(EDITOR’S NOTE: Charles Black, Enquirer military writer, recently spent two days at Fort Rucker, Ala., one of the primary training bases for Army Aviation personnel. This is the third of five articles by Black on the training facilities at Fort Rucker.)
By CHARLES BLACK
Enquirer Military Writer
FT. RUCKER, Ala. - The instructors at Fort Rucker, Ala., where pilots and mechanics for the Army’s burgeoning aviation program are trained, include more than 700 officers and men who have served in South Viet Nam. The students themselves, according to official estimates, have “nine chances out of 10 of going to that conflict.”
The loss of students for all reasons is about 1 3/4 percent. That figure was based on the 21,000 men who were trained there during the past 12 months. (There will be a 35,000 man yearly rate when all present plans are carried through, probably by early summer.)
“There is a lot of motivation here. You must remember that we get basic trainees who come here knowing that when they graduate they will have a 90 percent chance of going to South Viet Nam. They don’t HAVE to pass the training and take that chance. . . but look at the figures. You simply have to give credit to the instructors for instilling this kind of enthusiasm for a tough future in the soldiers they train,” Col. G. W. Putnam, assistant commandant, said.
The harsh realities of what awaits graduates - duty in South Viet Nam - is reflected constantly during the training of the mechanics and pilots here.
The department of tactics, directed by Col. R. E. Creek, has taken over a full week of the training cycle for students in a manner which demonstrates the preparation soldiers are given for Viet Nam duty. The week of final training was worked out by Southeast Asian combat veterans including Lt. Col. R. F. Carrigan, deputy director; Lt. Col. D. A. Baker, Lt. Col. R. E. Brannan, Lt. Col. D. P. Brandsen, Lt. Col. Nathan Reese, Lt. Col. Reed F. Scheafnocker, Lt. Col. A. R. Suddaby, and Capt. J. M. Boone.
Lt. Col. Suddaby, chief of special subjects branch, said the class of helicopter pilots finishing its 28 weeks training in March will be the first to take on the week prepared by the department. (The enlisted students will take part in the training with the pilots.)
An actual aviation unit of the kind in operation in South Viet Nam will be organized from the students with officers from the Department of Tactics in the command and staff positions to run the aviation unit.
The Vietnamese atmosphere of the student unit’s field training - covering aviation operations, airmobile operations and individual weapons training and survival training - is insured by the makeup of the men in charge. The department has more than 80 percent of its staff drawn from officers and men who have served in South Viet Nam, Col. Creek said.
The training will include classroom study of Viet Nam, counter-insurgency problems, supervised flight operations, and a field training exercise which will put the student unit through a full gamut of operations it will take part in during South Vietnamese duty.
Capt. Boone, an eminently capable looking physical specimen, has charge of 12 hours of “snake-eater” training. His tough course teaches the students to survive if they are knocked down in the Vietnamese conflict and have to make it on their own.
The trainees learn to set up defense perimeters for an aviation unit, practice gunnery, learn artillery adjustment (a most important craft for aviation personnel in combat in South Viet Nam) and learn many other valuable lessons which formerly had to be “picked up” on arrival in the combat zone.
The tactical training includes a training scenario depicting a guerrilla war in “Florianna,” which looks much like South Viet Nam on the maneuver maps. The students, organized into companies of 18 helicopters each, learn to carry troops into assaults, fly medical evacuation missions, act as armed escorts for troop lifts, carrying sling loads, pick up prisoners of war, and to resupply combat troops on the battle field.
“The situation is made as realistic as possible, the training is tough and hard, and the emphasis is on night work. We spent a long time in research to develop a tactical training program which would teach the lessons needed most in South Viet Nam. The idea is to turn out men here who aren’t going to land there cold but who will come with the best preparation for the actual situation we can give them,” Capt. Mills (James) O’Nellion, who served with the 92nd Aviation Company in South Viet Nam, said.
© Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
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