HA(L)-3 Missions of Mike Dobson


UPDATED: 28 Dec 04

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Note:  This story speaks of the grim realities of war.  It should not be read by young children without an adults permission. Mike's story kindly submitted by HA(L)-3 member Bill Rutledge [The Webmaster]


By Det #1 Gunner, Mike Dobson


 I was with  DET #1 flying combat missions out of Solid Anchor, a small isolated Navy Tactical Support Base at the southern tip of Vietnam in the dreaded U Minh Forest, a known Viet Cong/ NVA stronghold. Solid Anchor was on the Cua Lon River and supported a contingent of Brown Water Swift Boats and PBRs (River Patrol Boats) a Navy SEAL Team and VN Kit Carson Scouts. Our Fire team had a couple of Bunker/Hootches outside the compound where we had to contend with snakes, rats as big as small dogs, WWII C Rations, no liberty, no club, an occasional shower when it rained, Sapper/ground probes, and Scrambling under mortar and rocket attacks. Most missions were flown under heavy enemy fire hanging outside those old Army Gunships. Those Cast off Bravos were so underpowered that many times the gunners had to run along side while it was doing The Huey Shuffle to get transitional lift and then jump in as it got airborne.


We flew so many combat missions they melted into each other and in another theater would have been considered Medal material on a daily basis. We on the other hand, only knew we had volunteered to do a job to the best of our ability, under arduous and hazardous conditions, with the ultimate goal of always being there and getting our BROTHER WARRIORS out of trouble, when engaging the enemy so they could go home to their loved ones. Sometimes this wasn’t easy, but then we would find out we were capable of the Impossible and the Legend of the Seawolves would start another chapter in Naval history.


The VC/NVA owned the night until the Seawolves started flying in the RVN.  These Sky Sailors, with many night qualified Pilots, and the addition of a radar Altimeter took the night away from the enemy for he now had company from the sky raining devastation on them when we caught them or they attacked the friendlies.


It was late one night in early 1971 and as usual Charlie was on the move and after flying several search and destroy missions that day the radio came alive at 2 AM with the now famous call of “SCRAMBLE THE SEAWOLVES”. A SEAL patrol from the nearby village of Hai Yen on a sneak and peak mission had made contact with a regiment of VC (confirmed by a captive VC) and were pinned down under heavy fire and in immediate danger of being overran and a certainty of being overwhelmed and killed or captured when daylight came. Det One’s two UH1B Gunship Fire team arrived on station in minutes after executing a “Full asleep to Airborne” scramble in under 3 minutes. The situation on the ground was nearly out of control as Charlie was getting braver as it became more apparent that the SEALs were a small group. Immediately upon arrival the SEALS pinpointed the main VC Gunner positions with tracer fire and our gunners responded placing a heavy barrage of fire on the enemy positions. After getting a good fix on the friendlies, our Gunships rolled in on our first of many rocket and machine gun attacks. We Gunners positioned ourselves outside the aircraft and had to endure the blistering wind, the molten slag, white hot rocket caps and burning sparks from the rockets as we fired. The SEALs were in big trouble as we stayed outside the bird firing, concentrating our fire on the enemy closest to them while taking hits in our Gunships as we flew in a Wagon Wheel, a technique used for each War bird to cover the other while in a circle over the target. Due to the fact we were weighted down with weapons and ammo the B models couldn’t carry much fuel and after 45 minutes we would normally refuel/rearm on a mission such as this and come back out again and again. The attacking enemy fire had been rendered to only “intense fire” vice overwhelming and against SOP we had one Gunship refuel while the other stayed on station to protect the embattled SEALs. I was on the Lead Bird and we went to replenish while the trail stayed on station putting in fire. With our other crewmen’s help at Solid Anchor we did a hot turnaround and were again airborne in less than 5 minutes and on the way back to relieve the Trail Bird, forming up we put in another strike, the trail expended all munitions and left to refuel/rearm and get back ASAP for Charlie was determined and was not retreating. Another Seawolf Det was also scrambled, Det 3 out of Ca Mau to help in the HOT EXTRACTION  using our Gunships, right at dawn or the SEALs were going to be in serious Kim Chee. As my bird settled into a firing orbit over the SEALs, First with one Door gunner on target then the other to conserve ammo, we got a call from our other bird that the fuel pump at Solid Anchor broke down and they couldn’t refuel and return. Now the situation was getting worse as dawn was approaching, The SEALs still in contact, running out of ammo and Det 3 had not been heard from. When the situation was relayed to the Friendlies, the Team leader a Navy Chief urgently stated “Please don’t leave us without cover for we will be overran as soon as it gets light”. Staying on station until our fuel state became critical, a decision had to be made, there was no other that could be made except to stay. Our Pilot asked for other suggestions anyway. I had already been on several hundred missions as had the Pilot and other Gunner and my response was “Well sir I’m not very hungry and these guys need us” and my other Gunner responded with “No Way, We Stay”. Our Copilot was a newby and readily made it unanimous, WE STAY. The die was cast, we would conserve all the ammo we could, for when we became fuel critical we would make one last rocket run and then land next to the SEALs, replenishing their ammo and help them make a stand. Time was important now with the low fuel light on, meaning we had less than 20 minutes of fuel left to flame out. We passed what we were going to do to the SEALs and received a quiet thank you, which said it all. Several Orbits later as the sky was beginning to show the dawn and as we were going in to land to stand with the SEALs we got the awaited and relieving call “DET 3 Inbound along with DET 6 with a full bag, 5 minutes ETA. We stayed on station still at 500 ft or less and left as Det 3 made a quick orbit to orientate to the situation and await the inbound DET 6 to put in strikes and extract the SEAL Team. We went to the nearest place which was Hai Yen, 6 miles away, to land. The low fuel light had been on for what seemed an eternity, but somehow the old girl, running on fumes got us down safely, yet one more time.


About 45 minutes later, the SEALs had been extracted and arrived at Hai Yen with us. I will never forget the tears running down the SEAL Chief’s face as he thanked us for not leaving them. Another two hours and the refueling pump at Solid Anchor was fixed and our sister Gunship refueled and flew to Hai Yen, where we siphoned enough fuel from it to return to Solid Anchor and get ready for another day of Scrambles.


* NOTE, The writer of this story was a Navy Aviation Electricians Mate Second Class (E5) who flew 854 Combat missions in 10 months, wounded twice, shot down, and was highly decorated being recommended for the DFC several times. In NOV 2001 Petty Officer Dobson was inducted into the Navy Enlisted Combat Aircrew ROLL OF HONOR aboard the USS Yorktown in Patriots Point , SC an Honor reserved for those that have distinguished themselves in Combat.  AECS William Rutledge


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