June 16, 1966

Commander Keeps Personnel Up to Date on ‘Sea Wolf’

(EDITOR'S NOTE:  Charles Black, Enquirer military writer is in Viet Nam reporting on activities of the 1st Cavalry Division.  Today, he continues a series on Operations Sea Wolf.)

Ledger-Enquirer Staff Writer

VUNG TAU - Lt. Col. Horst K. Joost issues a commander’s note to his men each week, telling them what they are doing on “Operation Sea Wolf.”

“Sometimes the men doing a job are the last to find out what they have accomplished and I believe they should be the ones with the fullest possible information,” he said.  He commands the 145th Aviation at Bien Hoa.

To give an example, and to save some effort of my own, then, here is part of “Commander’s Combat Note No. 13,” by Joost:

“The 145th Aviation Battalion has gone to sea.  We now have a task force of gunships which have been operating with the U.S. Navy with the mission of providing aerial fire support for naval patrol boats operating in the river and delta areas to destroy the Viet Cong and to secure shipping lanes.”

“Two light fire teams (two armed helicopters each) operate from flight decks of the Seventh Fleet Dock Landing Ship (LSD, U.S.S. Tortuga) and the Landing Ship Tank U.S.S. Floyd County.  The teamwork developed between the Army and the Navy is something to behold when a helicopter is launched and landed.”

Top Security

There was considerable security on the entire operation at this time.  It was launched on March 25 and I went there April 25.  It entailed some consideration on my part of going aboard a ship, incommunicado, for “a few days.”

It would also give me the only firsthand look anybody has had of the aerial end of this new river war concept.  The concept may open up an entirely new area for employment of airmobile units.

The man in charge of the helicopter crews and who had been the project officer was Capt. William Brofer, now on duty at Fort Rucker, Ala.

I met him after another step in getting out to sea was accomplished - a chopper ride to Vung Tau.    
Brofer met me at the operations office of the 68th Aviation Company and while we waited to get me on out to the Tortuga, anchored offshore 1 1/2 miles, he told me of the organization of the Sea Wolf task force.

Former Transport Company

The pilots came from the armed platoon of the 68th, 33rd, 501st and 118th assault transport helicopter companies and from the 197th armed helicopter companies, the units which make up the 145th Aviation Battalion.  (Recently the 120th Aviation Company was transferred from the battalion to support the MACV operation of a full-time basis.)

The 197th, confusingly enough and for no more apparent logic than is usually found in Army headquarters decisions of this kind, was formerly the 68th, which was formerly the Utility Tactical Transport helicopter company.

The famous UTT company had been bootlegged by the Army to Okinawa where a crew of aviation-qualified pirates commanded by Maj. Robert Runkle scrounged and begged weapons and equipment to turn it into the first armed helicopter unit in Army history.

It had added to its fame each year since it was formed July 15, 1961. The UTT became the 68th at Vung Tau Aug. 15, 1964, and was once again fiddled with in the mysterious numbers game, becoming the 197th last spring.

Final Designation

On the heels of the final change in designation for the Army’s most famous armed chopper outfit - possibly in order to confuse soldiers who love the traditions of their units - a 68th company was immediately formed and shipped to the 145th battalion.

“Nobody can figure out why they didn’t call the new company the 197th and let the grand old outfit hang onto its old designation, but the 197th is the armed chopper company, the 68th and the others are the lift ships,” Brofer said.

“I have good men, real good men, from each unit and they have become professional carrier pilots.  The Navy authorized them to wear Navy wings while on this mission and they have them over their right pocket so you can recognize our seagoing lads when you run into one of them” Brofer told me.

He was turning the project over to Capt. Ralph Williams in three days, his year of Vietnamese duty being finished.  The officer in charge at the Vung Tau base, keeps liaison there for maintenance, etc.  The senior aviator in each of the teams is in charge aboard ship, Brofer told me.

“Capt. Sonny Blackburn of the 68th is in charge on the Tortuga,” he said.


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