Category Archives: SF History and Lore

This is why there is an AOD in your rig

AOD is an automatic opening device, and these jumpers, who look like beginners at relative work, give theirs the acid test.

Only two of the three jumpers, a base guy and a camera guy, join up. The smiling base guy is by convention supposed to be the one watching altitude, but he doesn’t look at his altimeter as the two struggle to get together. As far as the camera guy goes, you can see his altimeter, first barely in the red arc of the altimeter (you can guess what that means) and then you get a glimpse of it buried in the middle of the red.

These guys come that close to making the sickening sound that no one ever forgets if they’ve heard it once. They are saved because their AODs fire. (Both divers had the Cypres AOD, we think the Cypres 2).

The AOD works by electronically monitoring the speed of the fall versus the altitude. Older models were mechanical and worked off barometric pressure. Early SF freefallers used the Czech made Mikrotechnika KAP-3, an exported version of one designed in Russia. You had to wind it like a watch!

Years ago, skydivers were macho about AODs and didn’t use them; the military made them mandatory decades before skydive businesses started doing it, except with beginners. (At least they did it for beginners, but on some level they know that killing beginners is bad for business).

This double save shows how easy it is to get task saturated with a mission task even when you’re doing something that needs a very large part of your full attention, like falling straight down at 120 miles per hour. The first AODs were brilliant solutions to that problem of task saturation.

It’s not just jumpers that do it… we’d guess that every air force in the world has lost a fighter bomber whose pilot was so target fixated he followed his rounds or bombs on to it. We always wonder about guys who are credited for ramming enemy ships or forts or airplanes with their own plane — was it intentional, kamikaze-style, or did they just get task saturated?

Programmable software creates the opportunity to make AOD-like advances in some other operational areas. Food for thought.

And in the meantime, the Cypres is there to save you, if your forget to save yourself like these two very, very lucky fellows.

Vietnam Combat Jumpers to be Honored

For a long time, their exploits were secret. Some of the leaked out. Some of them got written up. There was never any book-length treatment1, nor any official recognition, beyond well-deserved valor awards for some participants, and

The new commander of US Army Special Forces Command aims to fix that:

army_1star_flagBrigadier General Darsie D. Rogers
Commanding General
1st Special Forces Command (Airborne) (Provisional)
cordially invites you to attend a

Recognition Ceremony
to honor
Members of Operations-35
for their
Actions in Combat during the War in Vietnam

on Friday, the fifth of December
at nine o’clock

John F. Kennedy Auditorium
3004 Ardennes Street, Fort Bragg, North Carolina

There were a number of RT jumps. Some static line, some HALO. There is a chapter in Plaster’s SOG that covers them, but we think John would admit, not completely. Teams we know of that made jumps include:

  • RT Asp
  • RT Auger
  • RT Florida, 11/70 (first HALO)
  • RT Alaska, 5/71
  • RT Wisconsin, 10/71

Some of the combat-jump team leaders included Garrett Robb, Babysan Davidson, RJ Graham, and Billy Waugh.

There were also other units that conducted combat jumps, including Marine Reconnaissance units, but they weren’t part of SOG. Some SF combat jumps were not SOG related (for example, jumps by Mike or Mobile Strike Forces).

Notes

1. There has also been no treatment of the development of HALO, either, and only a few of the developers (Jim Hauck, who welded up the 1st O2 console and was one of the record-jump jumpers of the early 60s, springs to mind) are still with us and available for interviews.  Mil History Grad Students, need a PhD thesis?

WOOT! Form 4’s approved.

This is a Colt 6921 M4LE that we’ve been waiting for… for a while. The ATF cashed the check in February, started counting in March, and last we talked told us to expect approval… by January. If they’d told us in March (or when we talked to them last, in September), “mid-November,” we’d have been bummed out; finding out “mid-November” is the date in mid-November, when you were expecting two more months ahead with no firearm, well,  that’s truly Wootsome.

Worked for us.

We”ve shot the gun with most of this stuff (have never seen the reflex sight, actually), but took it to war with only the KAC Rail Interface System and foregrip, the ACOG, the PEQ-2, the Surefire light, and sometimes the suppressor (also a KAC product). By 2004 or 2005, some of these items had been replaced by new gear. Note the Colt Fiberite stock. 

That’s nine months, including March and November, and indicates things may be speeding up in West-by-God-Virginia, which natives of the state (who seem drawn to infantry and SF the way Bostonians flock to signals intelligence and the judge advocate’s racket) taught us was the proper name of their mountainous home.

It’s a lot of hassle for 1.3″ of Shortness of Barrel, Rifle type, but it gives us something to put the 416 upper on occasionally while its bottom half is still… hors de combat. Maybe a Hartford vs. Oberndorf (or is it Hartford vs. Newington? We’ll have to check the paperwork) shoot-out is in the cards.

