A Day In The Life Of:
A Commander of the 17Oth Assault Helicopter Company...
Major Jessie E. Stewart

In order to discuss a day in the life of a commander of the above unit it is necessary to provide some background information.
Assault Helicopter companies were organized in such a way so as to be nearly a self-supporting unit.

They were organized with a company headquarters (one command and control helicopter), two utility helicopter platoons of 11 helicopters each, and a gunship (attack helicopter) platoon of 8 helicopters.

A direct support maintenance platoon, a signal platoon, and a medical detachment were part of the Tables of Organization and Equipment, and assigned to the assault helicopter company.

This organization fit rather nicely as a direct support helicopter unit for an infantry battalion.

The 170 AHC was at one time or another assigned various missions. It was assigned the mission of direct support of U. S. Army Infantry Divisions and further assigned down to a brigade. Another mission was with U.S. Special Forces. When I took command from Major Jack Doyle, the 170 AHC had just completed several months in support of Long Range Recon Patrols with U.S. Army Special Forces. These OMEGA missions were for the most part conducted within the geographical boundaries of South Viet Nam. Additionally, the 170th AHC could be and was assigned in support of Special Operations Group missions which were clandestine missions outside the borders of South Viet Nam. The 170th AHC was also assigned the mission of general support for all of II Corps. It was also assigned missions outside the II Corps area of operations such as support of the Republic of Korea Infantry Divisions, and other missions, which I am sure I failed to include.

Most of the combat assaults I personally led were in support of the 4th Infantry Division. I am going to briefly cover one of these missions. It should be noted that support of the Infantry Divisions required the conduct of combat assaults on a daily basis, and frequently required several combat assaults occurring simultaneously. It was imperative that I have others in the unit who could serve as the air mission commander because it was physically impossible to command all assaults. My rule of thumb was to personally command assaults when lifting more than two infantry companies. The operations officer could command assaults lifting up to two companies. Platoon commanders could command assaults lifting up to one company. However, after we became more and more experienced in heavy combat at Dak To, some CWO's became outstanding Air Mission Commanders. That is to say the rule of thumb was a guide and nothing more. Captains Carter, Ford, Patterson, Ray, Kiayuna, and WO2 Beatty and others could do anything I could do. I believe that on balance the 170th AHC conducted the best combat assaults of any unit in Viet Nam. The unit logged more than 17,000 flying hours in one year, which I think was a record.

In an ideal situation, on a typical day a warning order would come into company operations alerting us to a battalion sized combat assault scheduled for the next day. Contact was made with the Air Mobile Task Force Commander AMFT (battalion commander) and a time and place designated for a meeting. This was usually at the fire base of the battalion. Accompanied by the company operations officer I would fly to the fire base. We reported to the battalion commander and went over the essentials of the mission, following basically the five paragraph operations order format. If possible we would perform a recon of the pick-up zone and the landing zone. After coordinating pick up times, artillery locations, route of flight, airstrikes, refueling, rearming and other actions, I returned to Camp Holloway to brief the 170th AHC on the mission.

At first light the next day we returned to the fire base, picked up the infantry battalion commander, his artillery forward observer and any one else essential to the operation. Sometimes as many as two dozen Air Force fighter bomber strikes were placed on the landing zone which required some time. Sometimes a B-52 bomber strike (ARC LITE) was placed on the target. With rare exceptions and only with a heavy team of Buc's would I go in cold and then not in a hot LZ. On schedule we lifted the infantry from the pick up zone and proceeded to the landing zone. The forward observer coordinated an artillery preparation to neutralize the target as previously determined while the force was enroute. As the first lift helicopters approached the threshold of the LZ, the supporting gunships began to place selected fire on the target. The artillery was shifted or lifted entering the threshold of the LZ and the lift aircraft effected their touchdown or hover and deposited the first wave covered by the gunships guns. When the first Hueys were pulling pitch to depart, the following slicks were entering the final few feet for landing. If the artillery was shifted over ten seconds before the slicks arrived we were a little ragged that day. The landing and take off sequence in the LZ was like a dance - a rocking chair motion. Rocking in and out in perfect rhythm and coordination. Rock back a little to land and rock forward to lift off. Nobody could do it like the 170th AHC. To the untrained eye they were going to land on each other. However, this precision put the maximum number of troops on the ground in the shortest period of time.

When the LZ was secured we would go over the mission with the battalion commander while the CH-47's brought in the heavy loads. I would return to Camp Holloway to take care of administrative and support matters and start the cycle all over again. The gunships remained on station or on standby as needed.

When the 52nd AHB (Flying Dragons) provided the Air Mission Commander with to control a brigade sized operation requiring multiple AHC's I or another AHC commander would be designated flight leader. This did not often occur because lifts were usually no larger than an infantry battalion. One time when were were supporting the Koreans we arrived in the pick up zone along with 25 gunships, 54 slicks, and a dozen CH-47's going into a ring of multiple landing zones. The Koreans trusted no one. I didn't know where we were going until the commander crawled into the aircraft and showed me on the map.

The war entered a new phase with the battle of Dak To. It wasn't the same war after and that and it only got worse. I studied the Vietnam War as an elective when I attended the Army War College. We had a lot of high powered speakers come tell us all about it and the why's and wherefores about the war. I have had some contact with General Westmoreland in Charleston who feels very strongly that our national objectives were met and I agree with him.

Final thoughts: We did our job in the best traditions of aviation and, of all other wars with style and finesse. No one man ever quit. One fellow was hit in the shoulder while at 5,000 feet by "one shot Charlie" and he considered quitting but didn't. Now that the smoke has all cleared we sit as king of the mountain and the communist countries are sucking wind. I ask you who won what.

Colonel Jessie E. Stewart, U.S. Army (Retired)

A few Interesting Web Links:
US Army War College , General Westmoreland - A Look Back

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