The Mission – Combat Assaults

Assault Helicopter Companies provided packages to infantry units during Vietnam.
They were called Combat Assault (CA) missions and the package included the following:

Command & Control
The Flight
The Guns

Flying into and out of these missions was considered one of the most dangerous activities during the war. AHC crews flew 2-3 of these CA missions every day and sometimes every few hours. These brave pilots, crew, and their helicopters provided critical services and protection to hundreds of infantry every day.

Command & Control

In order for the infantry unit commander to coordinate his troops during a combat assault, a slick was modified with extra seats and radios to act as the Command & Control aircraft, commonly referred to as Charlie/Charlie or simply C&C. In all other respects, this aircraft was a standard slick. The aircraft commander (A/C) of the C&C ship was generally a senior aviator.

Although the infantry commander was in overall command of the combat assault operation, the C&C commander was responsible for all decisions relating to the employment of helicopters in the operation. This division of authority could lead to command problems, but most units were able to overcome these problems in the field without great difficulty.

The Guns

The package would include one or more fireteams of gunships. A pair of guns was called a light fireteam. Three guns working together were called a heavy fireteam. If significant enemy contact was anticipated, the Flight would often have more gunship support than if it was not. Just as for Flight lead, the lead gun pilot was an experienced member of the gun platoon and was responsible for the performance of his fireteam or teams at all times.

The Flight

The Flight was the name given to the slick component of the combat assault operation. Depending on the size of the infantry unit, the number of slicks in the Flight could vary from as little as 1 or 2 to as many as 10 or 12. If the operation involved multiple infantry battalions, several Flights of slicks from different companies would combine to operate under one Command & Control aircraft.

Two positions (or chalks) in the Flight received particular attention in the assignment of an aircraft commander. The A/C of the lead aircraft in the Flight was generally a very experienced and capable pilot. Lead was responsible for the performance of the Flight at all times during a combat assault. The A/C of the trail helicopter in the Flight was also generally a more experienced pilot. Trail was responsible for notifying lead of developments in the Flight as the mission progressed. In most units, trail also had the important duty to respond immediately if any aircraft were shot down during the combat assault. This meant that without further orders, it was trail’s responsibility to accompany a downed aircraft and attempt immediate evacuation of the crew if possible. Because trail was also the last aircraft into and out of a landing zone (LZ), this was generally considered the most dangerous position in the flight.

Once The Package Was Assembled

C&C would proceed with the gunships to pick up the infantry commander and his staff. At the same time, the Flight would rendezvous with the main body of infantry at the pick-up zone (PZ) and organize the loading of the infantry onto each aircraft.

Upon arriving in the area of operations, Charlie/Charlie and the gunships would conduct a visual reconnaissance (VR) of the landing zone (LZ). The gunships would make low level passes over the LZ to look for anti-aircraft positions, bunkers, slit trenches or any other signs of enemy activity. If engaged by the enemy, the gunships would immediately respond and the LZ would be considered “hot”. If there were no signs of the enemy at the landing zone, the LZ would be considered “cold” unless that assessment changed as the mission progressed.

As soon as the VR of the landing zone was completed, the Flight would be dispatched for insertion of the infantry into the LZ. If the pick-up zone or the route to the LZ was considered potentially hot, gunships would be provided to escort the Flight between the PZ and the LZ. Otherwise, the gunships remained on station over the LZ to provide support to the infantry. This process of moving the troops from the pick-up zone to the landing zone would continue until the entire infantry unit had been transported.

Such was a typical combat assault operation. The package was assigned to an infantry unit for as little as a few hours to as long as several days, depending on the size of the operation and any enemy contact which developed from it. After the initial combat assault was completed, C&C and the gunships would stay on station to provide support to the infantry. The slicks would return to a secure area to await further orders to provide resupply, reinforcements, medical evacuation or extraction of the infantry as required. As soon as the situation stabilized on the ground, the package would be released by its infantry unit and would repeat this process with another infantry unit, often 2 or 3 times a day.

Get The Bloody Job Done

The average infantryman might participate in 2 or 3 combat assaults a week. The average assault helicopter crew might participate in that many in a few hours. Because of this, the infantry knew that the fear and vulnerability they felt only occasionally going into a hot LZ was an almost daily occurrence for the assault helicopter crews. For their part, assault helicopter crews knew that infantrymen in the field suffered through miserable conditions and the constant fear of ambush. Because of this, there tended to be a high degree of camaraderie between assault helicopter crews and the “grunts” not commonly found between aviation personnel and ground troops.

Early in its service in Vietnam, the 135th AHC had occasion to experience this camaraderie first hand. After a particularly dangerous extraction of an infantry unit from a hot PZ, the commander of that unit sent a radio message of thanks to the 135th. The message said quite simply, “Thanks for getting the bloody job done.” The sincerity of this sentiment was not lost on the 135th. An abbreviated form of that message (Get The Bloody Job Done) became the 135th’s official motto for the remainder of the war.