But the real purpose of this Colt is to rebuild, as nearly as transferably possible, our Afghanistan war gun from 2002-2003. There’s just one picture of it as deployed. We’re still looking for an old ACOG TA01, but we have most of the other cruft that goes on it, including (and this is just about magical) the actual stock of the actual gun, painstakingly salvaged by a friend from a pile in the trash when newer stocks arrived and instructions on the old ones were, “toss.”

It’s kind of like linking up with an old friend, again, after many years apart.

Yes, AR tech has moved on and we’ll be building a gun that will be quaint and obsolete.

M4 Carbine Improvement Timeline. Click to embiggen.

M4 Carbine Improvement Timeline. Click to embiggen.

But after over 10 years, that M4 is real-live history. (OK: recreated, Hollywood-style genuine-imitation history). Regardless, we’re excited.

Can we get a, “Woot!”?

The 1968 LRRP Conference on Weapons: Vol. II.

Since we knew you were going to ask, here’s the weapons stuff out of Vol. II., which was the Recondo School presentation. But it’s notable that before they discussed weapons, they discussed two more crucial elements — helicopter support (both logistics, in terms of slicks, and fires, in the shape of a Light Fire Team of attack and scout helicopters). But they did get to weapons in due course.

Weapons – The type of enemy positions, type of operation planned and the AO requires a supply of varied weapons. Most of the time a major commander will make weapons available regardless of the MTOE. However. to solve the problem. a weapons pool at the company or detachment headquarters with some of each type of weapon should be created. This would include such items as the M-79 grenade launchers, M-l6 machineguns, silenced pistols and rifles and other special purpose weapons.

OSS_M3A1_grease_silenced

Straightforward enough. We have always struggled agains the Big Green bureaucracy, in our efforts to maintain a pool of foreign and obsolete weapons, as well as other low-density US weapons, for training and operational purposes. Conventional officers, especially logistical types, tend to come from way out on the left tail of the bell curve, and have a really hard time understanding this. They really hate it when sensible preparations for combat interfere with their systems of orderly and regular inventories.

Next, the report addresses the patrol member’s dream date, the CAR-15 (which is very, very rarely called “XM177E2,” its real Army name, in period reports. Of course, some were XM177s and XM177E1s, and others were combat tested with just a Colt model number, or a Colt GX — “Government Experimental” — model number).

The CAR-15 appears to be a popular and desirable weapon and should be available. However, it is questionable as whether every man should have one. Much of its popularity is due to its newness and novelty. The point man and radio operator should have them to reduce the welight they must carry and because of the convenience offered by their shorter length. Sometimes the accuracy at long ranges of the M-16 is needed and the M.16 rarely malfunctions; therefore, it must also be available.

Of course, Colt’s whole production run of CAR-15s was, according to Colt records, 10,000 weapons. Not counting odd lots and rarities like this “GX” model (“Government Experimental,” usually indicating a toolroom prototype).

Colt GX-5857

 

When the Son Tay Raid was standing up, there were none in the Army’s inventory in new condition, so Task Force Ivory Coast acquired a stock of either Air Force or Export guns. The handful of existing Son Tay photographs show that the carbines resemble Colt Model 639/XM177E2 “submachine guns,” but lack the characteristic forward assist.

 

Even though airborne insertions were never used in RVN by Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol or Long Range Patrol teams, the conference concluded it was valuable:

The group was unanimous in desiring airborne qualification. First of all they felt LRP’s had to be considered on an army wide basis and not just on operations Vietnam. They felt units in Europe would be hindered if this capability was taken away. As a bonus the group contended the airborne qualification increases a man’s ability and confidence. It is not that being a jumper is so important: it is the mere fact that a man has proven to himself that he can go through the training and overcome a natural fear, the fear of leaving an aircraft. He has accomplished something that he had probably felt was beyond his capability. He also has learned to pay attention to detail. You have to see a new jumper or a halo jumper check his equipment to see attention to detail.

An LRP team requires this meticulousness in preparing their weapons and equipment, in planning for the patrol, and in intelligence collecting and reporting. In the CIDG program all of the MIKE forces, Mobile Strike Forces and recon units are sent through jump training. The man who is cocky enough to jump out of an airplane will probably be more willing to move into that hole in enemy territory. Some felt the graduation from Recondo School should be a prerequisite for airborne pay but the majority were opposed to this since there are only a limited number of spaces at the Recondo School.

Interesting thoughts. Even today, 46 years later, most of the world’s elite forces undergo parachute training even if they will never, ever make an airborne insertion. And recent events have proven that an airborne insertion is still a useful capability.

