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Bob Mitchell - NewB
Bob Mitchell
"Bandit 24" (5/69 - 5/70

I was in the 281st from 5 May 69 through 5 May 70. I reported in to the Replacement Battalion at Cam Rhan Bay on 5 May 70 along with Ron Lesonik. Ron and I were in flight school together (WORWAC 69-5) and were already good buddies.  When we arrived in country we were taken to the In-Process center and were assigned to the 17th AVN GRP and told that our orders would be in later. We sat around all day and finally were told that we would be assigned to the 10th CAB. We hitched a ride over there and signed in. We were told that they did not know which Company we would be assigned to and were told to wait for orders. We finally found an O Club and proceeded to indulge a little. We wound up spending the night at Dong Ba Thin and experienced our first mortar attack. We went back to the club the next day and sat around where we met some guys that were DEROSing.  We listened to their War Stories. We still had no orders. The guys were from the 281st. We liked what we heard about the SF Teams and Delta Project. We went down to BN HQ and told the personnel clerk that we wanted to go to the 281st. He kind of laughed a little and went over and talked to a Major, I guess he was the S1. He came over and asked if we were sure about our requests. He tried to discourage us but we had our minds made up. Finally, the Major told us we had been assigned to the 281st and they would pick us up at the BN helipad.

We were fired up, thinking we would be picked up by a Huey, moved all of our stuff down to the helipad and waited for the helicopter. Several Hueys came in and out during the time we waited.  After a couple of hours large 1SG drove up in a 3/4 ton and asked if we were going to the 281st. He told us to throw our shit in the truck and get in. Talk about culture shock! We were aviators, we supposed to ride in aircraft, not trucks.  The trip from Dong Ba Thin to Nha Trang was actually uneventful but we were scared to death. I though, here I am, without doubt the best helicopter pilot in the Army and I am riding in a damn 3/4 through what I figured was Indian Country. When we arrived in Nha Trang we found that most of the unit was at An Hoa with Project Delta. It took a couple of days to get signed in, settled in and draw our basic issue. They gave us 38's. I said what about a .45, the guy said they were not issuing .45's to the new pilots. He also gave us 5 bullets. I could not believe it.

We were treated like long lost cousins by the other aviators. They said they had not had any FNG's for a long time and were short of pilots. Because of the shortage of pilots and the fact that half the Company was on Delta, it took us a while to get our in country check rides. The 281st IP was at An Hoa so they got a guy from the 201st to check me out. My bud, Ron Lesonik, got checked out by someone from 17th Group and did fine. I had a problem. The 201st guy was a jerk. We went down to Buffalo Flats close to Nhin Hoa to finish the check ride. He insisted on zero ground run autorotations. I told him that they were not teaching zero ground run anymore due to all the helicopters that got rolled into balls. That pissed him off. He said that I would do them his way or bust the ride. Of course I was just a month or so old as a WO1 and still had the WOC mentality. I was intimidated as hell. We did one more auto and I slid about a skid length. This really pissed the guy off. He said I want zero ground run. I said yes sir. He was a CW3. We came back around and I set up and entered. Started my deceleration and he went wild, he said, "I want a flare!!" and reached over and slapped the cyclic back into my crotch. We were in a D model and you can guess what happened. With the High Density Altitude we started falling through. I tried to level but my rate of decent by now was really building. The tail stinger hit the ground and collapsed causing the T/R blade to contact the ground. The T/R came off, I saw it flying through the air and land in front of us. The aircraft bounced and hit hard again on the tail and then started spinning. I followed the spin with the cyclic, I knew if I powered up it would only make things worse, so I rode it down. We hit on the right side and slid to a stop with the nose pointing about 45 degrees to the right.  The main rotor almost touched the ground at one point. Finally it was over. We came to rest skids down. The IP never touched the controls after the initial slap. I figured that I was in deep do-do. Someone from the 48th came out and picked us up. We were later picked up by a 281st ship and taken to Nha Trang. The aircraft had class A type damage.

