Bruce Huffman: Before Charlie Troop there was “UTT”

Posted on March 25, 2011

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Before the 1st Cavalry Division was even formed there was another Helicopter unit already in Vietnam. They were Proud, Fearless and Professional. We of Charlie Troop are proud to let the world know about these men.

Once upon a time, there was a band of Army Aviators and their crewmen that operated the Army’s first armed helicopter units in Viet Nam long before the “official” date of 1965. One of these units was identified as the Utility Tactical Transport Company – known simply as the “First with Guns!” or the “UTT.”   Constituted on 15 July 1961, BG Joe Stilwell. Jr. led the UTT to develop attack helicopter tactics evolutionary concepts as relevant today as they were innovative then. The UTT was re-flagged on several occasions in Viet Nam: (in August 1964, as the 68th Armed Helicopter Company); (in March 1965, as the 197th Assault Helicopter Company); and (in September 1966, as the 334th AHC).

Here’s a true story about the UTT door gunners and crew chiefs from an Army Aviator who served with the UTT during 1964-1966.

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Thinking back on how VERY much credit they TRULY deserved and how little we aviators actually gave them, I’m reminded of one particular day on which, at least in the eyes of one Army General Officer, our “Men in the Doorway” got a well-deserved “Atta’Boy.”

On that particular day, elements of the UTT/68th/197th Armed Helicopter Company’s 1st Platoon [ Playboys ] had  been held back from tactical missions and told to “Set up a ‘static display’ for a visiting General.” on our ramp [ Hotel 2 ] at the North side of Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut Air Base.

Captain Richard S. Jarrett directed the assigned crew to set up an Armed B-Model [ UH-1B ] Huey — with a “Complete Spread” of ordnance, including the aircraft’s full complement of: 2.75″ [Folding Fin Aerial Rockets]; four Mounted & two Hand-Held M-60 Machine Guns; one M-14 Rifle, with several magazines of 7.62mm ammo.; one M-79 Grenade Launcher, with several bandoleers of 40mm grenade rounds, and ‘half a bazillion” rounds of linked 7.62mm ammo   laid out on the tarmac in neat columns and rows.

I don’t recall who the other Crewmen were but, when the General arrived, Specialist Coombs was standing at attention, next to his door, with his M-60 at Port Arms.   Capt. Jarrett saluted and reported to the General and proceeded with giving him the SOP “Visiting Fireman’s” walk-around briefing. As they came abreast of Spc. Coombs’ position, Capt. Jarrett began describing a Crew Chief’s duties,  The General interrupted the briefing, addressed Spc. Coombs directly, pointed at his M-60 and, in a clearly sarcastic tone, asked “Son, ya’ know how to use that damned thing or do ya’ just stand around holdin’ it an’ lookin’ purty?”

Without missing a beat, Coombs boomed out, “SIR, this is my M-60, General Purpose, seventeen point five-pound, air-cooled, gas-operated, belt-fed, fully automatic, Seven point Six Two millimeter Machine Gun. It has a Maximum Effective Range of Three Thousand Seven Hundred Fifty Meters and a Cyclic Rate of Fire of Five Hundred and Fifty Rounds per Minute. It fires when I pull the trigger in the open-bolt position, at which time multiple things occur, both simultaneously and sequentially, including: with release and advancement of this bolt, a metal belt link is de-linked and ejected as the bolt simultaneously begins to chamber the de-linked round. This is immediately followed, sequentially, with operating rod and bolt advancement and initiation of the bolt’s locking sequence. When the bolt is fully locked, the sear releases the firing pin which strikes the primer…as the projectile approaches the muzzle, a portion of the ignited powder’s expanding gasses enter this gas port, actuating the Buffer and Operating Rod Group, compressing the Driving Spring and driving the Operating Rod to the rear, unlocking the bolt and…” all while, griping the M-60 by its Stock Group with his left hand, Coombs field strips the M-60 with his right hand [displaying each part for the General to view — at the precise moment that he is making verbal reference to that part] and lays each part, in sequential order and “at Dress Right Dress” on his outstretched left forearm.

When his M-60 was fully disassembled, Coombs began reassembling it — while continuing the staccato delivery of his spiel, deftly shifting its focus, “. ..As Crew Chief, my duty position is here in the left cargo compartment door. My Field of Fire extends from Three Five Niner Degrees to One Eight Zero Degrees, which is my Sector of Responsibility at all times. My instantaneously initiated, sustained and accurate application of suppressive firepower is most critical at times when our aircraft is receiving hostile fire from my Sector of Responsibility and when my Aircraft Commander is making a “Left Break” from a Fire Mission, during which time my side of the aircraft is exposed to the Target Area…” and, as he snapped the feed tray cover closed and returned to Port Arms. He then wrapped-up his impromptu briefing with: “…That concludes my formal presentation. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have, SIR!”

The General, mouth agape and slowly shaking his head and with a “Deer-in-the-Headlights” look of near-total  disbelief at what he had just witnessed, looked to Capt. Jarrett and asked, “Damn Captain, are they ALL like that?”

In response to which, Capt. Jarrett leaned over and in a “Stage Whisper” that Coombs could evidently hear — said, “Every damn one of them, General.”

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