The documents are worth the study, if you’re interested in these things. Part I is the conference, 50 pp: LRRP Conference 1968 Part 1.pdf; Part II is a presentation on Recondo School, 10 pp:LRRP Conference 1968 part II Recondo School.pdf.

Courage is not the property of extraordinary men

A Veteran’s Day Message from Col (Ret). Jack Tobin, US Army SF, President, Special Forces Association. 

To all of you on Veterans Day:

At the end of “Band of Brothers”, Major Dick Winters related a story.

The other day my Grandson asked “Grandpa are you a hero”

I said “No but I served with many of them”

I know what Dick Winters meant. Since I arrived at Ft Bragg in 1968, I have been surrounded by heroes, some recognized with medals, some with the quiet respect warriors pay each other. One of my favorite stories came from a man well known in SF circles when the subject of medals came up, “The SOB put me in for the Silver Star, so I decked him.” I personally know several men who went AWOL from hospitals to avoid a Purple Heart that would send them home, and men that extended their tours for they could not leave their friends or the troops.

Emerson (Ralph Waldo, not the Gunfighter) defined a hero “as one who was brave five minutes longer”.

In the A Shau, Duc Lap, the Iraqi Desert, Tora Bora, Helmand Province, from Central and South America to the Philippines, on mountains, in valleys, in small camps at the end of the world, the men of Special Forces have measured their five minutes in hours.  They exemplify the principle that Courage is not the property of extraordinary men, but of average men doing extraordinary deeds. One might say that their deeds made them extraordinary men; they would say, “It was my job”.

Back in May, we quietly saluted our “absent friends.” Veteran’s Day is for those of us that remain to call old friends, gather and sing our songs around the campfires, “our deeds remembered in our flowing cups”. Call an old friend, remember years ago, when you called on whatever radio we had, he was there, and you were damned glad to hear his voice.

Gentlemen I believe that President Reagan addressed Veterans Day much better than I:

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free. This weekend we celebrate the American heroism that has allowed freedom to flourish in the United States of America.

I don’t know why you men allowed me to march with you, but I will die proudly knowing that you did.

Gentlemen, charge your glasses; the moment of silence for “absent friends” is over,

“To the United States of America, and to the brave men of the Special Forces Regiment, who have, are and will proudly serve her”

DOL

Jack Tobin

President, Special Forces Association

Guest Post: Across the Berlin Wall, 1988 | Marty Kufus

YOU ARE LEAVING THE AMERICAN SECTOR …

Twenty-five years ago, on Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall—the hated, lethal Mauer—fell.  The world has never been the same.  A cherished memory from US Army service in the relatively peaceful 1980s is my time on the ground in communist East Berlin.

Having transited the Wall, passing through Checkpoint Charlie on a chartered bus scrutinized by rifle-toting, East German border guards, a few dozen of us GIs soon were strolling around like green-suited tourists in the “economic showplace” of the Warsaw Pact.  The bus had pulled up in front of a large department store at Alexanderplatz. The building had three or four floors of public commerce; above them were that many floors of big, mirrored windows: likely surveillance perches for Soviet KGB or GRU military intelligence or—bottom of the barrel—the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police. The paranoia was delicious.

It was 1988, a time of Nena’s “99 Luftballons,” Falco’s “Der Kommissar,” and my man Ronnie’s  “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Immediately after World War II, under the Four Powers’ Agreement,  the “Allies”—Britain, France, America, and the Soviet Union—carved up war-torn Berlin into four sectors. In the following decades, the US Army encouraged GIs (the better-behaved among us, that is) to visit East Berlin to exercise the right of access. Soviet troops, however, weren’t so privileged. The only Soviets who passed westward through Checkpoint Charlie into the US sector were military, perhaps GRU, officers in little marked cars: the Soviet Military Liaison Mission—the “Smell-um” guys who were followed at a polite distance by our counterintelligence personnel.  (My photo album contains a shot I took from the tiny kaffee shop in the Museum am Checkpoint Charlie: two Soviet officers sitting in their car at the traffic light, necks swiveling to ogle a young, slender, well-dressed woman as she crossed the West Berlin street. Truth is, I was watching her, too.)

I made two half-day treks into East Berlin. It was so cool; if I had had any hair on the back of my clean-shaven neck, it would’ve been standing up the whole time. This was, after all, the Checkpoint Charlie—the cross hairs of the Cold War. Being there was a hoot for this ex-farmboy from Oklahoma!

You see, the crazy thing was that for these East Berlin excursions, we American soldiers by regs wore our class-A uniforms—minus name tags, of course—which told an informed observer not only our rank (I was a sergeant) but also our unit (I was in the Intelligence and Security Command: INSCOM), approximate time in the Army (my hash stripes said 6 years), branch of service (I wore Military Intelligence brass), medals (an underachiever, I didn’t have many ribbons), marksmanship rating (Expert badge, rifle and pistol), and additional skills (Ranger-qualification tab, jump [paratroop] wings, and Egyptian jump wings).

