the enemy.

Next it was our turn. I remember our A/C turning and saying, "We don't have to do this it's up to you guys." I would have to say there probably was a short period of silence--not 10 seconds long--then one by one we all said, "These are our guys on the ground let's get them out!"

So we skimmed the tree tops at about 120 plus knots! Crew Chief and Gunner repeatedly, echoing, "You're clear left, you're clear right! Our A/C (Aircraft Commander) says, "I have a visual, and flares (decelerates). Hovering, we give the pilot directions until they are directly under us. Then one at a time the ropes go out, trying to hit them on the head.:-) We have four on the strings. It is our job GIB (guys in back, crew chief and gunner) to guide the pilot/aircraft until we are clear of the triple canopy growth of the jungle.
The next two crews make it in and get the rest of the SOG Forces out.

By the time we got back to Dak To it was dark. This return flight was a long one because when you have four people on 300 foot ropes our aircraft can't fly over 60 knots.

A few footnotes to this day:
There was only one wounded on the ground and he wasn't serious.
It isn't said much, but our maintenance crews were the ones that kept us in the air so we could do the job that needed to be done for the ground forces we supported.

I will always be proud to say I was part of the 170th AHC.
We all should be proud and hold our heads high.

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