Operation Drill Press by: Darwin Bruce

Operation Drill Press April 1966 to March 1967

I arrived at Tan Son Nhut in April 1966 for the second time (the first was in 1962 when the Contingency Team 1A) and signed into the new 6994th SS. I came from the 6988th SS where 202's were needed but not wanted. Although I was assigned as an AMS, I hadn't yet been to Basic Survival School. All during May I worked in the Squadron HQ doing administrative things until they got me a school slot at Fairchild. I left in June for Class 2 at Fairchild and returned after a short leave to the States. My first flight, according to my Form 2, was an O1 mission sitting "side-saddle" with SMSgt Carrol "Chief" Miller. "Chief" Miller (now deceased) and I had been on Team 1A in 1962 and worked together at the 6918th RSM at Hakata in preceding years.

Operation Drill Press, a collection only mission (also called the ABERU - Airborne Emergency Reaction Unit), consisted of JC-47D 43-16254 and RC-47D 43-49680 and approximately 10 A292's and a couple of A202's (later that number increased to about three full crews and several spares). The Project Officer for Operation Drill Press from the 360th side of the house was Lt Col John Brotherton. He was also the AC on "254". Major Gene "Crash" O'Malley was the CP. I can't remember the Crew Chief. He was a Master Sergeant and a good guy as I remember. Our A304 was SSgt Jerome Cotton (now deceased according to his son, a F-15 pilot).

During those first couple of months the Drill Press Ops office was a 40 foot van parked behind the base comm center at Tan Son Nhut, near the flight line. After a couple of training/orientation flights, I was left on my own with an outstanding backend crew.The chief RO was SSgt Joe Dennison, RO SSgt Byron J. Boekel, RO A1C Gene Ross , a SSgt Willis (A203 Vietnamese and Russian) and myself, A1C Darwin Bruce, AMS (later promoted to SSgt).

Most of July and some of August was spent in War Zone's C and D. Then about mid August we began making trips to Hue Phu Bai and working with the 8th RRU (the 8th Rock and Roll) in the DMZ and Ah Shau valley areas. After about three weeks of living in tents at DaNang and "commuting" to Hue Phu Bai the Army gave us permission to quarter at Hue Phu Bai.

The first nights we stayed in a very small building next to the Phu Bai medical clinic. The medic's had a pet monkey on a dog chain living in a dog house next to the walkway to "our" small building. The monkey would jump each of us as we returned to check for any candy or gum in our pockets. One day he ( I guess it was a he, I didn't check its plumbing) got mad and pulled off my sunglasses and chewed the end of the earpiece off. I still have those glasses as a souveneer (sp).

After about a week they gave us more spacious quarters in an old barn away from the Army area. The Barn was basically a huge open bay type storage building with "smudge pots" for heat during the cool rainy season. We lived here for the rest of the time I was in the unit. We still had bunks at Tan Son Nhut and got down to Saigon once every three weeks while the maintenance types pulled PM (preventive maintenance) on the airplane.

During the remainder of 1966 and early 1967 we lost and gained several new backenders and frontenders. "Crash" O'Malley left and was replaced by Major Weathersby. His first act was to get us "combat rations" after each O-1 mission. His first flight he showed up with two navigator bags instead of the usual one. The second one was loaded with little white boxes labeled with Federal Stock Numbers for VSQ 100 Proof Brandy in 2 ounce bottles. We each shared a bottle after the flight, one ounce each.

Our daily routine started at "oh dark thirty" when I rose, showered and went to the 8th RRU ops building and prepared the bag (cheat sheets, "brains", check lists) for the mission. I left the bag with the ASA guards and met the rest of the crew at the chow hall. We then took our weapons carrier back to ops to pick up the bag with the classified and then to the flight line. We unlocked the plane, pushed it out and turned it before starting the engines to keep from blowing sand and dirt into the local M*A*S*H unit (FOD wasn't a big issue in those days).

Most of the missions were about 6 to 7 hours, however on occasion, we asked the AC to stretch things a bit. Once, though we had 8 hours @ 100 gph of fuel on board (200 gallons in each of the mains and 200 gallons in each of the aux tanks), Col Brotherton stretched it to 8 hours and 45 minutes. He wasn't happy about landing on fumes, but for the sake of the mission he did it.

On another occasion, during a "firefight" in the DMZ, we became the "on-scene commander" for a couple of shoot downs of our F-4's and a Navy F-8. The first two F-4 crewmen didn't make it. The second F-4 crew bailed out and had two good chutes. The F-8 who came in to help suppress the enemy fire got shot up too. He came back along side of us with flames traveling along the dorsel fuel tanks and made it back across the river to safety before ejecting.

On September 2, 1966, we finished a morning mission over the DMZ and then headed south to Saigon on a "ferry" flight for PM on the plane. At Saigon, I released the backend crew and went in to do paperwork and post mission reports. Col Wallander and Major Fisher came in and asked if I could fly a night mission with two ASA lingys since my crew was in Saigon getting some attitude adjustment. I quickly trained the two ASA types on our equipment (R-390's and tape decks) and we took off into War Zone C with my regular frontend crew. We did good that night so the MACV/IN said in a message.

One time we loaded up four small refrigerators, purchased at the ARMY PX in Phu Bai, brought them back to Saigon to make a profit and buy more booze for trading at Phu Bai. The Army had refridgerators but couldn't get much booze. The refridgerators were like Gold in Saigon. The booze came in handy when we had to get a mortar bunker built in Phu Bai next to the barn. The ASA Commander didn't like it when he found out we traded booze for Navy CB labor. He wanted to see USAF personnel out there in the hot sun digging holes in the ground. D-----S!

Col Botherton used to take off his rank and come to the NCO club with me at Phu Bai. He didn't like the Army officer's club (no wonder considering the general quality of the Army officers I've ever worked with). We played a lot of Double Deck Pinocle and drank a lot of beer there. I haven't played Pinocle since.

During my tenure and flights, we had fires on board five times, all due to small arms fire. One day as we flew into DaNang with the starboard engine on fire and the Kamen flying alongside us with the fire suppression foam bottle attached, the DaNang controller asked that we not set down until we passed more than half of the runway to keep from possibly "messing up his runway"! Too bad he didn't show up at the DaNang club that night. During that time frame, no one on my crew ever got hurt, except at the club.

During those early days, our parts depot was either the broken VNAF C-47 at the east end of the Hue Phu Bai runway or the Spooky's at DaNang. Many a generator was swiped from the AC-47's on the ramp at DaNang. The VNAF plane was a empty shell when I got finished "requisitioning " parts from it.

Another problem we had was flying hours for the backend crews. The USAF said 100 hours per month and the "Flight Doc" waived us to 120 hours. Col Wallander told us to stop logging missions at 112 to 115 hours. I screwed up one month and logged 122 hours. I got a real old time "ass chewing" by Col Wallander ( well deserved) and grounded for the rest of the month. We didn't get credit for a lot of missions because of the flying hour reporting restrictions. A normal month was about 140 hours considering that we rotated with the other "bird".

I left the 6994th SS in April of 1967.

SMSgt (Ret'd) Darwin Bruce
AMS - Project Drill Press

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