Being a Russian linguist who also spoke German—and, unafraid to open my mouth for short, polite conversation—I figured I probably was being watched as I strolled around gray, shabby East Berlin, a copy of Pravda conspicuously tucked under my arm. (You think?)  I also made a point of paying my respects at the Treptow war memorial: a mass grave for 5,000 Red Army troops who died in 1945 in the Battle for Berlin. I left with a lump in my throat.

At a smog-stained street corner I quietly joined a handful of Soviet soldiers (in their best uniforms) waiting for traffic to stop for the crosswalk. In my peripheral vision I detected the one on the end leaning forward slightly, slowly turning his head to the right to look out the corner of his eye at me—so very Russian. I was a wise guy at that stage of life, so I leaned forward and slowly looked to the left. Our eyes met. The young Russian looked away and stood upright. Traffic stopped, and we all walked away. I think I smirked.

Twenty-seven years later, I have this odd thought: Was then-KGB counterintel spook Vlad Putin following me in East Berlin, watching for an undiplomatic misstep or suspicious act? I have to laugh.

©2014 Martin Kufus.

The 25th Anniversary of the fall of the thought-it-would-be-forever demarcation line between Soviet slavery and all the chaos and disorder of freedom has a lot of us thinking about our own interactions with the inter-European border. Marty, an old friend who served on the SOT-A teams in 5th Special Forces Group whilst your host here did similar duty in 10th Group before attending SFQC and graduating from MI into the Army, sent a draft of this to a couple of us superannuated SFers, then posted an updated version — with a period photo — to his LinkedIn. It’s posted here with his permission. 

No Easy Day, the Rifle

We received the following advert in the mail. Posted without extensive comment. It doth embiggen with a click:

ned-4

More information, and sales, at this link.

The promised non-extensive comments:

The carbine is made by USM4, which has a dope deal with the Special Forces Association (which is what the Special Forces Outdoors store is, a store where proceeds in part support this fraternal org for former and current Special Forces members). Obviously USM4 and the SFA have cut some kind of dope deal with Mark Bissonnette (aka Owen) as well.

The carbine seems extremely pricey, but it comes as a complete package. The description of all the included goodies is missing from that ad above, but it’s on the website, and we’ll reproduce it here:

Each No Easy Day Special Missions Carbine rifle package is supplied complete with all components installed including a Geissele SSA trigger, Magpul stock and vertical foregrip, Ergo pistol grip, Centurion rail with matching rail covers, AAC flash hider permanently pinned, Surefire M600U weapons sight, L3/EOTech HSS I Holographic weapon sight/G33 magnifier, two Magpul QD sling mounts, two Magpul 30-round magazines, Princeton Tec Remix Pro LED headlamp, Viking Tactics wide padded MK2 sling, and an autographed and serialized ‘No Easy Day’ hardcover book. The package is available in black or digital desert camo finish. Optional equipment ordered with package will be supplied in matching black or camo/tan finish where available.

There’s a typo in that description (the Surefire M600 is a weapons light, not a weapons sight), but if you look you’ll see that that’s a pretty comprehensively equipped rifle. In fact, that laundry list of goodies doesn’t mention that the set comes in a Pelican case (but it does). The Geissele SSA is the semi-auto version of the trigger Geissele provides to certain SOF elements.

Now, how you feel about Mark “Owen” and his decision not to submit his book for prior review (which would, almost certainly, have spiked the book; there’s one set of rules for suits and admirals, and another set for guys whose war involves discharging firearms), will probably color how you feel about this carbine. Given its high price we expect it to be a relative rarity, but it’s unlikely to be a wise investment (bear in mind what we’ve said about guns as investments). In the long run (20 years +) we expect it to appreciate, but probably not when measured in constant dollars or relative to other possible uses of the money.

Update: Further Description of the Kit

Introducing the ‘No Easy Day’ Special Missions Carbine (SMC), engineered to fulfill the demanding requirements of military combat and designed from the ground up by Mark Owen, conceived at the ‘Tip of the Spear’ during his 14-year career as a U.S. Navy SEAL. The No Easy Day SMC is a complete system, developed with the unique knowledge and experience Owen gained from hundreds of special operations missions. Every component of the No Easy Day SMC has been hand-selected by Mark and the rifle is built and assembled to his exact specifications. Everything you need in a package built for action, at a price you can afford.

