Tuesday, February 2, 2016

3rd Comabat Aviation Battalion During REFORGER 1977

I seriously doubt that anyone who was in Vietnam thought the difference between AH-1G Cobra "Gunships" and AH-1G Cobra Rocket Artillery Platforms would was big deal more than me.

After all, I pointed this fact out loudly in pictures, cut lines and articles everywhere I went.

So, I suppose that while our colors were retired and the 4/77th became the 229th, that the story about the 4/77th should probably end there.

Well, you see, there is a bit of a problem with that. Goes something like this:

It was said by our Cobra pilots that, "Killing is our business and business is good."

But today, pilots flying anti-armor have a new saying: "Tank killing is our business and, someday, business will be good."

Well, I created this back in 1977 because the unit I was assigned to happened to be the prototype – or forerunner – of all Combat Aviation Battalions that would be used in Europe or deployed to Europe during REFORGER exercises.

We were now designed as an aerial TOW missile firing platform.

The other concept I want to bring up now is this, a really good photo-journalist is one that wants to be constantly stimulated by the subjects he/she takes images of. Every image – even if it is of the same subject over and over again – becomes a unique in the eyes of a photo-journalist because he or she will find something new and different about it.

Lenses other than the normal 55mm are used along with filters. With that said, we can now move into the REFORGER 77. And bear in mind this was the first time that a Combat Aviation Battalion from Europe had ever been used in a REFORGER exercise.

From November of 1976 to July of 1977, Wildflecken and Hohenfels were our home away from home. As a battalion, we did lots of training and I was there to take pictures and write stories about every step along the way.

John Michael Coleman, Editor of EurArmy Magazine, became an unstoppable force with John accepting almost every article I wrote. In fact, he took one of my articles over to Soldiers Magazine and it was accepted.

Within 9 months, over 30 articles were accepted by EurArmy Magazine and 2 by Soldiers, 5 photo-features in Frontline and in Pillar and Post, and Army Aviation Magazine ran 2 two page spreads.

The key here was that the images attracted attention of the press and my writing skills were improving in leaps and bounds.


For me, REFORGER 77 was a 6 week no-stop action movie filled with lots of action images, stories few would believe, and articles that went into print almost as soon as I pulled the paper out of the typewriter. Literally, I was at the top of my game.

Did I stop there?


Way I see it, if you're going to screw up, do it in a mind blowing, extraordinarily way.

Two weeks before the exercise started, I called Burdett Seamen, Time Magazine in Koln. I told him that if he showed up at the press center on the first Monday of the exercise, I would have a TOW Cobra there for him to fly in.

He got all excited and agreed.

I immediately ran down stairs to LTC Gerald E Lethcoe’s Office and told him about the Correspondent’s eagerness to be at the Press Center on the day I set and that he would like a ride in the TOW Cobra.

To my surprise, he was equally as enthusiastic and that, I thought would be the end of that.

So, the first thing I did was convince LTC Lethcoe that I needed to go from Stutgart to Ramstien Air Force Base so that I could develop my film and get it over to Stars and Stripes.

So, he had this West Point Captain named CPT. McNaulley fly me to Ramstien. Well between the Caption telling me how demurring and wrong it was for him to fly an E-5 there, he had me read a topo map to help guide him up from Stuttgart so he wouldn't fly into Italian Airspace.

My brother, who was stationed at Ramstien, came out to greet us.

"Who is your brother", he asked him. "I've never seen an Army unit bend over backwards for just one E-5 before in my entire military career."

My rather amused brother couldn't conjure an answer.

I did. I turned around, face the Captain, saluted him and said, "Thank you sir. I'll return to Stutgart when I'm done."

"What you don't want me to wait for you?"

(Thought) F*O*A*H. "No, sir. I have no idea what time or when I will be done. No need for you stay longer than you need to."

It actually took me three days and images were published in Stars and Stripes.

After that, I realized the Press Center was a better place to go to get the film developed and send out press releases. So, every other day, I would go to the Press Center with my undeveloped images and tons of notes.

As it turns out, two trips to the Press Center created some unexpected and very interesting encounters.

Meet Hillary Brown, ABC News. She came in with her camera crew and said she wanted to cover the WACS. She hadn’t been very successful up to this point. Well, it just so happened, we had fielded some WACS for this exercise.

So, I told her about our Cobras and how this was the first time they were being deployed as an official Anti-armor unit during this exercise.

"We’re not here to cover the Cobras," she protested.

"Well, if you want to cover the WACS, we will provide you with a chopper in the morning ", I said, "As long as you’re also willing to cover the Cobras."

She agreed, we picked her up the next morning and we were on ABC news the next night.

But it got really interesting the next time I tried this.

Sometimes, just because you can doesn't mean you should. Now, I knew as well as anyone else that if Time Magazine was going to show up at the press center, a photographer taking pictures for Time Magazine would also be there.

