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War Stories

Mini-Cav Story - 1970
by Tom "Sam" Dooling

Also see Thunder Magazine article "Mini-Cav", Mini-Cav Brings Maxi-Smoke of Foe & Mini Cav: A Real Life 'Dirty Dozen'.

During the 18 months I was with the Centaurs (Jan 69 – Aug 70), I was a Cobra pilot for the first 14 months and a Scout pilot for the remaining months. I got to see the war from both sides of the Hunter-Killer Team perspective. During my time there, we tried lots of variations on the tactics we employed to defeat the enemy. One reasonably effective tactic was the formation on a Mini-Cav team made up of a Scout Team (Cobra and Loach), two slicks (UH-1H Hueys) and 12 to 14 of our Aero Rifles infantrymen. D Troop’s Aero Rifles were a platoon of infantry that supported both D-Troop’s missions as well as being tasked to provide infantry support to the rest of the squadron (doing ambush patrols, defending night positons in the field, etc.).

The Scout Teams particularly liked the Aero Rifles – they were the ready reaction force that came to rescue us when we were forced to land our aircraft in the boonies (either due to enemy action or maintenance). When formed up as a Mini-Cav operating unit, I believe we were one of the most effective assets the Division had in finding and engaging the enemy.

In the Spring of 1970, our area of operations was expanded to include the eastern parts of Cambodia, i.e., we were invading Cambodia. Most of the Cambodia missions were run out of Tay Ninh, where we would stage three or four Scout Teams and one or two Mini-Cav elements (Hueys and Aero Rifles).

When a Mini-Cav operation was laid on, the Scout Team/Mini-Cav would often deploy to a forward fire support base, where the Hueys and Aero Rifles would sit on the ground while the Scout Team(s) went out to develop opportunities. This worked very well – much of the enemy the Scouts would engage with were small units of either VC or NVA. We would fix the enemy in a position using the Cobra and Scout firepower while the two slicks would bring out the Aero Rifles to engage the enemy on the ground. We captured or killed numerous enemy in this manner and were able to uncover caches of food and arms – and also develop much larger engagements.
Because of the effectiveness of this approach, the Mini-Cavs were in very high demand, and all of the pilots and aircraft were being flown right up to their limits.

Also, during this time, the entire 25th Division’s air assets were stretched fairly thin supporting the Cambodian operations, so ground units in the eastern part of the overall aera of operations (away from Cambodia) would often have difficulty getting air support – in particular Huey support for moving troops around.

I recall one rather interesting incident that occurred in this time period. The Mini-Cav team I was the Scout for was assigned what was relayed to the TOC as a ‘high priority mission’ that was in the eastern part of our AO – away from where almost all of the action was taking place for the Cambodian incursion.

I was the Scout pilot and ostensibly the senior pilot on the team (although the running of the overall mission was generally the responsibility of the Cobra Aircraft Commander). We deployed to a fire support base north of the Razerback Mountains, shut down outside the perimeter and went in to be briefed by the operations officer (a Major) who had laid on the mission.

He welcomed us and proceeded to tell us that he was going to use the two Hueys to shuttle a company of infantry (about 150 infantry men) to a location about 10 klicks away, so he wanted us to off-load the Aero-Rifles to sit around all day, he said the Cobra could fly cover for the Hueys, although the movement was move administrative than a tactical movement to engage the enemy, and he wanted me to de-arm the Scout and he would use it as a C&C bird while my gunners hung out with the Aero-Rifles. Like most of my aircraft, my bird had the door-mounted swivel mini-gun.

I called “Bullshit” on the overall operation and told him he was mis-utilizing very valuable assets. During a somewhat heated discussion, it came out that he had been turned down for lift elements to make the move by the TOC at Cu Chi due to the move being low priority, so he made up a “high priority” Mini-Cav mission for the Tay Ninh TOC to get the Mini-Cav assets.

I was a 22 year old CW2 at the time, but I felt pretty sure of my position in calling Bullshit. A number threats were made, including that I would be court marshalled, etc., for failing to follow a direct order. A discussion ensued amongst the pilots – all of who were junior to me in rank, but they all were “owners” of their own aircraft. As it turned out, the Huey guys voted to do the lift, the Cobra AC said he would hang around, and I said I was headed back to Tay Ninh.

I returned to Tay Ninh and reported the incident to the Major who ran the TOC (and who I had a very good relationship with), and he relayed that the Major who had called in the mission had spoken to him and wanted me brought up on charges.

As we (the Brigade TOC Major and I) were having this discussion, apparently a full bird colonel (unbeknownst to me) was standing behind me and listening in. Once I had related my story, he pulled the Major and I aside – told the Major that he was to call the Battalion Commander that had requested the Mini-Cav, have him send the Cobra back to Tay Ninh so the Brigade TOC had at least an operational scout team, have the Huey’s complete the troop movement (since they were half way done anyway) and return to Tay Ninh, and have the unit commander and operations officer report to him at their earliest convenience.

Not sure what happened to the Battalion Commander, but I heard that his operations officer was assigned a desk job back in Saigon. Obviously, the outcome for me could have been much different, but like we always used to say, “what are they going to do, send me to Vietnam and make me a Scout pilot?”