The USM4 SMC is a strictly limited production rifle destined to become part of history, born out of direct experience at the front line of America’s defense against terrorism. This is your once-in- a-lifetime opportunity to secure a truly military-grade weapon system, in the configuration personally specified by Mark Owen as his rifle of choice for any special combat mission. “The No Easy Day SMC is simply the finest complete weapon system available,” says Mark Owen. “I would have carried this SMC on any one of my combat deployments.”

Comprised of Mil-Spec all-US-made components by premium manufacturers, the SMC features a Colt SOCOM upper and barrel mated to a USM4 billet lower receiver etched with the No Easy Day logo. Equipped with a Geissele SSA trigger, Magpul furniture, Ergo grip and Centurion rail, the SMC is completed with the L3/ EOTech HSS I Holographic Weapons Sight with matching G33 magnifier, Surefire M600U Ultra Scout Light, AAC Blackout flash hider/QD 51T suppressor mount, and a Princeton Tec Remix Pro LED headlamp, the item of equipment Owen would not go on a mission without. A custom- cut Pelican 1750 hard case houses the complete system.

Every system sold includes a personally autographed copy of Mark’s book, “No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden”, serialized to match the rifle serial number.

This limited edition package includes special offers to obtain optional tactical combat equipment including a civilian version of the L3/Insight APTPIAL-C AN/PEQ-15 Advanced Target Pointer/ Illuminator/Aiming laser with both visible and IR lasers; a TNVC/Sentinel Binocular Night Vision System; an AAC M4-2000 Suppressor (subject to NFA regulations); and an Ops-Core FAST Base Jump military helmet. The Pelican case is supplied with cut- outs ready to accept all this optional equipment.

IN OUR CONTINUING EFFORT TO SUPPORT A COMMUNITY THAT HAS ALREADY DONE SO MUCH, A PORTION OF THE PROCEEDS FROM THE SALE OF EVERY SMC PACKAGE WILL BE DONATED TO THE SPECIAL FORCES ASSOCIATION AND THE SPECIAL OPERATIONS CARE FUND.

To this we’d add, why not a SEAL charity? We have been advised that “Owen’s” attempts to donate proceeds to various frogman charities have been rebuffed, in the light of his OPSEC violations. (We initially typed OOPSec, which might have been a Freudian typo).

Today Only: Tales from the Teamhouse Volume III, Free Download

tales from the teamhouse IIIForget whether this one has a Hognose story or two in it, think they’re in earlier ones. That means this one’s probably better. These were collected back in the 1990s and published under the auspices of the late Ben “The Plunderer” Roberts, a Vietnam SF soldier turned real-estate entrepreneur.

These are a series of books of stories and reminisces of SF soldiers from the 1950s to today. Normally they’re available in paperback, but the Kindle format is new. A great many of the original authors are now no longer with us, including SGM Reg Manning, CSM Rudy Cooper (a three-war vet), and many others.

Today only, Kindle download of Volume III is free at this link. (As long as the price shows as $0.00, click the “Buy Now” button).

Tales from the Teamhouse Volume II is also available on Kindle, but they cost actual money. Some grifter thinks he’s going to get $350 for the paperback of Volume II… good luck with that. Volume I is only available in hard copy at the moment.

There’s always some rumors about a Volume IV. For that to happen, I think Old Mountain Press (run by Tom Davis, a Navy and Army SF vet) needs to see that Volumes I-III have a following.

We Remember

We were going to post about the numerous problems with the President’s speech, but instead we’re going to tell a short, personal story.

never forget never surrender

In 1988, your blog host reported to ODA 122 in B Company, 1/11th Special Forces Group (Airborne), USAR, which was housed in a condemned warehouse at 22 Dupont Avenue in Newburgh, New York. He was plugged in as a junior Weapons Man, because there were two senior 18Bs on the team already, one a Vietnam veteran who was a New York City cop, and one a New York City firefighter. The jake, a wiry Italian guy named Ron Bucca, was serving as team 18F or intel sergeant, but he was having a hard time of it. (Now that I think of it, Ron might even have been an 18C, demo guy, before taking the intel slot).

11th Group Coin

The team was a great team, maybe a legendary team; its officers retired as colonels. Or higher. Its NCOs went on to great things. Some of them in civilian life, some in the Army or the Army Reserve. The commo guys became team sergeants. One medic retired as a CW5; the other became an executive in our industry. Their kids went on to serve in EOD, SF, the intelligence community, all kinds of vital jobs. Almost everybody distinguished himself, one way or another, in the GWOT. Except for Ron, that is. He couldn’t be there when the men of the long-disbanded 122 in the all-but-forgotten 11th went to war in Afghanistan, in different teams and different groups.

