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October 01, 2005


...only one more workday in the week.

One of the advantages of this contractor gig is that I get to go places.

One of the disadvantages of this contractor gig is that the only places I get to go are military posts.

Not that Fort Polk in the aftermath of a hurricane and Fort Sill in the middle of a tornado alert and Fort Lewis under siege by pea-soup fog are devoid of charm, y’unnerstand, but when the high point of the day is listening to Talk Radio in between meetings -- well, you get the picture.

With which I segue seamlessly into John’s Imperial Grunts mention last Sunday as being prologue to Michael Medved’s interview with Robert Kaplan on Tuesday. And I actually came out of my jet-lagged stupor long enough to pay attention when Kaplan described some of the background action which led to his writing Imperial Grunts.

But I really perked up when Medved asked Kaplan what griped the troops the most; Kaplan answered, “The restrictive Rules of Engagement” and then went on to describe how exacting the troops had to be to avoid capping noncombatants caught in a firefight.

Heh. Wonder what he’d think of this…

“The Aircraft Commander of any Army helicopter receiving fire will perform the following steps before initiating suppressive fire: 1) Positively identify the location of the fire. 2) Positively identify the location of the nearest friendly units. 3) Positively identify the location of the nearest friendly civilians. 4) Positively identify the location of the nearest neutral civilians. 5) Determine whether the type, accuracy or volume of fire warrants returning the fire. 6) If you have determined that you should return fire, a) call Sector TOC with your aircraft identification, location, the type and volume of fire you are receiving, location of the source of the fire, the locations of 2, 3 and 4 (above), and request permission to return fire; b) Sector TOC will relay the request to 164th Group headquarters by the most expeditious means; c) 164th Group headquarters will notify First Aviation Brigade headquarters of the request; d) First Aviation Brigade headquarters will relay the request to Corps headquarters, which will approve / disapprove the request and so inform First Aviation Brigade headquarters; e) First Aviation Brigade will relay approval/disapproval to 164th Group headquarters; f) 164th Group headquarters will relay approval / disapproval to Sector TOC; g) Sector TOC will issue permission / denial of permission to return fire to the requesting aircraft.”

Try doing all that between now and the time you finally run out of fuel.

If you think I exaggerated the preceding to illustrate just how restrictive the ROE could get, ask the next Vietnam Helicopter pilot you meet about “the Rules.” He should be able to rattle them off from memory, because they were taped to the instrument panel of every helicopter in Vietnam. Those rules were about as restrictive and tightly-controlled as you can get without having to call the Commander-in-Chief on the red phone for permission to shoot back; they were intended to completely eliminate both fratricide and civilian casualties.

But did they work?

TINS*! Continued in Flash Traffic/Extended Entry

Once upon a time, I got the mission of flushing a suspected VC staging area into an ambush which was being set up just outside my zone’s eastern boundary. A couple of minutes before midnight, in the southern sector of my zone, I spotted a cooking fire with several armed people sitting around it.

I knew exactly where we were, because I’d been radar-vectored to the area and the orientation of the intersecting canals we called the Little Wagon Wheel were readily identifiable, even at night.

I called Sector TOC to report that we were on station and had a sighting.

I gave the 5th SF a Spot Report with a radar-confirmed 10-digit grid and said we were ready to rock ‘n’ roll. Then, to the soothing sounds of the drum solo from “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," we proceeded to rain Leaden Death on the wily foe a thousand feet below...

...for about three rounds. Then, the M-60 jammed.

The good news is that the couple of seconds it took to clear the jam was long enough for the Green Beanie ambush patrol leader to make a squeaky “Gunship shooting up the Big Wagon Wheel—cease fire!” call on his RT-10.

The bad news is that we were firing up the Little Wagon Wheel…

Seems the newbie Lootenant-in-Charge had decided to be sneaky and travel cross-country with his ambush patrol instead of following his briefed route, which was along the only north-south canal in the area and he meandered southwest instead of southeast.

Instead of arriving in his own sandbox, he and his team wound up about three klicks inside mine.

So, despite adhering to fairly restrictive Rules of Engagement, despite radar vectors to the target area, despite being over a radar-confirmed ten-digit grid in the middle of a Free-Fire Zone and despite having had a complete situation brief and FM / UHF / VHF commo with every TOC in the Plain of Reeds, there would have been a several more names on The Wall if it hadn’t been for one twisted link in a 2500-round belt of machinegun ammo.

And it was ammo from a brand, new box.

Sometimes, Somebody Else amends the rules...