Photo-journalists are almost as memorable as the images they take. It wasn't hard to spot that character. It wasn't height or size that made him stand out like a sore thumb at the Press Center,
it was his massive black, curly electrified French poodle looking head of hair.

He could have been a poster child for the movie Hair.

He had a loop, tons of slide film and a camera named Polaski.  Is there such a brand?  Compared to Hillery Brown, this guy was a Rock Star and wore impatience like the medal of honor.

His name:  David Allan Burnett.

So, I talked to him and told him that I would have a chopper available for him to be escorted to the field where the action was on Wednesday at 8am Alpha time. He agreed and I thought everything would work out as it did with Hillary Brown.

I was wrong.

As soon as I got back to the unit,  LTC Lethcoe was there and asked if he could have a word with me.

"Dick, we have a problem.  The Division Public Affairs Officer has complained about you doing his job for him. He wants to take over the Wednesday press trip."

"Sir, I don't have a problem with that.  But I do wish to speak freely."

"Go a head."

"My father knew General Pat W. Crizer over in Korea and told me he was an exceptional officer. But no one is going to know that if the Public Affairs Officer is more interested in the girls at the press center than promoting Pat's career..

Editorial note:

This was part of Pat's Eulogy:

The 3d Division was special for Pat. He nurtured his division, trained it as well, maybe better than any other in the Army at the time, and developed a camaraderie, esprit de corps, and a professional respect between himself and his officers and men." General George S. Blanchard, US Army, Retired, recalled Pat's command of the 3d Division: "He was an outstanding division commanding general and I remember one Reforger when, through his division's brilliance, the 'enemy' was completely befuddled and practically collapsed." A classmate and close friend, Major General, US Army, Retired, Dick Bresnahan, wrote: "...Recently I met an officer who had commanded a division with great success in the Middle East War. He had been a major in the 3d Division when Pat commanded it. He said. 'Much of my success and that of several other officers over there was the result of lessons we learned from General Crizer while serving under him. He knew his business and was a great teacher.' What else is there to say about such a loyal friend?''

This public affairs officer is not doing his job.

If he was, I wouldn't be pulling off what I've been able to pull off."

"Dick, we know that. Just play along."

"Yes, Sir, I will.  For certain, it is going to get interesting."

And it did. The Public Affairs Officer called in a Zulu time pickup. So, we landed at 9am instead of 8am. Not only that, we were flying a Huey with a condition red X problem where because of the fuel indicator malfunctioning, we had to land every 25 minutes and top off the fuel tanks.

The second time we landed, Burnett lost it.  Between all the yelling and dirt kicking,  he made it clear as I also figured out that we needed to change choppers. So, this was explained to Burnett and luck switched sides.

I should explain at this point who I was sitting with/ On the right side of the helicopter sat three photo-journalists: me, Rudy Williams and David Allan Burnett.

The first photo-op had both me and Burnett in stitches. We were both cutting up so badly, the pilots looked back to try to figure out what was so funny. We also noticed that Rudy Williams did see what we saw as being so funny.

I went hot with the mike. "Sir, we need to land."

So what was so funny.  Picture two GIs sitting at a picnic table casually eating lunch behind them in a small open area were tank and APCs with their guns pointed directly at them.

It was one of those, "What, me worry" moments that was a humorous images asking to be taken.

After eating and changing choppers, we got too busy to remember much about what we were taking images of.  Just that the action shots were out in front of us and there was a lot to pick and choose from.

Suffice to say, some of the images I took in black and what were also taken by Burnett and published in Time Magazine.

There were three other times when I saw Burnett out in the field after that.  Once when I was with my boss and we were watching the drop of an APC out of the back end of a C-130 and once again at the Press Center.

There was supposed to be a 4th time but that was stopped by my boss. We had brought some of the press up to where General Alexander Haig had flown in by helicopter.

I was within a quarter mile of him but was stopped by my boss who told me that because I was overweight, I would not be able to go take pictures of General Alexander Haig.

Little did he or I know that this event stopped me from getting published in Newsweek who told me that had I had an image of a prominent figure, they would have published my work.

When I did say goodbye to Burnett at the press center,  I wanted to see if his ego was a big as his hair do.

So I asked, "Do you think I have a chance getting published in Time Or Life?"

To this day, what he said next I will remember for the rest of my life:

"It is not a question of whether or not you have a shot at getting published in Time or Life.  It is more a question of do you have the willingness to continually send them your best images until they use something you've made available to them. You have to have your name on each slide and you have to have cut lines for each image.

Never give up."

So, to sum things up here.  Images published in Stars and Strips, Pillars and Post, Frontline, Army Aviation Magazine and EurArmy. Worked with Hillary Brown and David Allan Burnett.

Not too bad for a guy who was never trained to be a writer or photographer and was working as a stringer for a battalion..

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