Ron, it turns out, had been seriously injured fighting a fire. He crashed through a doorway and the fire escape was gone (stolen by metal thieves? Removed by drug dealers paranoid about being snuck up on? Your guess is as good as mine). Ron fell four or five stories. He struck some kind of flagpole or drainpipe before he hit the ground, and it stuck between his Scott rig and his back, and decelerated him enough that he didn’t die on impact.

That was the good news. The bad news was: that pole broke his back. This was 1986, before I knew him. Ron lay in a hospital with that part of the city that reads its tabloids pulling and praying for him. (The New York Times does not deign to notice mere firefighters, cops and other downstairs servants. To wealthy Manhattanites and wannabes, they’re just part of the infrastructure that’s just there for you). One of the papers labeled him “The Flying Firefighter,” and the name stuck. Most of the guys were New Yorkers and when they told me Ron was “The Flying Firefighter,” they were shocked I’d never heard of that costumed hero, and immediately suspected me of being that worst of things, a Times reader.

When they found out I was only a Red Sox fan (with, at the time, season tickets to Fenway Park), but most emphatically not a fan of the Times Square Tip Sheet, I was received like the Prodigal Son, and initiated into the cult of Ron Bucca, of which all team members, except Ron Bucca, were happy members. Ron, for his part, was mortified that people were paying too much attention to him.

He was a good guy with technical savvy and tactical sense. But he couldn’t do it anymore, physically, after his back fracture. He tried, and would probably have killed himself trying, if the leaders hadn’t handled it with tact and delicacy after Exercise Lions-Lowlands in Germany in 1988.

Ron went to an intel unit, and ultimately became a warrant officer, working on CT intel. Meanwhile, the injury ended his firefighting career, too, but there, also, they found productive work for him, just as the Army Reserve did. He became a Fire Marshal — in NYC, that means, mostly, an arson investigator who is a sworn, armed law officer. But after he left A-122, many of us would never see him alive again.

Days before September 11, 2001, Ron and his partner investigated, of all things, a toilet arson. Turns out, it was an innocent accident caused by a jilted girl burning her beau’s love letters — with charcoal-grill starter fluid, in the commode. Instead of arresting Miss Lonelyheart, they left her with Ron’s advice: “Next boyfriend, buy a shredder.”

On September 11, that same pair of marshals ran into the burning towers. They weren’t needed yet, but that was where the action was, and they weren’t going to be anywhere else. Ron kept climbing and sent his partner back, helping a crippled woman out of the building. Ron was, we later learned based on radio calls, on the 78th floor with several high-ranking firefighters when the building came down. He was the only fire marshal lost in over 150 years of the service.

His body was found months later. 300 firefighters from across the nation and world, maybe 100 SF guys, and a company of Union reenactors (long story) joined city officials, an FDNY helicopter flyby, and Ron’s family at a funeral that would have embarrassed the hell out of him.

In Iraq, a prisoner-of-war camp was named after him, by one of the officers that had known him. It seemed fitting to lock these bums up in a jail named for one of the guys they’d killed..

One of the first acts of our new Islamist-friendly regime in 2009 was to free the terrorists confined there. One of them had a message for his captors as he proudly strode out: “See you guys in New York.”1

The terrorist? Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, aka Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Al-Husseini Al-Qurashi, aka Amir al-Mu’minin Caliph Ibrahim, real full name Ibrahim ibn Awwad ibn Ibrahim ibn Ali ibn Muhammad al-Badri al-Samarrai or Ibrahim al-Badri for short. The head of ISIL.

The US strategy to stop him? Ron Bucca would have had some good suggestions. But the DC brain trust seems content to wait and see al-Badri in New York.

Notes

1 Source for this is Col. Kenneth King, then-commander of the camp. Some press reports suggest that this clown was released much earlier, in 2004. Whenever he was released, it was a serious error that has cost thousands of lives.

The “Proximity Fuzed” RPG that wasn’t

In Russia, the improved RPG-7 replaced the RPG-2 in 1961, but it took years for the improved antitank weapons to filter to the Soviet Union’s client states and it took even longer to get to Soviet-supported terrorists and insurgents, even the ones that the USSR recognized militarily, like North Vietnam. When the new AT weapon emerged, it was immediately a threat to American and Republic of Vietnam aircraft, especially low- and slow-flying helicopters.

Here’s the story of a Air Force special operations helicopter gunship pilot’s nerve-wracking experience, while covering a South Vietnamese Air Force recovery of a Vietnamese reconnaissance team. The RT came from TF3AE, the command that replaced Command and Control South in Vietnam. We draw the story from Fred Lindsey’s fantastic doorstop, Secret Green Beret Commandos in Cambodia. (We’ve mentioned the book before). You can find it on page 670-671, and it’s worth reading for the adventure of it, before we start discussing dry RPG facts.