Here I am a FNG who crashes on his in-country check ride. I got some looks that afternoon. I told my story to MAJ Lynn. He was pissed, not at me but at the 201st guy. They FEB'd him and I never heard anything else about the incident. I took another ride the next week and did well. It was a 281st guy this time, I can't remember his name, but I think his first name was Fred. He was a former SF type. He had been around for a while and was really great to me. It could have been either Fred Sherrill or Fred Funk.  As you can imagine, my self-esteem was kinda low. After that flight I never looked back and no one ever mentioned the incident again. It was not charged to me and is not on my record.

I started flying PP on DSA II Corps stuff and got to fly a lot of MACV Recondo. When the Rat Pack got back from Delta the Bandits replaced them. I was in the 2nd Platoon-Bandits. We arrived at An Hoa in the afternoon. We were given a small informal type brief at the B-52 operations tent. We were told that they were expecting a ground attack that night and were put on Red Alert. Remember my 5 bullets? I, along with Lesonik, started looking for someone with a .38 to get more bullets. Everyone else had a .45. We finally convinced one of the SF guys that we needed more ammo and he came up with a case for us. We did get a perimeter probe, but nothing like the yellow horde that they told us to expect.

I flew my first "real" mission the next day. Brian Paine was the AC.  The Recon Team made their way to the Acft, checked their equipment and then walked away from the aircraft and sat down as if waiting for the ride. The Crewchief and Door Gunner were busying themselves with their duties. By this time I was finished and standing by, waiting for the AC and the Team Leader. They finally came walking up and all the team members loaded on the aircraft, I sat down in the right seat and buckled in.  I was not really told a lot about what we going to do or where we were going. It seemed as if I was just along for the ride.  Mr. Paine handed me a map with a course line drawn on it and told me to keep my eyes on the gages and to keep my finger on the map. Being an FNG and not wanting to make any waves, I kept my mouth shut and sat there with the map in my lap. We got the aircraft started and hovered out for takeoff. We did a hover check, checked the go-no-go placard and lifted off. We left An Hoa and climbed to altitude heading in a westerly direction. I, being a dutiful young Peter Pilot immediately found us on the map and began to track our ground path. Mr. Paine said very little. There was a slight tenseness in the air. After several minutes of flight on the westerly heading I noticed that we were heading toward the Laotian Border. I started to recall the Flight School training in calculating times and distances and suddenly realized that we would be in Laos in about 10 minutes if we continued on that heading.  I finally said, "Uh we will be in Laos in about 3-4 minutes if we stay on this heading."  Mr. Paine stared at me for what seemed like an eternity and said, "No shit new guy, just keep your finger on the f***ing map and watch the gages." Still having the sting of the TAC Officer's wrath from flight school in my mind, I did as I was told. We went into an LZ if you can call it that. It was not like the ones in TAC-X, back in flight school. It was a hole in the jungle about 200 feet deep. I was amazed. As we let down into the LZ I remember how the crew worked together make the aircraft fit into the hole.  I called out the Torque, N2 and N1 as we hovered.  The team rappelled out of the aircraft as we hovered 10-15 feet from the jungle floor.  I watched as the Team disappeared into the jungle.  As we were pulling up and leaving the LZ, I remember Mr. Paine making a radio call, "Coming out with a Bingo," he announced.  I had no idea what that meant, all I knew was that I was happy to get the hell out of there and be on the way back to the FOB.  On the way back we were flying over a small village or hamlet when some guy stepped out of a hut and started shooting at us. I could see the guy firing and I could see the green tracers. Wolf Pack rolled in on the village and it was a smoking hole in about 10 minutes. We circled around at fairly low altitude after the Wolf Pack did their work and let the door gunners work out.

We stayed at An Hoa for a while longer and eventually rotated back to Nha Trang. By this time I was not a FNG anymore.


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