03/26/71 Recon, TF3AE ARVN RT Rescued With Air Support by 219″ VNAF Kingbees and
20th SOS Gunships: AC CPT Charles D. Svoboda DFC (2OLC) with co-pilot LTC Harmon
Brotnov; AC CPT Jim Schuman SS.
The only details of this event are from the remembrance of CPT Svoboda’s and [his] DFC citation. In his written recollection he notes:

It was on my first week on the mission as an aircraft commander. My copilot was my brand new squadron commander, Lieutenant Colonel Brotnov, who was on the mission for the first time, and my gunners were this new “student” gunner and a highly experienced instructor gunner. Jim Schuman was flying lead, and I was flying on his wing. We were called out for
a team taking extremely heavy fire. We arrived at the location, and were briefed by the FAC on where the team was (we certainly don’t want to hit our own troops). We saw a very unfriendly situation, with a rather large landing zone, with the team on the south, and Charlie on the north. Unfortunately. Charlie was ensconced on a long, low ridge, overlooking the LZ and the team. We hated going below the enemy, as we could not fire upward through our own rotor blades. If we flew high, we were sitting ducks. If we flew low, with Charlie on a ridge, above us, we could only make short bursts of gunfire in his direction by banking the aircraft in the opposite direction, and raising the rotors above the path of our own minigun bullets.

Jim (Gunship lead) directed that we make an ‘aggressive’ entry, meaning that we would dive toward the LZ, and toward the enemy, firing rockets and miniguns at maximum rate of speed (4.000 rounds per minute). Jim was checking out a new pilot, allowing him to fly, and the new pilot lost the target, forcing his bird to cease-fire. He told me of this, and I told him that I still had the target, and would assume flight lead, so that he could then roll in on my rockets and become my wingman.

We made an aggressive dive, after which the FAC radioed “Cease Fire, you’re hitting the team.” We always feared this! Guns firing 4,000 rounds per minute each, along with rockets, can tear up a group of soldiers ferociously. And my new commander was my copilot!

I ordered both birds to cease firing, and we began flying “cold” passes over the LZ, between Charlie and the team. We did this several times, and I could see what appeared to be cigarette lighters flashing in the shadows on the ridge. I could also hear static on the radio, which we had learned was caused by the static field of many closely passing bullets. But we continued to hear explosions, with the FAC yelling for us to hold our fire. Damn it, we WERE holding our fire, and we were hanging ourselves out doing it. I spoke to Jim, and said we had better silence the ridge or it would silence us. He agreed, and despite the directives from the FAC, we shot the hell out of the ridge. But they were everywhere. As I cleared the LZ on one pass, below many of the trees, I fired a couple of rockets. One does not usually fire rockets so low, because there is no time to achieve stabilized flight, allowing one to aim. Therefore, they frequently zoom off into oblivion. But we had learned to “lob” rockets by pulling up on the collective just before firing. This would cause the rocket stabilizing fins to hit the air with an upward load, causing causing them to fly upward initially, then to arc downward because of the aerodynamic load on the fins.

My copilot appeared to be mesmerized by his first combat action, about as hectic as one could be. I called for him to flip the weapon selector switch from guns to rockets (they could not fire simultaneously, because the one trigger activated whichever weapon was selected for firing). He was frozen, so I had to take my eyes off the horizon for a millisecond and change the setting. This was hazardous because we were flying through the trees, dodging around the higher ones, trying to keep from being shot down. One minor mistake would be fatal for all. We tried to avoid passing over the same spot on succeeding passes, to keep Charlie from drawing a bead on us, but because of the ridgeline, we were forced to repeat ground tracks. We passed around one taller tree a couple of times, and I cursed the tree. On the following pass I fired a rocket to keep the bad guys’ heads down, and it knocked the tree down. Colonel Brotnov was flabbergasted, as was I. To this day I wonder if he really believes that I did that intentionally!

It turns out that the rockets into the team which were blamed on us were actually new shoulder-mounted Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG’S) being fired at us as we passed over the LZ between the team. The original RPG’s were designed for light armor and infantry, and had contact fuses. This new version was designed for helicopters, and had contact AND proximity fuses. Luckily, none must have passed close enough to us to detonate, but many passed by us, exploding among the team we were protecting. A few also exploded in the LZ, causing the tall elephant grass to catch fire. The flames were about as high as we were flying, and were spreading out in ever increasing circles. On one pass over the LZ, when I passed through the smoke, the other chopper was coming directly at us, only about 50-100 feet away, with closure speed of over 200 mph. Luckily we both broke quickly and in opposite directions, and the gunner said he thought he could reach out and touch the belly of the other chopper. Finally, the firing from Charlie cut down, and we called the slicks to come in for a pickup.

We said they would have to wait awhile because of the fires in the LZ. All of a sudden the team ran THROUGH these very high flames, leaping into the smoking ash left by the expanding fire. The slicks came in, one at a time, landed in the smoking ash, raising a huge, black ashen cloud, and picked up the team. We escorted them out of the area. Then, as the slicks headed for home, Jim and I returned to the site, expending the remainder of our rockets and ammo on the ridge line.

CPT Svoboda was an Air Force officer, a gunship pilot in the 20th Special Operations Squadron. The “slicks” were Sikorsky UH-34s, obsolete piston-powered helicopters flown by the South Vietnamese Air Force’s 219th Squadron, “King Bees.”

A gathering of SF RT guys and their air support guys is always interesting, because the aircrews think the recon teams were nuts to do what they did, but the RT guys know the copter crews were nuts to come get them.

Now, this is a very stirring story of action and audacity. You can almost smell the shellbursts of the RPGs. Thing is: RPGs don’t have proximity fuzes. (There is a Chinese “airburst” round for use against infantry, but it bounces off the ground before it detonates, and it postdates the war). So why did Captain Svoboda think they did? It goes back to a fundamental difference between the RPG-2, or B-40 as it was known to most during the Vietnam War (from the Chinese export stencil on the ammo), and the improved RPG-7. The RPG has become one of the most universal systems in war; there’s even a US-made, Westernized version we provide to allies under MAP.

But the initial mass-produced version, the Ruchnoi Protitankoviy Granatomyot-2 (“Hand AT Grenade Launcher”), was a reusable improvement of the German Panzerfaust and like its disposable ancestor, its designers’ watchword was simplicity. Indeed, US Army intelligence manuals on the Soviet Army at the time described it only as an “antitank weapon of the improved Panzerfaust type,” and lacked any photo or sketch of it.

It had no optical sights, just a flip-up pair with a front bead and rear ladder. It was a straight tube with sights and a grip piece, no shoulder rest, blast shield or cone. The RPG-2 was made in Russia from about 1948 to 1961, and in China from about 1956 to about 1970. And — important from our point of view — the warhead, which showed its later Panzerfaust ancestry, had a simple contact fuze and no self-destruct mechanism.

The RPG-7 was introduced to the Soviet Army in 1961 and into the Vietnam War sometime in 1967 or 68, although it remained outnumbered by RPG-2s until the last, 1975, offensive. It had iron and optical sights and considerably improved range (we’ve hit stationary tank-size targets on the range at 800m; practical combat range on moving armor is probably half that). Most interesting for our present purposes, the PG-7 warhead has not one, but three means of initiation:

  1. Piezoelectric contact fuze in the warhead nose (“1″ in the illustration);
  2. electric contact fuze between inner (“2″) and outer (“3″) cones of the warhead;
  3. pyrotechnic timed self-destruct mechanism (“8″).

pg-7v_of_rpg7_sect

All three fire the charge (“6″) from its base, creating a Munro Effect jet made up of hot gases and the molten copper alloy charge liner (“4″). The self-destruct mechanism detonates the round if it hasn’t hit anything in five seconds, by which time the round has covered 900-920m.

rpg7 training aid

That’s what was happening to CPT Charles Svovoda, his copilot LTC Harmon Brotnov, and his wingmen and the other US and RVN airmen on this mission. Airbursts of RPGs around them certainly seemed like the proximity fuzes they knew from enemy 37mm and 57mm anti-aircraft artillery.

It is possible that the airbursts’ threat to the rotorcraft was coincidental, but it is also possible that the NVA were deliberately using the self-destruct mechanism for its airburst effect; this is something Islamic terrorists would develop into a fine art in the nineties and the oughts, but it would certainly be consistent with what we know of the leadership and initiative of the North Vietnamese forces that they could have been doing this 20 years earlier, over Cambodia.

We can’t blame them for thinking they were facing “a new version, made for helicopters.” In any event, we concur with Fred Lindsey, who wraps up this post by quoting the citation for Svoboda’s Distinguished Flying Cross from this flight:

He was participating in aerial flight as a UH-1N helicopter Gunship Commander near Due Lap, RVN …CPT Svoboda made repeated firing passes at low level in support of a long range reconnaissance patrol which was under heavy opposing automatic weapons fire deep in hostile territory. The extremely accurate and devastating firepower from CPT Svoboda’s helicopter allowed the rescue of the entire patrol…

per Hqs 7th Air Force Orders dtd 09/24/71.

Captain Svoboda survived the war; along with the DFC, he received 10 Air Medals for combat missions in 1970 and 1971.

For more information on the RPG, look at this previous Weaponsman post, or this quite excellent history by Dan Shea in Small Arms Defense Journal. We cannot overstate the quality of the Shea article; it’s really good and accurate.